Blaine Bennett &

Judy Kurenka

more than 100 exotic, farm and domestic animals seized Kalso, British Columbia, Canada November 30, 2002

BC SPCA officials are expressing disbelief and outrage over the outcome of a high-profile animal cruelty case that concluded in a Nelson courtroom in January 2006.

Blaine Bennett and Judy Kurenka of Kalso, BC, were in court to face 13 counts of animal cruelty in one of the largest cruelty investigations in BC history.

    (Photo's courtesy of BC SPCA)  In November 2002, BC SPCA animal protection officers executed search warrants on two properties owned by the couple and seized 103 badly-neglected and abused animals, including three Barbary macaques, a Japanese Snow Monkey, 11 marmosets, exotic birds, pot bellied pigs, miniature horses, chinchillas, rabbits, ducks, chickens, and a llama. Five of the animals had to be euthanized immediately because of critical distress.  "This was a horrific case of abuse involving a large number of exotic, farm and domestic animals," Marcie Moriarty, General Manager of Cruelty Investigations for the BC SPCA.

"Despite overwhelming evidence in the investigation and a guilty plea by Bennett, the outcome of the case was shocking. It was barely a slap on the wrist."

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Bennett and Kurenka received no fine, no jail time, and are not required to pay restitution to the BC SPCA for any of the more than $100,000 the non-profit society had to spend to rehabilitate, shelter and re-home the animals. Bennett and Kurenka are also allowed to continue owning a wide variety of animals, including many of the species that were found in critical distress on their property. While the court did agree to a 10 year prohibition on owning animals for the couple, the prohibition came with a list of "exceptions" allowing the couple to own an unlimited number of dogs, cats, poultry or fowl, cows, goats, pigs, rodents, domestic birds and fish, two horses and any other animal agreed to by the SPCA.

"Not only did the couple go unpunished for the crime of abusing 103 animals, but no protections have been put into place to stop them from picking up right where they left off," says Moriarty. "There wasn't even a probation period included in the sentencing that would have given the SPCA the right to inspect the welfare of new animals acquired by the couple." She points out that the BC SPCA, through its branch in Nelson, made numerous attempts to work with Bennett and Kurenka in the past to make the necessary changes to their animals' environment, but instructions and recommendations issued by the SPCA were repeatedly ignored. "We have no reason to believe things will be different now and I anticipate our cruelty officers will be called out again within a year to deal with more allegations of animal abuse on their property." Moriarty adds it is very discouraging for the SPCA to spend hundreds of staff hours and hundreds of thousands of donor dollars on a cruelty case only to have the courts allow animal abusers to continue their actions.

Moriarty says the fact that it took three years for the Bennett-Kurenka case to reach the courts only to have Crown counsel agree to such lenient terms is extremely disappointing. "This is not just a matter of justice delayed. It is a case of justice denied and it speaks to the serious lack of concern in our judicial system over violent crimes against animals." Under BC law, individuals convicted of animal cruelty can be fined up to $2,000, given a jail sentence of up to six months and can be prohibited from owning animals for a period of time determined by the judge.

The Bennett-Kurenka case made headlines not only because of the large number of animals involved, but because of the complexity of relocating the exotic animals to facilities that could adequately provide for their needs. Following the SPCA seizure, the primates were transported to specially-constructed enclosures at the Surrey SPCA shelter, where they received on-going care and socialization for more than a year while the SPCA conducted an extensive search to find accredited facilities willing to accept them.

The other animals rescued from the property were placed in facilities in the Interior for rehabilitation and adoption. In March 2004 the SPCA was able to relocate the three adult Barbary macaques and a baby ape born at the Surrey shelter to the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Texas. Later that year, the Japanese Snow Monkey was transported to Parc Safari, a wildlife sanctuary in Hemmington, Quebec.

Update March 2004: "We're relieved that the primates will get the on-going care and enrichment they need," says Craig Daniell, CEO of the BC SPCA, "but this case highlights the enormous price of keeping exotic animals in captivity - both in terms of animal suffering and in the actual cost of rescuing and relocating the animals seized from neglectful guardians."

      (Photo's courtesy of BC SPCA)  So far, the SPCA has spent more than $20,000 in cruelty investigation costs in the primate case and a further $30,000 for temporary enclosures and care for animals during the past year. "These cases are extremely expensive and they place an enormous strain on the SPCA's very limited resources," says Daniell.

The primate's new home, the Wild Animal Orphanage, is a far cry from the dark, dirty garage that housed the animals before the SPCA intervened and seized them in a major cruelty investigation in late 2002. The primates were among more than 100 exotic, domestic and farm animals in various states of injury, malnutrition and distress removed from a rural property in Kaslo, BC.

"The primates were confined in a small space at the back of a dark garage with no access to sunlight, no room to move freely and little enrichment or stimulation," says Daniell. "These are wild animals with very specific physical, social and intellectual needs and it was tragic to see the conditions they had been forced to live in for years." The owners of the animals have been charged with several counts of animal cruelty and will appear in court in May 2004 as a result of the SPCA investigation.

The SPCA built temporary indoor/outdoor enclosures for the primates at its Surrey Shelter in the Lower Mainland and carefully monitored the animals' health, diet and enrichment for more than a year while they searched for a permanent home. "After their isolation it was wonderful to see how enthusiastically they responded to little things, like having enrichment toys to play with and branches to climb," says Hugh Nichols, an SPCA staff member who helped care for the primates. "It was amazing to watch the first time Teaspoon went outside and felt the sun on his face. He stretched out on his back in the grass, with his arms behind his head and just drank in the whole experience."

Nichols says the Surrey Shelter staff worked hard to regularly come up with new ideas to keep the intelligent and easily-bored primates amused. "We changed their toys all the time but their absolute favorite was the non-breakable mirrors we gave them," says Nichols. "We also put a larger mirror outside their enclosures and they spent hours watching themselves - they were fascinated with their own images." He adds that staff quickly became familiar with the individual personality traits and preferences of each of the primates. "They definitely had very particular tastes," says Nichols. "Jeffrey, for instance, refuses to eat the skin on his peanuts. He rolls them around on the ground until he rubs all the skin off before he eats them."

While the SPCA staff will miss the bonds they have developed with the primates, they are thrilled to see them moving to their permanent home. "We did everything we could to keep them happy, but they need to be in a sanctuary where their needs can be met for the rest of their lives," says Nichols.

The Wild Animal Orphanage (WAO) is one of the nation's largest and most reputable non-profit permanent sanctuaries for unwanted, abused, and non-releasable wild and exotic animals, and is licensed by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act. The WAO also serves as an educational facility for schools and the general public. Proper diets and veterinary care are provided for a wide variety of species who have found a home at the orphanage. Eighty percent of these animals arrived malnourished, neglected and/or permanently maimed by the removal of their fangs and/or claws. They now are thriving due to the loving attention of qualified staff. WAO was founded in 1983, and is situated on 10 acres in Northwest Bexar County. WAO currently houses over 600 unwanted wild and exotic animals that were cast-off from the pet trade or the entertainment industry. WAO houses such animals as lions, tigers, bears, cougars, bobcats, jaguars, leopards, foxes, numerous small mammals, and birds.

Update 8/35/04:  Nearly two years after being rescued in a high-profile SPCA cruelty investigation in Kaslo, BC, a Japanese Snow Monkey named Jeff left the Surrey SPCA this morning for his new home at Parc Safari in Hemmington, Quebec. The award-winning, CAZA accredited facility south of Montreal houses more than 90 different species of animals, including an existing colony of Japanese Snow Monkeys. "We've personally gone to inspect the facility and we believe it offers everything Jeff will need for good welfare," says Craig Daniell, CEO of the BC SPCA. "Jeff will be gradually introduced to the other primates to ensure his acceptance within the colony."

Jeff is the last of more than 100 exotic, farm and domestic animals seized from a Kaslo property in November 2002, to finally get a permanent home. "Four other primates also seized in the case were transported to the Wild Animal Orphanage in San Antonio, Texas in March, 2004 but Jeff could not accompany the others across the U.S. border because of his status on an endangered species appendix," explains Daniell. It has taken 18 months of intensive research and work by the SPCA to locate an accredited facility willing to accept Jeff. "We're delighted that Jeff will finally get the on-going care and enrichment he needs and deserves," says Daniell.

Update 1/13/06:  The SPCA is pushing for tougher animal-protection laws after a Kaslo couple on trial for 13 counts of animal cruelty escaped this week with a suspended sentence and a 10-year ban on owning some animals.

Bennett pleaded guilty in Nelson Provincial Court to an amended count under Section 24.1 of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. The 12 other charges were stayed. If found guilty, the pair would have faced a maximum of six months in jail or a $2,000 fine per count.

Instead, the couple were not fined or ordered to serve time. Judge Ron Fabbro dealt them a suspended sentence of six months and a 10-year prohibition on owning exotic animals. They are permitted to own a variety of domestic animals: birds, cats, dogs, goats, cows, horses, goats, poultry and fish. Crown prosecutor Sunday Patola agreed to the lesser sentence as "a compromise" that "would ensure a lengthy prohibition," she said. The decision outraged Marcie Moriarty, the SPCA's general manager of cruelty investigations. "I don't think it reflects the severity of the crime, the number of animals involved and the severity of their condition," she said. The SPCA alleged the primates were covered in filth and housed in a dark garage. Others lacked proper food, veterinary care or shelter. A pig, three rabbits and a chicken were in such poor shape they were euthanized. The agency visited the farm in June 2002 and warned the pair to improve conditions. Moriarty said she believed the couple, in their 60s, were living on assistance on a rural property and were in no position to keep animals.

In the wake of the decision, the agency is ramping up a campaign lobbying for harsher penalties for animal abuse. The agency posted a petition at  Minister of Agriculture and Lands Pat Bell said he has been in discussion with the agency and is willing "to work with them to review the act."

Update 4/2/08:  More than 50,000 concerned British Columbians signed our petition calling on the government to strengthen laws protecting animals from violence and abuse.  On March 6, new animal cruelty legislation was introduced into the B.C. Legislature, and on March 31 the Bill received Royal Assent and became law.



Wild Animal Orphanage

Parc Safari Sanctuary

Kaslo SPCA