A Vernon rancher once labelled a "horse rescuer" and now branded a cruel animal owner, pleaded guilty today to one of the charges laid against her in court.
The story goes back to September, 2009 when the SPCA seized what they describe as "28 thin and emaciated horses and 39 terrier mix dogs and puppies" from the property of the now 48-year-old Carla Christman.
"We issued a number of orders to improve their care, and instead the animals continued to decline," said the SPCA in a press release. Charges were filed three months later, including multiple charges of animal cruelty as well as charges of obstructing and assaulting a peace officer.
Three years later, Christman has pleaded guilty to the charge of "failing to provide necessaries for an animal," which include water, food, shelter and general care. Crown and defense agreed on a sentence of two years on probation. Christman is permitted to reside at the ranch to maintain her livelihood, but is restricted from caring for the animals without supervision by her daughter, Chelsea Christman.
"It is important Christman not be solely in care of the animals," said Crown lawyer Chris Balison. He also noted the SPCA reserves the right to investigate the premises to ensure proper care of the animals.
The judge in the trial has not given a formal sentencing, but said he is unlikely to stray from the unanimous recommendations from counsel.
"My client is very remorseful and ashamed," said defense lawyer Ignatius Pielecki. "She is a very hardworking person (who) loves working with animals."
In an interview after the trial, Christman told InfoTel News she is a fourth generation farmer in Vernon. Her daughter, Chelsea, has been on the farm all her life, growing up with animals.
"When they decided not to let my mum take care of the animals, I took over," says Chelsea. She says she does the bulk of the ranch work all by herself now.
"Some (animals) will be sold," she says, to ease the burden.
The sheer number of animals on the ranch was a point highlighted by both Crown and defense.
"(Christman says) she was overwhelmed by the number of animals," said Balison.
Pielecki said the animals weren't the only stress-factor in Christman's life, and that the 2002 death of her mother, who was killed by a cow, has been a source of ongoing post-traumatic stress.
Whatever Christman was going through, the animals in her care were enduring an ordeal of their own.
Crown recapped complaints from Christman's neighbours and the SPCA today in court. They included: inadequate shelters, lack of mineral licks and water in many of the pens, the presence of garbage, twine and dangerous farm equipment in the pens, excessively muddy pens, and the feeding of horses and cattle together, in addition to insufficient feeding of the animals in general. Many of the animals also had worms.
Christman says the animals taken away from her in 2009 will never be returned.
"I don't get all my animals back," she said. The SPCA had some of Christman's horses and dogs up for adoption in 2010.
Christman was once known as a "horse rescuer" for taking in neglected horses at her farm, Scenic Valley Ranch. CTV News reported in 2008 that Christman had taken in dozens of abandoned and abused horses and that she paid $30,000 out of her own pocket in the process. In the article, Christman is quoted as saying the SPCA wasn't doing enough.
Christman identifies herself as Oneida First Nations, and is completing a restorative justice program at Simon Fraser University. She also has a sociology degree from the University of Victoria.
Christman's lawyer says she is interested in pursuing restorative justice options with people that might have complaints with her in the future.
"This whole thing could have been resolved much faster through restorative justice, and could have saved a lot of money too," Christman said outside of court.
She says she has mixed feelings about the sentencing and her guilty plea.
"I'm doing this to restore peace," she says. "And so my family can move on."