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B.C. SPCA ordered to pay pet rescuer Sandra Simans for defamation

12/31/2014 07:46 EST | Updated 03/02/2015 05:59 EST
A BC Supreme Court judge has ordered the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to pay $2,500 in damages to a Burnaby pet rescuer for suggesting the woman had injured an emaciated Chihuahua.

The allegation was made after enforcement officers seized 52 dogs and 19 cats from a Burnaby animal rescue shelter run by Sandra Simans in June 2012.

Justice John Steeves found the B.C. SPCA was within its rights to take the animals, but stepped over the line in a subsequent release to the media.

"In one case, there was a photograph of a dog with severe injuries to her face. These injuries were the result of actions of someone other than the plaintiffs and, in fact, the plaintiffs rescued this animal and were treating the injuries," Steeves wrote.

"However the public statement of the B.C. SPCA was that the injuries to the animal were the result of the plaintiffs not being capable of managing a large number of animals."

Simans imports rescue animals from the U.S. and Asia. The B.C. SPCA seized the animals after complaints from neighbours and bylaw tickets from the City of Burnaby for breaking rules that restrict the number of animals in a dwelling unit to two dogs and four cats.

She said the seizure and the accompanying publicity have devastated her organization.

"That's not who any of us are. We are people that care and we do without, and we're a heartbroken bunch of people right now," she said.

Damages for defamation

Simans claimed damages for a number of statements she felt were defamatory. They included statements suggesting she was an "animal hoarder," who was "taking in more animals than she could provide for" and was "overwhelmed by the number of animals."

Steeves ruled all of those statements to be justified or fair comment given the circumstances, but he said the B.C. SPCA had defamed Simans in relation to an emaciated Chihuahua named Kada.

The animal came to the rescue shelter because of injuries including a broken jaw. Simans was paying to treat the dog, but Steeves found the B.C. SPCA press release implied she had in fact caused Kada's problems. 

A total of 39 dogs and 19 cats were ultimately returned to Simans at a new location in Surrey soon after they were seized. One of the remaining dogs was euthanized and the rest were put up for adoption.

In addition to the live animals, a bailiff also seized the body of a dead cat wrapped in a blue cloth in a fridge. Simans said she was planning to cremate the animal and sued for the return of its remains.

But the B.C. SPCA lost the body. Even so, the judge concluded the organization had lawful possession because the seizure was legal.

"It is quite unfortunate that the B.C. SPCA has lost the body of the cat, but at that point, it was not the property of the plaintiffs," Steeves wrote.

Simans said she's still caring for most of the animals returned to her. As a result of all the attention, she said she has received a lot of hate mail and fake applications for pet adoptions.

"I don't honestly think there's a day that I don't cry," she said. "You become somewhat protective. It's certainly discouraging to get applications that aren't really applications, but in fact are just people that want to be nasty."

As the decision largely went against her, Simans said she is considering appealing the decision. The B.C. SPCA was unavailable for comment.

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