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Not guilty of dog abuse
Hay River woman cleared in high-profile court case

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Hay River woman has been found not guilty of dog abuse charges at the conclusion of a high-profile court case.

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Linda Hobson leaves the Hay River Courthouse on Sept. 8. - Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

Linda Hobson, 68, heard the verdict on Sept. 9 in Hay River territorial court.

She was found not guilty of two Criminal Code charges willfully causing unnecessary pain or suffering to an animal, and willfully neglecting to provide adequate food, water, care and shelter.

Hobson hugged her attorney after the verdict and was congratulated by about 10 supporters.

"The only comment is just what I made in court not guilty," she said to the media, apparently referring to her plea since she did not testify at the trial.

Hobson was charged after 104 dogs were found on her property during a May 29, 2010, police raid.

A veterinarian put down three dogs, 23 puppies were moved to an animal shelter (and later destroyed by the Town of Hay River), and the rest remained at Hobson's kennel.

At trial, there were three days of conflicting testimony by 16 witnesses about the condition of the dogs and their surroundings.

In delivering his verdict, Judge Robert Halifax said the Crown failed to prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

The charge of causing unnecessary pain and suffering focused on the three dogs that were put down. One had an embedded collar; another was old, blind and with possibly cancerous growths; and one had folded-under front paws.

The three dogs' pain or lack thereof came down to the differing opinions of two expert witnesses.

According to the judge's summary, veterinarian Jim Stickney of High Level, Alta., testified he believed the three dogs were in pain and suffering based on what he saw on May 29 of last year at the Hobson property.

However, another veterinarian, Dewey Stickney Jim Stickney's uncle of Manning, Alta., testified the dogs were not suffering based on what he has learned about their conditions.

On the second charge, there was much evidence about the living conditions of the dogs, including the amount of fecal material in pens.

Jim Stickney concluded six dogs were emaciated, while the rest were thin or at optimal weight.

In summation, Halifax noted the surroundings were very messy with dogs tethered on chains and living in plywood dog houses, but there was also evidence the dogs were healthy and even evidence that Hobson loved her dogs.

"It may be that people got caught up in the moment and came to inappropriate conclusions," the judge said of those on the property during the raid.

The Crown had pointed to discoloured water as one indication of lack of care.

Hobson was not in Hay River on May 29, 2010, when her property was raided by police. She had made arrangements for a man to care for the dogs, and feed and water them.

Halifax noted testimony showed Hobson had told the man to use municipal water, but he used pond water.

There was no testing of water quality for the trial, the judge added. "Without being tested, nobody knows."

Nor was there testing of the animals.

"I cannot say the standard of care was below what should be expected as a reasonable minimum," Halifax said.

The charges were laid after a man went onto the property after hearing howling dogs, and afterwards reported his concerns to the RCMP. Hay River Mayor Kelly Schofield also checked out the property and went to the police.

Court was told Hobson breeds Mackenzie River Huskies, and is trying to save the breed and have it officially recognized.

At the conclusion of testimony on Sept. 8, two counts of the same Criminal Code charges on which Hobson was found not guilty were dropped by the Crown, as was a charge under the NWT Dog Act.

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