Trial begins for man accused of running puppy mill

Mel Gerling was charged in 2011 after the SPCA seized 14 dogs from an Abbotsford property.

The BC SPCA started receiving complaints in 2006 about alleged puppy mills that were being operated by a man later busted in Abbotsford, according to testimony presented in court Monday morning.

Jeanette McKnight, a special provincial constable with the SPCA, said the complaints related to issues such as urine-soaked crates, filthy surroundings, overcrowding, unclipped nails and matted fur.

The properties were located on Stevens Street in Abbotsford and McSween Road in Chilliwack and were operated by dog breeder Mel Gerling.

Gerling’s trial began Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in Chilliwack on charges of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal and failing to provide necessaries for an animal.

Two co-accused, Damara and Patrick English, each entered a surprise guilty plea on a charge of causing an animal to continue to be in distress, an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act.

They will be sentenced at a later date.

McKnight said, for the most part, she found the sites to be clean, with sufficient food and water for the animals.

She said there were some minor issues with grooming and unclipped nails, but orders issued to Gerling were usually resolved.

The Stevens Street property closed down in late 2007, and Gerling moved the operation to McSween Road.

McKnight said she had ongoing concerns about the number of dogs on site and the potential for the spread of disease.

On one occasion in 2007, she said there about 80 adult dogs and puppies on the property, and Gerling indicated he had plans to accommodate up to 500 dogs within five years to supply a pet store chain.

In late 2008, McKnight said the SPCA received a call that 27 dogs had died on the site, but she saw no signs of this when she visited later that day.

She said she continued to make regular checks of the property.

“I was concerned that we were getting complaints … I had not seen anything on the property that would be alarming to me, but we were getting complaints both from the public and from people on the property,” she said.

McKnight’s testimony up until the afternoon session on Monday covered the period ending February 2009.

Gerling and the Englishes (his former employees) were charged in May 2011, several months after the SPCA seized 14 dogs (some pictured at left) – shih tzus, chihuahuas, pugs and terrier crosses – from a property on Sumas Way in Abbotsford.

It was alleged that the dogs were not receiving proper protection from the elements and were suffering from a range of health issues, including badly matted fur, eye infections, dental disease and badly overgrown nails.

Gerling’s lawyer, Derwin Petri, said his client did not live at the property at the time and had paid another man $700 a month to care for the dogs.

Petri hopes to argue later in the trial that SPCA authorities conducted an illegal search of the property – thus breaching Gerling’s charter rights – and all the evidence should be thrown out.

The trial has been scheduled for three weeks.