SURREY — Chris Ness is a lawyer. One of the good ones, most probably – a nice guy, a soft-spoken guy. Last Saturday (Feb. 4), Ness spent a good chunk of his morning lying on the floor in the middle of the Cloverdale Agriplex.
He wasn’t sleeping off a bender, and he wasn’t counting the number of roof support beams. But he did have his dog with him – a Bernese Mountain Dog named Emily who calmly stretched out right beside her equally laid-back owner, sometimes placing her paw or head on him just to bond a little more.
“This is actually how, at night time,” Ness explained. “I’ll lie down with her on the carpet. Sometimes she’ll fall asleep with her head on my hand just like this.”
This was clearly a man who loves his dog – at least as much as she loves him. They were made for each other.
But there’s a sobering preamble here. One that never should have happened in the first place but one that, fortunately, now has this exquisitely happy ending.
Emily, you see, was one of several dozen dogs seized in the raid of a Langley puppy mill one year ago, in February of 2016. The animals freed that day are now known, rather famously, as the “Langley 66.”
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PICTURED: Chris Ness and Emily. Photo by Gord Goble
Rhonda Ott was there on that fateful day. With the SPCA, Ott was part of the group of people fronted by lead investigator Christine Carey that, warrant in hand, walked into a scene they’ll never forget.
“We went in with a warrant and took them by surprise. And what we found was… complete disarray. It was one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen. It was horrific.
“Dogs with missing ears, eyeballs missing, broken bones, ear drum issues. Many were riddled with ringworm and so many other problems. And they all had neurological issues.”
The team removed the dogs from the mill, took them to the Vancouver SPCA shelter, which instantly became a MASH unit of sorts, and hoped.
Precisely one year later at the Agriplex in Cloverdale, Carey and Ott and other SPCA officers joined with a whole bunch of folks like Chris Ness – people who eventually adopted the dogs liberated from the Langley puppy mill and were there to celebrate the anniversary of what has since become a true feel-good story.
Ness’s connection with Emily began just after the sting.
“I’ve always loved dogs,” he said. “I’d been volunteering as a dog walker at the SPCA Vancouver branch for about five years. I was on my way to Kelowna, on a bachelor-party trip, and I got a text message from my volunteer co-ordinator saying there’s been a big seizure (of dogs) and there’s a Burmese Mountain Dog, which is my favorite breed.”
Ness met Emily a couple weeks later, and the love affair was on.
“When I first got her, she was very nervous, and even just raising my hand above her head to pet her, she’d flinch. And from there, slowly I built trust with her. It took a couple of months for her to get better.
“But still, a couple weeks ago,” he continued, “I picked up a hair brush to brush her and I turned around a bit too quickly and had it raised up, and she got down on her hind legs and cowered. But then her expression changed. ‘Oh, I don’t have to worry about that anymore.’ And she came to me, wagging her tail.”
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PICTURED: Dogs prepare to parade at the reunion event. Photo by Gord Goble
Adopting Emily meant huge changes in Ness’s life. He was forced to move from his home in Surrey, just minutes from his place of business in Newton, to a more accommodating home in Richmond that’s closer to his sister and brother-in-law, who’d agreed to babysit Emily during the day. He also got himself a new car.
These days, Ness is allowed to take Emily to work with him, which means he’s toying with the idea of moving back to Surrey.
“This is a dream come true for me,” he said. “For so long, I wanted a dog, but with working and going through school and articling, I didn’t have the chance. And now, I can even bring her to work!”
One more thing: Emily is now a certified St. John Ambulance therapy dog.
“We go to the senior’s homes in Richmond and greet the seniors and make their days,” Ness explained. “Their eyes just light up. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Also at the Agriplex last Saturday were Surrey’s Carol and Aldo Castagna. They, like Ness, adopted a Bernese Mountain Dog, now named Frankie. Unlike Ness, they got tantalizingly close to their eventual pet even before the raid.
“My wife was researching puppies,” said Aldo. “And we came across their website. They were registered at the CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) site. So we thought it was a good source.”
Said Carol, “CKC had that breeder on their website, and I thought, well, they’ve been vetted, so they should be a registered breeder. So I went ahead and gave them a deposit and we went to the farm.”
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PICTURED: The parade of dogs. Photo by Gord Goble
“We met the father of Frankie,” continued Aldo. “But we weren’t allowed on the property. They met us at the front. We asked to see the puppies and they said no because they were under the heat lamp or whatever. We didn’t know any better. They even gave us health tips in advance, and hints on how to feed her.
“In the meantime, we went to the Island on a vacation and came back and Carol’s mom said ‘You should see what was on the news – a big seizure in Langley.’ Turns out it was the same place.”
Ultimately, the Castagnas didn’t even lose their place in the queue. Eight weeks later, they were able to take possession of Frankie.
“She’s done well,” said Aldo. “She had health issues at the beginning… bowel movements, infections. But we ended up going to a holistic vet in Cloverdale who was wonderful. We put her on a raw diet, and she’s been great ever since.”
But it wasn’t all Bernese Water Dogs at the Agriplex on Saturday. Indeed, some were even more esoteric, like the Portuguese Water Dog/Poodle mix that now belongs to Surrey’s Jamal sisters.
According to mom Mariella, “We wanted to get a rescue dog, and had been looking for several months. We wanted a certain type of dog – fluffy and cute.
“We’d applied to other rescue societies several times, but we didn’t get them due to lack of experience, etc., etc. But then we saw it (the puppy mill raid) on the news, we went on the SPCA website.
“In hindsight, I’m happy because we found the perfect dog.”
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PICTURED: Sophia and Emma Jamal and their dog, Luna. Photo by Gord Goble
Daughters Sophia and Emma couldn’t agree more. Says 10-year-old Sophia: “We went to a meeting where they told us how they were treated at puppy mills. They suggested the little puppies for people who had children under 12 years of age. So we applied, and they called us back a couple of weeks later and we came and got her.”
Emma, 13, then held her hands a few inches apart, indicating that their now very large dog, which they named Luna, was tiny at one time. “You could hold her in your hands when we first got her.”
The Jamal sisters have advice for those interested in a canine pet: “There are so many dogs out there that need to be rescued,” said Sophia. “It’s OK if you buy from a breeder, but there’s a bunch of rescue dogs out there, too.”
Emma was more succinct. “Adopt, don’t shop,” she said with a laugh.
As we talked, another happy adopter happened by to tell the girls that she owns Luna’s brother. And that set off a series of squeals from Sophia and Emma, which in turn led to laughter and chatter and story-swapping between owners.
Later, everyone got together to parade around the Agriplex floor, pose for a group photo and then to give out and receive awards, for this and that. And that’s the way it was last Saturday at the Agriplex. Some sadness, yes, in acknowledging how this extended family had begun. But mostly joy in how it is today.
It was a good morning.