Tsawwassen dog theft victim speaks up

Owner hopes Surrey-based animal rescue group is shut down

Tsawwassen resident James Lucas claims his 17-year-old border collie cross Kate (pictured) was stolen from his property last August. Two members of an animal rescue group have since been charged in connection with similar cases of alleged dog thefts.

Tsawwassen resident James Lucas claims his 17-year-old border collie cross Kate (pictured) was stolen from his property last August. Two members of an animal rescue group have since been charged in connection with similar cases of alleged dog thefts.

A Tsawwassen resident is among a host of people who have come forward alleging their pets were stolen by an animal welfare organization whose operators are facing charges related to an elaborate animal theft scheme.

James Lucas said his 17-year-old border collie cross, Kate, was snatched from his fenced front yard near Cliff Drive last August. He said one of his neighbours witnessed the alleged abduction by two women “impersonating peace officers.”

“It was a big stress. I probably put in, I’d say, 50 to 80 hours trying to track her down,” Lucas said.

After two months of investigation, Lucas said he retrieved Kate when a man in Chilliwack, who was caring for the dog, responded to Lucas’ call for help on Craigslist. During the time she was gone, Lucas believes Kate ended up within A Better Life Dog Rescue, a Surrey-based animal welfare group.

Better Life founder Janet Olson, 58, and co-director Louise Reid, 59, both of Surrey, were arrested Nov. 21, 2011 and have been charged with break and enter and theft of  a family pet in Coquitlam. Olson has also been charged in relation to the alleged theft of a Jack Russell terrier in Surrey on April 13, 2011.

Surrey RCMP spokesman Cpl. Drew Grainger said investigators will be recommending a number of new charges against the operators of the rescue organization early this year concerning alleged thefts throughout the Lower Mainland and in Washington state.

Grainger said since the story broke, investigators have been flooded with calls from people alleging their pets were taken by Olson, Reid and A Better Life.

Lucas was thrilled to be reunited with Kate, who his family adopted at five weeks old, but said the dog was permanently traumatized by the event. She passed away just last week.

“She was 17-and-a-half years old and her health was failing—the dognapping caused her some additional stress for sure on top of her old age,” Lucas said.

“She’d been yanked out of our yard and thrown into the back of a truck. This is like taking grandma, who’s 120, and lassoing her, dragging her out of my yard and throwing her into the back of a vehicle with a couple of complete strangers.”

Following the alleged abduction, Lucas received a tip that a dog matching Kate’s description showed up in Mission, B.C. at the home of an A Better Life volunteer. Lucas said he contacted the volunteer, who told him the dog was in “deplorable shape.”

“When (Kate) was in our yard she was fine, she was mobile, she was her normal self, but when she got out to Mission she couldn’t walk, she was covered in feces, she probably had a nervous reaction,” Lucas said.

At a court appearance last month, Olson told The Surrey/North Delta Leader she had the moral authority to take the dog she is charged with stealing.

“There’s humanitarian reasons to help animals,” Olson said. “If you saw an animal on the side of the road with its throat slit ear to ear… are you not going to rescue that dog and take it to a vet? Did we have a right to take that dog? Yes, we had a moral right to take that dog.”

The investigation began when the Surrey RCMP received information about a number of animal thefts throughout the Lower Mainland, where suspects were using animal welfare uniforms in the heist. A Better Life Dog Rescue, and Olson were identified as suspects from the outset.

“This investigation quickly revealed Olson and Reid were operating their charitable not for profit organization beyond the scope of its mandate and allegedly unlawfully acting beyond their good will intentions,” said Grainger.

Lucas believes his home was targeted due to “fourth-hand incorrect information” passed on by a neighbour who did not realize Kate was being cared for while the family was out of town.

He hopes A Better Life Dog Rescue is shut down.

“It sounds like she’s (Olson) done good work in saving a lot of dogs that legitimately need to be saved, but on the other hand, her organization is stealing dogs that they don’t have any right to take. So that has to stop.”

Olson is due back in court Jan. 26.

—With files from Kevin Diakiw

Surrey North Delta Leader