Record animal cruelty sentence makes the case for Violence Link collaboration

In September, the longest sentence ever in Canada for animal abuse was handed down in a Calgary courtroom. 

On the receiving end of the 6.5-year prison term was a 26-year-old woman named Aleeta Raugust, a diagnosed psychopath who tortured nine cats, killed seven of them, and admitted to having thoughts of harming humans. 

She pled guilty to nine counts of animal cruelty. 

Calgary Police Sgt. Dennis Smithson says the case is the perfect example of why violence link training is so important and warrants investment by police forces and governments.  

Humane Canada CEO Barb Cartwright says it demonstrates what can be done when agencies and properly trained experts work together, and why it’s worth replicating across the country. 


Between 2018 and 2023, Raugust bought cats online with the intention of doing them harm. She recorded videos of herself torturing “two or three” to rewatch  – something that gave her pleasure. 

She left the cats’ bodies in public places so she could observe people’s reactions upon finding them.

A psychological assessment found she had little remorse for what she’d done. 

Raugust also admitted to having violent fantasies about hurting people when angered and told police she intended to burn down her former apartment building

A Case Study of the Violence Link 

Animal abuse often directly correlates to interpersonal violence. Research shows that violence towards people and violence towards animals are part of a larger pattern of crimes that co-exist, known as the violence link.  

With Raugust, a team of Calgary Police and Calgary Humane Society officers, crown prosecutors and a forensic veterinarian – all trained to recognize the violence link – worked together to investigate and build the case. 

Although it’s not a formalized team, they work closely and regularly communicate, which has kept concerning patterns of behaviour and cases from falling through the cracks. The trust and rapport they’ve built has bypassed the hesitancy police agencies often have around sharing information.  

Their efforts saw Raugust receive the stiffest penalty on record for an animal abuse case in this country – doubling the previous sentencing threshold. 

Smithson says since the team formed a decade ago, there have been more charges and convictions, and they’ve repeatedly set and broken the Canadian record for the length of sentences.  

“We’re putting people away for a number of years now as opposed to just fines and warnings not to do it again,” he says of past sentencing practices.  

Brad Nichols, the Calgary Humane Society’s director of operations and enforcement, says although the pace of change hasn’t been as fast as many would like, it wasn’t long ago that a lifetime prohibition on owning animals was unheard of. 

“Seeing punitive and preventative measures put in place more often, and judges viewing animals as victims that can suffer, it’s very satisfying,” he says.  

Smithson and the team created a violence link training program that more than 1,000 people across Alberta have gone through – everyone from police and peace officers to dispatchers, analysts, record keepers, veterinarians, and women’s shelters staff.  

About half of them are in Calgary, including nearly 400 police officers, and the force’s domestic conflict and domestic violence risk assessment teams. 

The lead investigator in Raugust received the training the same month she was put on the case. Bylaw officers had been collecting dead cats in the same lane for several weeks, the assumption being they’d been hit by cars. But when Sgt. Alanna Sherwood started investigating, she felt there were too many in the same area for that to be the case.  

“She knew right away there was a lot more to this and started digging,” Smithson says. 

Sherwood involved Dr. Margaret Doyle, a forensic veterinarian, to conduct necropsies on the cats to determine what happened to them. Coupled with the Humane Society’s resources, the team assembled a comprehensive file for the Crown prosecutor, who was also well-versed in the violence link and able to explain it to the court.  

“When you put all those pieces together, it’s hard to say no to putting somebody in jail,” Smithson says.  

“Like any other file that takes multiple units and multiple agencies, these cases are no different.” 

However, police agencies have long viewed animal abuse files as a bylaw matter for humane societies to handle. 

“What’s changing is that we’ve recognized that we need everybody involved to do these things correctly,” Smithson says. 

Nichols agrees.  

“If we didn’t have access to the police and they didn’t have access to us, we’d both have incomplete toolkits,” he says.  

“We wouldn’t know what we don’t know, which is always a problem.” 

However, aside from the Edmonton Police’s animal cruelty unit, few police agencies or academies provide training on the violence link. Smithson says there’s a lack of recognition of how intertwined it is in daily life. 

And yet, it’s very clear in the data. Smithson said he was “quite shocked” when the team looked at individuals charged with intentional animal abuse over an 18-month period. They found 93% of them had been charged or investigated for domestic violence, and within that group, 85% were involved in an average of four other criminal code offenses.  

Nichols says they didn’t realize how unique their team was until they started presenting at conferences and through the National Centre for the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty. 

“It became pretty evident not a lot of jurisdictions were collaborating like this.”  

Their unit has shown what can be accomplished and enhanced awareness of the fact animal abuse files often have human victims as well. 

Smithson wants to see formalized violence link training in every police agency and academy. 

“Every time I present to members across Canada, there’s always an officer who comes to me after and says I wish I hadn’t known this, that somebody had taught me this right from day one,” he says. 

National Strategy Needed

Humane Canada and its Canadian Violence Link Coalition partners are working to increase the focus on and recognition of the connection in legislation and policy, and operationally across law enforcement and the criminal and social justice systems. 

Cartwright advocates for a national strategy to ensure police and animal protection officers are trained to recognize the link, as well as judges, and prosecutors. There’s also a need for meaningful rehabilitation so offenders don’t escalate upon release. In the Raugust case, even the judge expressed concerns about the day she gets out of jail

Ideally, Cartwright says Canada would have a government-funded violence link centre to foster a unified effort across sectors and agencies, to provide training, as well as education on collecting animal abuse crime data across the country. 

In its final report1, the Mass Casualty Commission into Canada’s worst mass shooting recommended “all individuals and entities engaged in data-collection research and policy development, including law enforcement agencies and other authorities, collect data on…whether the perpetrator had a history of harming or killing pets or animals, or threatening to do so.” 

The federal government has yet to act on the recommendations. 

Cartwright says while Raugust is a landmark case, it’s just the latest wake-up call to governments to invest in violence link training.  

“We can’t keep dealing with this in a piecemeal way,” she says.  

“We’ve had some successes here, so how do we expand this across the country?” 

Smithson hopes statistics showing the scope of the problem and the team’s impact help reinforce why recognition of the link is so important. 

“Data drives budgets, data drives the use of resources,” he says. 

The Mass Casualty Commission’s Final Report, 2023 – Turning the Tide Together:,current%20Framework%20Programme%20for%20Research

Strengthening Canada’s Environmental Protection Law an Important Opportunity to Protect Lab Animals From Needless Suffering

This article is written by Dr. Toolika Rastogi (Humane Canada), Dr. Elisabeth Ormandy
(the Society for Humane Science), and Kaitlyn Mitchell (Animal Justice). 

One of Canada’s most important environmental laws, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”) is more than 20 years old and past due for a revamp. Nearly four years after the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development released its report1 calling for comprehensive changes to the Act, the Government of Canada has introduced amendments2 to better protect the environment and health of Canadians from exposure to harmful chemicals that are ubiquitous in today’s society.   

The Government’s Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act, could have significant implications for the health and wellbeing of wild animals as well as those kept in research labs across the country.  That’s because, tragically, scientific research to assess the environmental and health risks posed by chemicals often involves testing on animals. In fact, toxicity testing is the most harmful and painful use of animals in scientific research. Many toxicity tests fall into “Category E”— the most severe category of harm3 that animals can experience — according to the Canadian Council on Animal Care. In 2019, approximately 90,000 animals experienced Category E toxicity tests that cause death, severe pain, and extreme distress and may include procedures such as inflicting burns or trauma on unanesthetized animals, and forced ingestion or topical application of deadly substances. 

Thankfully, the proposed amendments in the preamble to CEPA recognize the need to encourage the use and development of non-animal alternatives in order to reduce and replace the use of animals in painful toxicity testing. Humane Canada, the Society for Humane Science and Animal Justice worked collaboratively to make recommendations to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada and applaud this exciting move. But much more needs to be done to promote the use of alternatives to animal testing and put Canada on track toward eliminating toxicity testing on animals. 

Promoting non-animal testing methods  

Animal testing is often a poor predictor of human outcomes. Non-animal testing methods are becoming increasingly available, and are often more reliable, as well as more time- and cost-effective. That’s why a global shift away from animal testing is underway. 

When the European Union4 and United States5 strengthened their toxics laws, regulators also took action to require non-animal methods to be developed, validated, and adopted, and they introduced requirements aimed at eliminating unnecessary toxicity testing on animals. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has committed6 to reducing its requests for, and funding of, mammal studies by 30% by 2025, and to ending the use of toxicity testing on mammals entirely by 2035.  In doing so, Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler acknowledged that: 

Scientific advancements exist today that allow us to better predict potential hazards for risk assessment purposes without the use of traditional methods that rely on animal testing.  These new approach methods (NAMs)…[allow] us to decrease animals used while potentially evaluating more chemicals across a broader range of potential biological effects, but in a shorter timeframe with fewer resources while often achieving equal or greater biological predictivity than current animal models. 

Canada should follow the lead of jurisdictions such as the U.S. and European Union by creating binding requirements aimed at eliminating unnecessary toxicity testing on animals.  In addition to amending the Act’s preamble as currently proposed, this would mean requiring that companies producing or importing the same or similar substances work together to avoid unnecessary repetition of animal studies, as well as preventing companies from conducting tests on animals where alternatives exist, and committing to eliminating toxicity testing on animals entirely as soon as possible.  

To aid in this important transition, the federal government should also commit to funding for the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods (CCAAM) at the University of Windsor. CCAAM is the first center of its kind in Canada, dedicated to developing and validating animal-free research innovations, such as cultured tissues, computer models, and organs-on-a-chip. 

Protecting the welfare of genetically modified animals 

Another aspect of CEPA that has significant implications for the welfare of animals is Part 6, which regulates the use and manufacture of genetically modified (“GM”) animals.  Genetic engineering, including recent developments in gene editing technology, have significant implications for the welfare of GM animals, yet CEPA treats such animals in the same way as it treats chemicals, requiring only that the environmental and human health risks of a given GM animal be assessed.  

As technological advances related to genetic modification of animals increase rapidly, it can be expected that more and more companies will seek to import or manufacture new GM animals in Canada. The government has committed to reviewing regulations governing the assessment of risks posed by GM animals, and we will continue to push for consideration of the welfare implications of any deliberate attempt to influence the genetic makeup of animals before new GM animals are approved for import, use, or manufacture in Canada.  

Modernizing CEPA to protect environmental, human, and animal health  

Eliminating the needless use of animals in testing is a matter of great importance to Canadians. Polling7 shows that an overwhelming majority of Canadians believe it is morally wrong to use animals in medical experiments. 

By strengthening CEPA to protect Canadians and the environment from the risks posed by harmful chemicals, Canada is taking an important step in the right direction. But more needs to be done to protect animals.   

We’re calling on the government to strengthen its proposed amendments to CEPA to ensure words translate into action, and that the objectives of promoting alternatives to animal testing and protecting animals from unnecessary and painful toxicity testing are met.  

What can you do right now to help protect animals used in science?  

At this time, we’re also thinking about animals used in other types of testing, and we’re asking the government to introduce a “Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act”. 

 Ask the Canadian Government to introduce a “Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act

Humane Canada statement on recent incident at Edmonton Humane Society


Humane Canada statement on recent incident at Edmonton Humane Society

OTTAWA – June 7, 2018 – Humane Canada is saddened by the recent incident at the Edmonton Humane Society involving three cats being accidentally left in one of the organization’s transport vehicles. Edmonton Humane Society has acted swiftly to review and change their transfer policy and procedures in order to prevent this kind of gravely serious error from ever happening again.

Read more “Humane Canada statement on recent incident at Edmonton Humane Society”

Uniting for cats and birds

For decades, cat people and bird people have been at odds with each other. But the welfare of one does not need to be sacrificed in order to protect the other. We have a responsibility to all of this country’s animals and need to work to improve the situation for both cats and birds. Pitting them against each other fails to address the perils facing both. Solutions for our embattled birds are necessary, but we can’t lose sight of how dire the situation is for Canada’s cats.

Read more “Uniting for cats and birds”

Lessons learned from the Fort Mac wildfires

June is Disaster Preparedness Month, and I took the opportunity to have a conversation with Tara Clarke, the outgoing Executive Director of Fort McMurray SPCA, to hear what the organization learned about disaster preparedness after living through the largest animal disaster rescue in Canadian history: the Fort McMurray wildfires. It’s been just over a year since the wildfires hit, and the Fort McMurray community is still in the process of rebuilding and recovering.

Read more “Lessons learned from the Fort Mac wildfires”

What’s the difference between a humane society/SPCA, rescue, municipal pound and satellite adoption centre?

Humane Society/SPCA
This generally refers to an organization dedicated to the betterment of animal welfare. They usually run a shelter and an animal adoption program to find new homes for abandoned, mistreated and/or surrendered animals. They also conduct education in their community and are often mandated to enforce provincial and federal animal cruelty laws.

Read more “What’s the difference between a humane society/SPCA, rescue, municipal pound and satellite adoption centre?”