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Dog lovers clash outside Surrey courthouse

Supporters of a Surrey woman charged in connection with "an elaborate dog-theft investigation" rallied outside Surrey Provincial Court Thursday morning.

But the group – carrying posters bearing calls for better animal rights, new animal-protection laws and an end to animal cruelty – did not broadcast their support for A Better Life Dog Rescue's Janet Olson unopposed.

"Jan is going to have a better life in jail," called out Brad Engel, a North Shore resident who told Peace Arch News he has been following the activities of ABLDR since "way before" Olson and co-accused Louise Reid were charged last month.

"I know several people that have had their animals taken," Engel said, on a break from videotaping the supporters.

Janet OlsonOlson, 58, and Reid, 59 – also of Surrey and a co-director of ABLDR – were arrested Nov. 21, and are facing charges of break-and-enter and theft under $5,000, in connection with a dog that was taken from a Coquitlam backyard that same day. Officers with Surrey's Property Crime Target Team arrested the pair after reportedly observing them enter the yard and walk away with a bulldog named Samson.

Olson is facing an additional charge in connection with the alleged theft of a Jack Russell terrier in Surrey on April 13 of this year.

She told Black Press after her arrest that she had "a moral right" to take the dogs.

Following a court appearance Thursday, she repeated the sentiment, saying that dogs can't help themselves, and that new animal-rights legislation is needed.

"Any group that has fought for their rights and won has always had to defy an unjust law," Olson told Peace Arch News.

Olson wouldn't discuss the Surrey charge, describing it as "a completely different scenario," but said she doesn't dispute that they took Samson.

"I took the dog out of the yard because a bulldog expert advised me he was going to freeze to death," she said.

Engel and others who gathered to oppose Olson outside the courthouse claimed that a poster displayed by one of Olson's supporters included at least one photograph of dogs that had been stolen – a claim the supporter denied.

Confrontation

"I fostered all of these dogs," the woman told Engel-supporter Deirdre MacNicol. "Get your story straight, bitch."

The woman refused to disclose her identity – "What does my name have to do with saving these dogs?" she asked MacNicol – but denied being Olson's co-accused, Louise Reid.

Olson-supporter Claudette Tremblay, a Port Coquitlam resident who adopted her dog, Dickins, from ABLDR two years ago, said the Jack Russell-corgie "would have been a goner" if the group hadn't stepped in. He was scheduled to be euthanized, she said.

"I strongly believe in the group," Tremblay said.

In addressing the crowd, Olson showed photographs of dogs in apparent distress – including one whose muzzle was duct-taped shut – but whose treatment she maintained is considered legal.

She also told of a dog she adopted that had spent most of his first 12 years tied up outside and alone. She said she rescued the dog from conditions she described as the "worst hell I have ever seen," and he lived a better life until his death nine months later.

"Did I have a right to take Rupert?" she said, acknowledging some in the crowd didn't agree she did.

"They're right – I didn't have a legal right to take him. But Rupert had a right… not to be treated so cruelly. Rupert had a right to be rescued, and I had a moral obligation to protect him, and so do you."

Engel, who owns three dogs, said he is not opposed to rescuing dogs but to the methods Olson is charged with participating in.

"Jan can say anything she wants. She's breaking the law and she shouldn't. She's taken home pets," he said.

"I'm all for rescuing dogs, if they need it. There's protocols you have to follow."

Janet Brito, of Beagle Paws Rescue, said she came from Maple Ridge because she doesn't want all rescue groups "tarnished by the same brush."

Vasquez family

Brito said a man who recently wanted to surrender his dogs hesitated after hearing her first name. He wanted to know if she was the same Janet charged with stealing dogs, she said.

"Rescue shouldn't be about what she's doing," Brito said. "It gives rescues a bad name."

Erika and Omar Vasquez said they came to the rally with their five-year-old daughter, Linnea, because the family's boxer, Chica, was taken last August by a uniformed woman who showed up at their Coquitlam door claiming there had been concerns about the dog's health.

Erika Vasquez said the woman "intimidated" her into handing Chica over, with a promise the dog would be returned. They haven't seen their two-year-old since.

Omar Vasquez described it as "not the right way" to do things.

"You have to go through the proper channels," he said.

Olson is due back in court Jan. 26.

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