Judge calls Surrey dog thief a vigilante, says law must be obeyed

  • Feb. 24, 2015 5:00 a.m.

SURREY — A dog rescuer who admitted to stealing dogs she believed were being abused or neglected will serve a 90-day conditional sentence.

Janet Olson, 61, appeared Tuesday in provincial court in Surrey to be sentenced for two charges each of theft and breaking and entering.

Judge Melissa Gillespie said she plans to give Olson a conditional sentence, but she delayed imposing sentence for a month to allow Olson to attend a family reunion in Ontario in mid-March.

Olson, founder and former director of the defunct A Better Life Dog Rescue, pleaded guilty to being involved in incidents that took place in Chilliwack, Richmond and Coquitlam.

In the early-morning hours of March 22, 2009, Olson and a colleague tried to take a dog named Samantha from a Chilliwack property. The owner saw one of the women and pursued her to a nearby van.

He stood in front of the van to prevent her escape and when the driver, Olson, swerved around him he smashed her windshield with a bat.

On July 10, 2010, an 11-month-old Rottweiler was stolen from a Richmond home. The owner reported the theft to police and a short time later received a tip that Olson had taken his dog.

When police investigated the tip they found an email exchange between Olson and a number of A Better Life Dog Rescue volunteers outlining surveillance activity and plans for taking the dog, which they had been told was living in squalid conditions outside.

By February 2011, Surrey RCMP were investigating a number of dog thefts and considered Olson and members of A Better Life to be suspects.

On Nov. 21 of that year, police who had Olson’s home under surveillance saw her leave in her van and head to Coquitlam, where she met up with Louise Reid.

The two went to a townhouse complex, where they took a bulldog named Samson because they believed he would freeze to death if he was left outside. They were arrested nearby.

Gillespie, in her reasons for sentence, said Olson was acting as a vigilante of sorts.

“I accept Ms. Olson is passionate about her cause, she believes her pursuits are noble and she feels that the laws aren’t adequate, however I also find that her actions and pursuits of taking the law into her own hands and becoming the arbiter of what is acceptable regarding the treatment of animals oversteps the boundary of what is permissible for the citizens of Canada, no matter how noble their motivations,” Gillespie said.

In deciding to impose a conditional sentence, Gillespie considered a number of aggravating and mitigating factors. She pointed out that the crimes involved a high degree of planning and organization and took place over a two-year period. In spite of the fact that she was nearly caught once, Olson continued to take dogs.

However, Olson pleaded guilty, had no criminal record and was previously of excellent character. She was a high performer and leader in the community who suffered financial and personal losses because of her crimes.

Conditions of Olson’s sentence will include abiding by a curfew and completing 30 hours of community service.

Outside court, Olson said she considered the sentence fair, but she questioned the overall value of the prosecution.

“This has been three years and three months — a case that has taken up hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money and very valuable court time for the theft/rescue of two abused dogs and the attempt of another,” she said.

“I guess it’s up to the public to decide if this was a really valuable use of their hard-earned taxpayer money and if they think this was in their best interest.”

Surrey Now