By Delon Shurtz
Alta Newspaper Group – Lethbridge
A Hays area man who terrorized two women and brutally abused several pet dogs, including one he dragged by the neck behind his truck, has been handed a custodial sentence.
However, Justin Lee Unruh won’t serve his sentence in jail, but in his home, at least for part of the time.
Unruh, 29, was handed a conditional sentence of two years less a day during a hearing earlier this month in Lethbridge provincial court, after he pleaded guilty to single counts of careless storage of a firearm, uttering threats, animal cruelty and two counts of pointing a firearm.
He must serve the first six months of his sentence under house arrest, then adhere to a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. for the rest of his sentence.
Reading from an agreed statement of facts, Crown prosecutor Erin Olsen told court a woman who had a relationship with Unruh for several years before 2013 was frightened of him, particularly because of his infatuation with knives and guns.
She even slept during the day so she could stay awake at night, when Unruh was most confrontational.
“She also stayed in the children’s room at night because she was worried about them and herself,” Olsen said.
Matters escalated toward the end of their relationship when the woman accompanied Unruh on a hunting trip and he pointed a loaded shotgun at her.
The woman was “frightened for her life by this incident,” Olsen said.
After the relationship ended in 2013, Unruh began dating another woman.
The rocky relationship lasted until December 2015 when, for the third but final time, the woman walked out. However, during the relationship Unruh called her degrading names and threatened her and her parents.
She “saw Mr. Unruh punch walls, bang his head on things and threaten to hurt himself, apparently to get his way in the relationship,” Olsen said.
Unruh also told his girlfriend he could get rid of her body and no one would know.
“He said he could do so in the manner of the show Dexter; chopping her into little pieces and dropping them in a hole somewhere.”
Olsen said because Unruh had access to dozens of knives, machetes and numerous firearms, the woman took Unruh’s threats seriously and was afraid for her life.
During an argument between the couple over a pet dog, Unruh threatened to shoot the dog, and picked up a 12-gauge shotgun. The woman stood between the dog and Unruh and said he would have to shoot her.
“What, you don’t think I will?” he responded, then pointed the gun at her.
The couple often owned numerous animals while they lived together on Unruh’s rural property near Hays, northeast of Taber.
Many of those animals were beaten and abused by Unruh, including Sonny, a yellow Labrador retriever that Unruh tied by the neck to his truck and dragged down the road as “discipline” for wandering to a neighbour’s property. The animal’s paws were torn and bleeding, and the incident could only be described as severe physical abuse, a veterinarian noted.
The pet was seriously hurt again sometime later while the couple argued about Unruh’s treatment of the dog. Unruh angrily picked up a heavy battery pack, such as those used in portable drills, and threw it at his girlfriend. Sonny jumped up to either catch the object or protect the woman, and was hit in the head. Unruh refused to let a veterinarian treat the dog despite “blood gushing” from the wound and visible bone and cartilage.
Instead, Unruh glued the wound shut with Crazy Glue.
“Over the next days, Sonny’s wound broke open from pus, he lost the ability to walk, he was drooling, his head was cowed to one side and he was moving very slowly. Eventually Mr. Unruh’s father shot and killed Sonny.”
Unruh also tied up a female Great Pyrenees-husky cross called Minion and beat her on the head, chest and shoulder with his fists. The dog collapsed and didn’t move, but the woman was not allowed to check on the dog or get help from a veterinarian.
“Mr. Unruh said that Minion ‘deserved it’ and should be left alone to learn a lesson,” Olsen said. “Minion died within one month of this incident.”
Unruh abused two other dogs, as well; Fergie, a female Corgi which he punched and threw down cement stairs in the home, and Gunner, which Unruh whipped with a metal fire-pit roasting stick.
In addition to his sentence, Unruh — who court was told doesn’t have any previous criminal convictions — must submit a sample of his DNA for the National DNA Databank, and he is prohibited from possessing firearms and other weapons for 10 years.
He is also prohibited for 10 years from caring for or owning animals, and he will be on probation for three years after he’s served his sentence. Many of the weapons police seized from Unruh’s home were also forfeited for destruction.