Death row dog decision sparks concern for canines deemed dangerous

Aug 14 2019, 1:35 pm

It’s a fear of many dog owners: your pet gets into an altercation, accidental or not, and is deemed “dangerous.”

It appears if your dog does get labelled “dangerous” by the courts, it may not get a second chance at life, according to one animal law lawyer who is now putting owners on high alert  after BC’s top court ruled that there’s no jurisdiction to order conditional releases for pets that have harmed anyone — meaning they’ll have to be destroyed.

In a phone interview with Daily Hive Vancouver, Rebeka Breder said she learned the Court of Appeal’s decision on Friday, surrounding a dog named Punky: the document states that the four-year old Australian cattle dog was found to be “dangerous” at the first level of provincial court after the animal bit and “seriously injured” a person at a Vancouver public park in 2017. The beloved pet was put on “death row” for the next two years.

Breder said there was no rehabilitation or management plan put to the court, so it was ordered that the animal had to be put down.

The dog’s owner tried to fight the decision, but the court’s decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of BC, and then again by the BC Court of Appeal on August 9.

“Given Punky’s past behaviour, temperament and lack of rehabilitation prospects, it was clearly open to the Provincial Court judge to conclude that the dog posed an unacceptable risk to the public and ought to be destroyed,” wrote the Honourable Mr. Justice Abrioux.

Breder said before this case, if dogs were seized by the city and it wanted the animal destroyed, the animal would have to go through a trial process — in which there would be two steps taken.

First would be to see whether the dog meets the definition of what’s considered “dangerous,” which Breder said can be easy because sometimes all it takes is a scratch, “as long as the dog did cause some injury.”

The second step, if the pet meets those “dangerous” standards, the decision would have to be made if it could be returned on conditions to the dog owner or someone else.

Breder with client’s dog “Scarlet” who was released on condition/Photo courtesy Rebeka Breder

Breder said the law was fairly established because there was jurisdiction of the court to order the conditions.

“Then this case comes along and essentially the Court of Appeal said and ruled today that there is no jurisdiction to return a dog on conditions or to meet these conditional orders once a dog is found to be ‘dangerous,'” Breder said. “And that essentially unravels the last 15 years of case law — many of which involved in where courts have agreed that there is jurisdiction to return a dog on conditions, and essentially saved the lives of dogs who should have been saved.”

“A lot of these dogs are good dogs, they’re just dogs that happen to have gotten into either a dog fight because he or she was defending themselves, or maybe the dog had bad training by the dog owner — not because the dog owner meant for the dog to have bad training, but the dog owner meaning to do well went to a dog trainer that used inappropriate methods,” she said.

Breder said many of those dogs were found to be manageable after she and clients found good trainers before they went to trial.

“I’ve literally, for over a decade of doing these cases, I have never had a client who has not followed an order or whose dog has reoffended,” Breder said, adding those conditional orders both ensured public safety and the welfare of the dogs, and all it took was better management of the animal.

Breder said for example, a dog named Shyloh at the age of three (pictured below), injured a child when they were playing, “an amazing, smart, and friendly dog who just needed better training around kids. He was also on death row, but was released to my clients on conditions.”

Breder’s client’s dog ‘Shyloh’ released on condition/Photo courtesy Rebeka Breder

Breder said no case like Punky’s has been before BC’s Court of Appeal, “it has never ruled on the issue of jurisdiction itself in these types of cases.”

Breder said she’s been vocal about this specific case in the past, not wanting it to go to the Court of Appeal because of the risk of a court determining that there’s no jurisdiction, “and of course, that’s what happened.”

Now Breder is worried that people won’t learn from their mistakes, “they have a ‘dangerous’ dog, the dog will be automatically killed and it doesn’t give an opportunity for the dog to get better obviously because it’s dead, or for the dog owner to learn from its mistakes — and so that person will just go out, get a new dog, make the same mistake and off we go again.”

However, Breder said there is “a glimmer of hope,” while the court said there’s no jurisdiction to return a dog on conditions, it also said that in determining whether a dog is ‘dangerous’ it needs to be decided if the animal poses an unacceptable risk to the public.

“That is whether the dog is likely, given all the evidence in the case, whether the dog is likely to kill or seriously injure in the future,” Breder said.

Breder said that gives opportunity to dog owners during trial to acknowledge the animal hurt someone — and show the steps they’re taking to ensure it doesn’t happen again, for example hiring a dog trainer, behaviouralist, or making changes to property.

“But dog owners better be sure that they have someone who is experienced in this field and has good experience to be able to defend them, and more importantly — their dog,” Breder said.

The Ministry of Attorney General said it can not comment as this is a matter before the courts.

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