Boss & Bella – Safe from a Caged Life

Posted Thursday June 23, 2016 by Mel Isaacs

Bella

Boss

 

Meet Boss & Bella. These loved family members faced life in a cage or death, until we helped them. Their owner, Corey, contacted us in early April, and we’ve been working hard ever since.

The Incident

Corey’s neighbour had a free ranging rabbit that was coming in to their yard. The dogs, of course, chased it back out each time. He’d tried to talk to the neighbour about this but nothing changed.

Eventually the dogs had enough and unfortunately followed the rabbit under a hole in the fence dug by the rabbit and neighbour’s dog. Once in the neighbour’s yard, they attacked and killed the rabbit (they did not hurt the dog).

This was a very upsetting incident, for both the rabbit owner & Corey’s family. It should never have happened, and Corey 100% accepted that. That being said, normal dog behaviour includes attacking and killing small prey animals. This doesn’t point to any major issue with the dogs themselves, who are great with adults, children and other dogs. The sole issue here is containment. Interestingly, under the legislation if the dogs had killed the rabbit in their own yard, there would be no action that could be taken.

Shortly after, Corey got to work securing the yard. He dug trenches along the entire fence-line and poured concrete in them. Then he embedded chicken wire in the concrete, and attached it to the bottom of the fence. Dig-proof on both sides.

 

BossThe Council

While going through this, the (then) Wyong council issued him with a $550 fine per dog for the attack, and a Notice of Intention to declare both dogs to be Dangerous.

Those of you that have followed our page for a while know that a lot of our Team have worked in Animal Management. We support progressive strategies that enable and support pet owners to do the right thing. We believe in councils forming a positive and respectful relationship with the pet owners in their community. We also support councils issuing fines, dangerous dog declarations, and sometimes even destroying dogs. When a dog has been a danger to society multiple times, or has shown extremely dangerous behaviours while with a careless owner, this can be the right action to take.

Because of this, we do not take on cases from owners that have repeatedly been irresponsible with their dogs, or those who won’t take responsibility for their dog’s behaviour.

Corey couldn’t have been any more the opposite of that. He accepted that his dogs escaped. He accepted their behaviour was his responsibility. He accepted the fines issued to him. He immediately went to work rectifying the problem. He clearly adored his dogs, looked after them beautifully, and had them as part of the family.

 

Boss

The Representations

I gave Corey some advice for his representations to the council. They took full responsibility and detailed why a dangerous dog declaration was not necessary to prevent a further attack:

  • The dogs were 5 & 7 years old and have never attacked before. They also had no history of nuisance barking or escaping.
  • Corey had taken responsibility for what happened and already fixed the yard to ensure it was secure and could never happen again.
  • Their behaviour, while very upsetting, was normal. They pose no more risk than any other dog unless they are left unsupervised with small prey animals.

Corey also included pictures of the changes already made to the yard to prevent them escaping again. He invited the council ranger to contact him at any time to organise an inspection.

 

 

 

The Declaration

Astonishingly, the ranger, who had been very unhelpful and rude throughout, still decided it appropriate to declare the dogs dangerous. This means many control requirements, including building an enclosure with a concrete floor, walls, a roof, and a locked gate. The dogs must be in this enclosure at all times, unless out walking on a leash, muzzle, and dangerous dog collar.

Keeping the dogs caged unless on a walk was a devastating thought. They sleep in bed with the kids at night, and this was not a life they could bear to subject them to. Corey lodged an appeal in court, wanting to fight to the end for them, but was well aware of the thousands (sometimes even tens of thousands) of dollars that an appeal often costs – and very few of us have unlimited money at our disposal.

BellaThe Control Order

I made a suggestion that we attempt to negotiate a ‘control order’ with the council instead of going through a full appeal. The family and the council simply agree on the conditions, and the magistrate signs it.

I contacted council with this suggestion, and thankfully they were willing to negotiate. They drew up an order that contained leashes and muzzles for the dogs when in public, and detailed backyard fencing modifications (most of which had already been done).

Corey got to work on the extra requirements and had the draft order checked over by a solicitor, on my advice.

 

 

The Exorbitant Fines

Shockingly, while this negotiating this, Corey received two fines in the mail for not registering his dangerous dogs – totalling $2640. This was extremely distressing for him to receive on top of the $1100 worth of fines for the attack, the huge cost to modify the backyard, and the solicitor’s fees. He had no idea he had to register them, and when his wife, Martine, attempted to call the Ranger to find out how they could fix the problem, she was treated extremely rudely. The phone call ended without any knowledge of what they needed to do, or any leniency re the fines.

I wrote to the council on their behalf expressing dismay at the conduct of the ranger and the council. Considering the fact that Corey has been nothing but cooperative throughout this process, it seemed extremely harsh to issue these penalties when we all knew the dogs would no longer be considered dangerous once the control order was signed in a matter of a week or so. The council said they had sent a letter reminding them to register the dogs, which Corey didn’t remember. He had missed it, given all the other paperwork he’d gotten and the huge stress involved in this process. A reasonable ranger would just give him a call and check he’d got it before issuing such enormous fines, but that didn’t happen.

Thankfully, once we went above this ranger’s head, the council did decide to revoke the fines for an unregistered dangerous dog. Instead, they reissued them as a standard unregistered dog fine at $275 each.

 

Boss & BellaThe Outcome

Eventually, we agreed on the conditions and Corey and the council signed the orders in court. The family must muzzle and leash the dogs in public, and Corey must maintain the backyard as per the order. The dogs do not have to live the rest of their lives in a cage. The order automatically expires after three years, and if the council deems it appropriate they can cancel it after 12 months.

This is an excellent result, compared to what the family was originally facing.  They had no idea about the Control Order option, and without Team Dog’s help, legal costs would have gotten out of control very quickly. At one point, Corey thought that he may even have to put the dogs to sleep.

I’m grateful for the council being willing to negotiate the order, but perplexed they decided to declare the dogs dangerous in the first place. Councils can always use discretion after a dog attack. There were many other options available to them. They would have paid a lot for their solicitor’s time – money they could have spent on proactive programs for pets and owners in the community.

The family will manage the dogs in the way they always would have. They’ll take the steps they need to make sure this awful incident doesn’t happen again. Unfortunately, they really do not trust their council now. The Ranger was very hostile towards them, and they feel like he ‘has it in for them’ and may continue to harass them.  In my opinion, that’s not a good result for the council.

The best result is two healthy, happy, loved dogs that continue to be a part of their family, and a community that is not at risk. Without Team Dog’s help it’s very likely that the dogs would have either ended up in a cage for the rest of their lives, or on a one-way trip to the vet.

 

A Message to Councils…

I urge councils to take a holistic approach to dog attack investigations. All Wyong council achieved at the end of this was a big legal bill, and residents that will never approach them for help or advice (and will tell their friends and family not to, either).

When investigating, it’s best to look at the entire picture when deciding on the action to take. This includes;

  1. An understanding of normal and abnormal canine behaviour (including prey drive)
  2. The history of the dog/s
  3. The age of the dog/s (a 7yo dog with no prior history is more impressive than an 18 month old)
  4. Whether the owner has taken full and unwavering responsibility for what happened
  5. What action the owner is taking to prevent it happening again
  6. How you can help the owner understand their responsibilities by working with them for a good result
  7. What is the least amount of enforcement you can take while still feeling confident another incident won’t happen?
  8. Can I justify that the action I took was necessary? If compliance with an enclosure will be difficult or impossible, can I justify the dog being put to sleep if there were other options available?

 

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Mel Isaacs

Mel Isaacs

Director at Team Dog Inc
Mel is co-Founder and Director of Team Dog Inc, a registered charity working to support pet owners in need and in times of crisis.

She has a keen interest in advocacy, particularly around topics such as effective animal management and the ineffectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation.

She has a dog and two cats, all rescues, who she loves dearly.
Mel Isaacs

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