An appeal to challenge a sheriff’s decision to order the destruction of a pet dog following its attack against a passer-by and another dog has been dismissed.
The Appeal Court of the High Court of Justiciary rejected dog-owner Moira Hunter’s argument that the sheriff should have imposed a “contingent destruction order”, meaning the Bullmastiff dog named Eva would be muzzled in public, as well as being made subject to a “behavioural plan”.
On the 30th November 2017, the appellant pled guilty to an offence that put her in charge of a dog which was “dangerously out of control” when it attacked and bit a six-month-old Labrador puppy. The dog went on to bite Labrador-owner “LM" on the right hip and the hand which caused two puncture wounds and a broken finger, contrary to section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 which states:
“If a dog is dangerously out of control:
(a) the owner; and
(b) if different, the person for the time being in charge of the dog,
Is guilty of an offence, or, if the dog while so out of control injures any person, an aggravated offence.”
A report prepared by animal behaviourist, Elaine Henley, gave the sheriff “no confidence” that the dog would not attack another animal or person again. This was due to it being “inherently aggressive” to other dogs which Ms Henley witnessed when observing the five-year-old Bullmastiff.
On the 9th January 2018, the sheriff disqualified Ms Hunter from owning or keeping a dog for five years, imposed a compensation order in favour of LM for a £166.38 veterinary bill after her Labrador was attacked, fined the appellant a further £300, and ordered the destruction of the dog.
The appellant sought leave to appeal the destruction and the disqualification orders on the basis that the sheriff failed to give sufficient evidence to the dog’s temperament.
An application was made to the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission after animal charity Olive’s Fight Against BSL (breed specific legislation) took up Ms Hunter’s case. The Commission referred the case to the High Court to substitute the destruction order with a contingent destruction order, requiring the dog to be under control through a “lead and muzzle” when out of doors, and that destruction would only take place should these requirements not be met.
However, the Lord Justice General, Lord Carloway, and Lords Drummond Young and Turnbull all held that the sheriff’s approach was correct under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
Lord Turnbull expressed that “the only factor in favour of a contingent destruction order is that the dog has a new, responsible, owner, who can be relied on”. In saying this, Lord Turnbull concluded the dog’s temperament and past behaviour outweighs the prospect of a new owner and agreed with the original destruction order imposed by the sheriff.
The Lord Justice General’s opinion stated:
“An almost inevitable conclusion from the material about the behaviour of the dog and its owner, both at the time of the incident and prior to it, was that this dog was indeed a dangerous dog which posed a danger to public safety.”
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