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(Updated 24/8/01)

DOG LAWS:
Two dogs saved...

GSD owner's father wrongly charged
THE SAMMUT family from Bromley in Kent had never been in trouble with the law. Having emigrated to Britain from Malta several years before, Mario and Agnes Sammut were staunch Catholics and had brought their daughter Lilian up to respect the law. This included training and keeping good control of the two family German Shepherds, Bruno and Sammy. The dogs, both brothers aged 10, both being fed on special diets had never caused any problems before the incident which took place in March 2001.

Lilian, 40, has been attacked twice before in her life and is of a nervous disposition, but feels secure with the company of the dogs, who, she says, are "her life".

On the day in question, a salesman opened the family's porch door and stood in the dark, then knocked at the front door. Lilian, who had been expecting her sister, went to the door, saw an unknown, shadowy figure, waving something in his hand and screamed. Both dogs pushed past her and ran into the porch and jumped up at the salesman, who later alleged that he had been bitten.

Being good citizens, Lilian and her father, who is in his late 70s and not very well, duly went to Bromley police station to make a statement and were told by the duty officer "you may get a call." On March 20th, two police officers called for a chat. Three days later, on March 23rd, the family allege that approximately five police cars and vans called, along with several officers, six of who entered the house. Although the officers may have had a warrant with them, it is alleged that they did not produce it, and two had catchpoles with them to seize the dogs.

Lilian however led the dogs to the police van and went to the police station with them. Once there, the dogs were taken away and Lilian was placed in a police cell and searched by a WPC.

Subsequently, Bruno was taken ill and had to have an operation. The Fury Defence Fund was called and volunteer Christine Chrichton contacted the National Canine Defence League to make calls to the police to ascertain the dogs' welfare. Lilian herself was now on medication and unable to cope, her parents were at their wits' end over the whole matter. Juliette Glass of the FDF visited the family to comfort them.

Eventually, Marion Sammut, Lilian's father, was charged under the 1871 Dogs Act. The case was heard in July at Bromley Magistrates' Court where solicitor Trevor Cooper made the clear defence argument that Mr Sammut should not have been charged, as he was NOT the owner of the dogs. The court agreed and he was found Not Guilty.

Juliette Glass commented to OUR DOGS: "Although it was a blessing that the charges were dropped, nothing was said or done about the heavy-handed, tactics of the police. The Sammuts did the responsible thing, they went to report what was, after all, an unfortunate accident and they end up being treated like the worst kind of criminals. Luckily, both dogs are home now and Lilian is much better, but I think the whole incident could have been handled so much more sensitively by the police."

Dog 'just territorial' say police - then charge owner

"KAI", a three year-old Pyrenean Mountain Dog owned by Tine Hill of Warminster, Wiltshire was involved in an extremely minor incident which even the police put down to simple territorial behaviour... but was still charged under the 1871 Dogs Act.

A teenager known to Kai, as he regularly skateboards down the street, was hobbling up the road on crutches as he had injured himself. Hearing the noise of the crutches, Kai slipped his lead, ran to the teenager and jumped up at him, his claws catching the boy's arm and scratching him.

Tina Hill quickly caught hold of Kai and put him in her car, offering to help the teenager, who said he was "Okay".

However, the police arrived at Tina's home and spoke to her about the incident. Tina stated that the police officers themselves remarked of Kai, "He's not dangerous, just territorial."

Despite this, Tina was charged under the 1871 Dogs Act, but was assisted by the Fury Defence Fund. She attended a hearing at Trowbridge Magistrates Court ands was represented by Trevor Cooper. After a brief hearing, magistrates imposed a simple Control Order.

...and one dog condemned
Jake condemned by owner's absence

A STAFFORDSHIRE Bull Terrier, rescued by a young man with alleged 'social problems', was sentenced to death by Feltham Magistrates after an incident in which an innocent bystander was bitten. However, campaigners believe that the magistrates passed their unusually harsh sentence following the non-attendance at court of the dog's owner.

Jake, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier was apparently rescued by Gary Hopkins.

Mr Hopkins had only owned Jake for approximately one month when an incident occurred on 31st January 2000, when several people tried to break into his home in Feltham, Middlesex. A fracas ensued as Mr Hopkins confronted the group of people. An elderly neighbour, Mr Leslie Ralph came out of his house because of the commotion and, in the total confusion, Jake ran out and bit him.

The police were called and Mr Hopkins refused to hand the dog over. He was subsequently arrested and produced the dog to the police. Jake was taken into custody.

Mr Hopkins was later charged under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act for 'allowing his dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place.' Mr Hopkins pleaded guilty to the charge at an initial hearing.

The Fury Defence Fund offered their assistance to Mr Hopkins, and a firm of solicitors was engaged to act on his behalf. Animal Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford was the instructed Expert Witness for the Defence and examined Jake prior to the first court hearing, which was part-heard on June 28th 2001 at Feltham Magistrates Court.

The Prosecution counsel outlined the case, pointing out that Mr Ralph had to be taken to hospital for treatment to two bites to his arm and hand and received antibiotics and a tetanus injection after his wounds had been dressed.

Unfortunately, Gary Hopkins had absconded and a warrant for his arrest had already been issued. The case went ahead in his absence.

The expert witness for the Prosecution, Jennifer Dobson, described as a professional behaviour consultant gave evidence, detailing her examination of Jake on May 23rd 2001.

Ms Dobson related that the dog was presented to her in a metal cage. Although "relatively calm" in the cage, the dog jumped out onto the ground and grabbed his lead, growling and snarling and continued to tug on the lead.

"The impression I received with this dog was that it was trying to intimidate me," said Ms Dobson. " It was not behaving in a friendly fashion, there was a very definite risk with this dog. (It had a) direct stare, quiet low growl in its throat, (and a) guarding attitude.... I think if anyone were to go up and pet this dog there would be considerable danger. It is a dominant dog - wants things on his own terms."

Ms Dobson concluded: "I think regrettably in the interests of public safety it should be humanely euthansed."

Under cross-examination, Ms Dobson confirmed that she had only examined the dog for 60 to 90 seconds, but denied the suggestion that she was afraid of it.

The Defence counsel asked "You consider yourself enough of an expert to assess this dog in ONLY a 60 seconds assessment? Ms Dobson answered: "I would consider so after 20 years' experience." The Defence counsel then queried whether Ms Dobson had "examined the dog's teeth, tickled its tummy or muzzled the dog?", as had Dr Mugford in his examination. Ms Dobson stated: "I didn't attempt to."

The Defence counsel concluded: "You didn't manage to stroke it, you didn't manage to get it to sit, you didn't muzzle it, all you did was let it run around and put it back in its cage."

The case resumed on Thursday, July 27th, with evidence from Dr Mugford. A video was shown to the court in which Dr Mugford and his veterinary surgeon colleague Ms Shepherd examined Jake's teeth, tickled his tummy and then later placed a muzzle on the dog with no problems at all. Jake did indulge in a lot of mounting on Ms Shepherd's leg, which behaviour Dr Mugford explained in his evidence.

"This is NOT a dominant dog, it is a playful dog, sexually orientated - very straightforward behaviour of young dogs which is easily dealt with by castration. It is not in any way as frightening as Ms Dobson tried to indicate. It was wagging its tail, not growling."

Dr Mugford added that, given exercise, Jake would be as trainable as any other dog.

After lengthy cross-examination, Dr Mugford concluded that because of the civil disturbance, Jake, like any dog, was susceptible to "riot circumstances" and Mr Ralph had been an innocent bystander. He added that three of his own dogs would bite someone who attempted to force entry into his own home. As for Jake, he declared: "This dog is entirely trusting of people who approach it in a normal way. On balance this dog is on the safe side. He is the friendliest of dogs."

The Magistrates retired to consider their verdict and, after half an hour's deliberation, returned. The Chairman of the bench issued a ruling: "Mr Hopkins pleaded guilty to a offence under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

We have heard evidence as to whether the dog 'Jake' should be destroyed. Mr Hopkins was given every opportunity to attend the hearing but has not done so. "We have heard from two experts and have seen video evidence. We consider the dog to be dangerous and are not satisfied that any measures taken would be enough. We order the destruction of the dog."

The Clerk of the Court added that Mr Hopkins would have the right to appeal against this sentence. However, in his absence, unless an appeal is entered within 21 days of the sentence, Jake will be destroyed.

Juliette Glass of the FDF said: "We are all devastated and appalled at the decision, especially now that courts have discretion in sentencing. We feel that Mr Hopkins' absconding had a direct bearing on the magistrates' decision. Thus, due to the actions of an irresponsible owner, a perfectly friendly dog has been sentenced to death.

"We have all been endeavouring to trace Mr Hopkins without success and can only hope that he will do the decent thing and give himself up in order to lodge an appeal against sentence."