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(Updated 20/03/01)

Family dogs escape destruction order

by Nick Mays

TWO PET dogs have escaped destruction under Section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act, after magistrates accepted evidence given by expert witnesses for the defence attesting to the dogs’ good character.


Gurjit ‘Gus’ Nijjar of Cranford, Middlesex, owns the dogs, ‘Leo’, a five-year-old German Shepherd and ‘Tyson’ an eight-year-old Rottweiler cross, rehomed from the RSPCA. The dogs were both well behaved and kept under control, living with Mr Nijjar, his parents and younger brother and sister.


At the time of the incident in May 2000, the family home in Cranford was undergoing building work, which included new fencing around the very large back garden. Mr Nijjar worked nights and was asleep during the day. On the day in question, loud banging and shouting awoke him at his door. The noise awoke both dogs, which were also upset by the shouting, caused by a neighbour, Mr Jamgotre, who wanted Mr Nijjar’s car moved out of the way.

(LEFT) Dr. Mugford, Leo and Dr. Mugford’s dog.

Mr Nijjar opened the side gate to approach his car when both dogs pushed past him and ran towards Mr Jamgotre, who shouted loudly. In the confusion, he was bitten on the arm by one of the dogs.

The police were called and Mr Nijjar alleges that there were 15 or more officers present. He also alleged in court that the officers’ attitudes were very aggressive, and that they threatened to call an armed response unit if he didn’t hand his dogs over. Mr Nijjar said that he wasn’t happy with putting both dogs into a very confined area in the police van, particularly as Leo was a nervous dog, so the police agreed that he could bring both dogs to the police station in his own car. This he did and was escorted in convoy to Colindale Police Station. The dogs were taken from him and he was told that he would face charges at a later date.


Mr Nijjar was frantic with worry, but quite by chance a family friend put him onto the Fury Defence Fund. The FDF suggested that Mr Nijjar secure the services of top dog solicitor Trevor Cooper, which he did. Mr Cooper, in turn, appointed animal behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford to act as an expert witness and to examine and assess both dogs.
Mr Nijjar was subsequently charged under Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act, for allowing his dogs to be ‘dangerously out of control in a public place’. As there was a bite involved, the charge was that of an Aggravated Offence, and as Mr Nijjar had admitted that one of his dogs had inflicted the bite, it became an Absolute Offence whereby he was compelled to enter a plea of Guilty.

(Right) Dr Mugford’s assistant Vicky with Tyson.

After several delays, the case was eventually heard in front of a bench of three magistrates at Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court on February 19th 2001.

Dr Mugford appeared as expert witness for the defence, whilst Behaviour Consultant Jennifer Dobson appeared as expert witness for the prosecution.

Ms Dobson had compiled a report, whereby she explained that she had examined Leo and Tyson on September 21st 2000.

Concern


Ms Dobson’s report stated that Leo was “extremely and relentlessly aggressive in his travelling kennel. He showed no sign of fear... lifting his lips, bearing his teeth, growling, barking and showing serious bite intention...” She recommended “humane euthanasia” for the dog in her conclusion.


Ms Dobson’s findings were challenged in cross-examination by Trevor Cooper, who expressed concern at her conclusions after 15 minutes examination time with the dog. Ms Dobson continually referred to the defence report prepared by Dr Mugford, which prompted Mr Cooper to point out that Dr Mugford would give his own evidence. Mr Cooper ascertained that the cage in which Leo was held was too small for the dog to exercise in, so that Leo’s barking was a result of fear. Referring to Ms Dobson’s report and a video of the examination, Mr Cooper said; “You say in your report that the dog was virtually hysterical. Do we see that in your video?”


Ms Dobson replied “It was going that way.”


The magistrates expressed their concern, saying to Ms Dobson; “We are concerned whether your interview of fifteen minutes was sufficient to assess this dog.” Ms Dobson responded that she believed it was.


Dr Roger Mugford gave evidence for the defence. He described Tyson as a “very nice tempered dog” and Leo as “frightened and threatened.”


Mr Cooper asked whether it was possible to assess a dog in a cage, to which Dr Mugford responded; “All that tells you is how a dog behaves behind the bars of a cage.”


A video was shown of Dr Mugford’s examination of both dogs, out of their cages, greeting each other and interacting with his own dog extremely well, showing no signs of aggression. He concluded that neither dog constituted a danger to the public.


Dr Mugford also presented a supplementary report to the court on his visit to Mr Nijjar’s home and his assessment of the new fencing and precautions to prevent the dogs from escaping. He added that he would be happy to attend the premises again when the dogs were released and for them to attend his own training sessions.
Mr Nijjar gave evidence in his own defence, explaining that his dogs were not aggressive and had never attacked anyone else. He added that he would agree to any conditions imposed by the court on the dogs.


After retiring for half an hour to consider their verdict, the magistrates said; “We have been guided by Dr Mugford and have decided not to impose a destruction order.” They ruled that Tyson should be muzzled and on a lead at all times in public, not to be walked with another dog, and also that he be castrated for temperament control. The same conditions applied to Leo, but that he should also have a ‘Halti’ head collar fitted and attends Dr Mugford’s animal training course.


Relieved


They fined Mr Nijjar £200, with £200 compensation to his neighbour and £350 costs.


Mr Nijjar was pleased at the verdict and relieved that his pets’ lives had been saved. However, to date, neither dog has been returned to him by the police. Juliette Glass of the FDF commented: “Mr Nijjar wanted his own vet to carry out the castration of the dogs, but the police have refused this. He will therefore be compelled to sign a consent form for the police vet to castrate the dogs. The only other option is to return to court to secure their release, which will mean further distress for his family and further incarceration for the dogs.


“Mr Nijjar is also concerned that Tyson’s tail was amputated by the police vet after it developed an infection in the secret holding kennels.”