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Dog is reprieved after death sentence appeal

A SPRINGER Spaniel, which was sentenced to death by magistrates after it bit a child, was reprieved on appeal, following expert testimony from a leading Animal Behaviourist and its owner's own responsible attitude.

Michael Mellish and his wife Pamela from Sevenoaks, Kent, took on Blue, a rescued springer spaniel form the RSPCA two years ago. Although Blue had been nervous when he came into their care, he responded well to affection and obedience training and became a much loved pet, who had never displayed any aggression or wayward behaviour.

Last year, Blue had been attacked twice in six months by a German Shepherd Dog and sustained severe injuries to his head and in particular to his ears, necessitating veterinary fees of nearly £1,000. This left Blue with a deep-seated fear of GSDs.

However, in September 2001, Blue, then aged 8, found himself on the wrong side of the law after an incident in a local public house when, in panic, at the close proximity of a GSD, he accidentally bit a child.

Mr Mellish, his wife and a friend were lunching in the beer garden of a local pub. Blue was on a leash, lying down with his head near the corner of a bench on which Mr Mellish was sitting. Blue noticed a GSD wandering around, unchecked by its owner and became alert, and possibly agitated.

Panicked

At this point, a small child named Chelsea approached Blue on her own and without the knowledge of her parents and, without permission, attempted to stroke Blue.

This panicked the dog, which jumped up, fearing he was under attack from the GSD and snapped at the child, catching her on the forehead and eyebrow.

Chelsea was taken to hospital by ambulance and later released after treatment, having a total of 20 stitches.

Mr Mellish himself reported to incident to the police and a statement was taken. He was later charged under the 1871 Dogs Act.

Mr Mellish sought assistance via the Fury Defence Fund, who put him in touch with solicitor Trevor Cooper. Mr Cooper instructed Animal Behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford to examine and assess Blue, and prepare a report on the dog's behaviour.

Dr Mugford carried out an extensive examination of Blue and concluded that the dog was well socialised, and had been trained extremely well by Mr Mellish, who had previously adopted a total of eight rescue dogs prior to Blue, none of whom had been involved in any incident.

Dr Mugford concluded that Blue was agitated by the presence of the free-ranging GSD, having twice been attacked by GSDs in the six months prior to the incident and was confined within an enclosed area, causing him to make a single, defensive snap at the child, fearing that he was under attack.

The case came before magistrates at Tunbridge Wells on January 21st 2002. However, despite the fact that the Prosecution were not seeking a Destruction Order on Blue, the magistrates ordered that the dog be destroyed.

An appeal was immediately lodged and was heard on May 14th 2002 at Maidstone Crown Court before Judge Aitken, sitting with two magistrates,

Judge Aitken heard submissions from the Prosecution and the Defence, which included the statement of the investigating police officer, Constable Morgan, who visited Mr Mellish at his home on October 4th 2001 and found Blue to be a very friendly dog.

Judge Aitken queried why the magistrates had decided that a Destruction Order was the minimum sentence necessary in this case, but it was put to the court that the child's father's views might have been taken into account.

The Judge and his colleagues conferred then delivered their verdict. They decided that a Destruction Order was not necessary and duly quashed this, ruling that Blue should be muzzled in public at all times and be leashed in built-up areas. He should also not be taken onto the premises of any public house or park or playground where children were present.

Michael and Pamela Mellish were overjoyed that their much-loved pet had been spared and expressed their gratitude to their legal team and to the Fury Defence Fund for advising them and supporting them throughout their ordeal.

Juliette Glass of the FDF was in court to hear the result. She subsequently told OUR DOGS that the verdict was "A victory for common sense and a huge weight off the shoulders of the Mellish family."