A DISABLED dog owner won a convincing victory of breed specific laws that had deprived him of his dog in the Gold Coast area of Queensland. The Gold Coast City Council's dangerous dog laws were totally discredited after a magistrate found major flaws in how so-called ‘dangerous’ breeds were identified.
Fonzie, a crossbreed which had been on death row for four months after being seized as an illegal, unregistered ‘Pit Bull Terrier’, was set free for a heart-warming reunion with owner Justin Taylor last week, but the bigger picture should be of far more concern to the council.
Magistrate Jennifer Batts said she was not satisfied that the council's dog control officers had sufficient qualifications to determine the breed of suspected dangerous dogs.
Mr Taylor, a quadriplegic, went to court to win back his 'best mate' after Fonzie, which Mr Taylor claims is actually a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, was picked up by animal control officers in July and identified as a ‘pit bull’, using a questionnaire-style criteria test. Fonzie was sentenced to death under the council’s draconian laws which are largely based on the UK’s flawed 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act. The American Pit Bull Terrier is one of four types of dog banned on the Gold Coast.
Lawyers for Mr Taylor successfully argued the officers were hardly experts in identifying breeds of dogs and that the identification process itself was too open to interpretation.
The court was told the total training given to council officers in identifying dog breeds amounted to a one-day seminar, and a dog could be identified as 'dangerous' if it scored more than 70 per cent in a 16-point test.
That did not satisfy magistrate Ms Batts, who dismissed the expertise of council animal control officer Selina Neill in identifying Fonzie as a ‘pit bull’.
Lawyers for Mr Taylor had brought along their own 'expert', a leading veterinary surgeon, but in the light of Ms Batts’ ruling, his testimony was not even required.
Mr Taylor, who has relied on Fonzie's companionship since a surfing accident left him in a wheelchair five years ago, buried his head in his hands as the verdict was read out. He was overjoyed at the result.
Acting for Mr Taylor, barrister Jack Pappas said the outcome showed there were serious problems with the council's protocol.
The court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences for the council, which has already destroyed more than 60 animals declared as dangerous dogs, as last week's verdict opens the door for other dog owners to challenge the conclusion of animal control officers.
The council's Director of Community Services, Colette McCool, said it was too early to speculate on any move to tighten procedures, although it was clear that the ruling had rattled Gold Coast City Council, who had hitherto ignored advice from anti-BSL campaigners that BSL was unworkable and unjust.
Meanwhile, Justin Taylor and Fonzie were reunited in an emotional meeting at the City Dog Pound, before Justin took his ‘best mate’ home with him for a well-deserved meal of his favourite dog food.