AN ELDERLY Pit Bull Terrier named Tyson was ordered to be destroyed last week by the High Court in London, as his owner’s last-ditch plea to save him failed.
In June 2004, Tyson’s owner Faye Ashman from Hammersmith was fined £75 by magistrates at West London Magistrates Court for walking Tyson without a muzzle in a public place, contrary to the section 1(d) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991.
Magistrates made the order after Faye Ashman, from Hammersmith, pleading guilty to three charges of walking Tyson un-muzzled in the street in 2003. Apparently she had been warned twice by police that she was violating the law, but refused to take any notice. On the third occasion, Tyson was seized and Mrs Ashman was charged.
The magistrates did not wish to issue a destruction order under the terms of the Act, but made an order transferring the ownership of Tyson to another person. Mrs Ashman lodged an immediate appeal against sentence.
But the police refused to hand him over to his new owner on the basis that magistrates had no power to transfer legal ownership under the Dangerous Dogs Act, which prohibits making "a gift" of dogs of a pit bull type.
The case went back before the magistrates, who said they were "saddened" to have to make the destruction order.
Ms Ashman appealed to Blackfriars Crown Court in October 2004 backed by evidence from an animal behaviourist that Tyson was a friendly dog.
But the court ruled that, although the dog "of itself might not be a danger" there had been a breach of the act and they were not satisfied Tyson would not constitute a future danger.
The case was then appealed to the High Court and was heard last week. Lord Justice Kennedy and Mr Justice Crane ruled that there had been undue delay and that appropriate appeal procedures had not been followed in a case that involved the owner’s failure to muzzle her pet as required by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991. No grounds had been shown for interfering with the order that the dog be destroyed, they said.
The High Court judges rejected Ms Ashman’s application for judicial review. There had been too long a delay and, instead of judicial review, she should have appealed "by way of case stated", by which the Crown Court would have to give written reasons for its decision. Lord Justice Kennedy agreed.
Before being ushered from court, Ms Ashman told senior judges: "You have condemned my dog to death - my innocent dog. You let paedophiles go free, but not my innocent dog."
Amanda Dunkley of the anti-BSL group Endangered Dogs Defence and Rescue (EDDR) told OUR DOGS: "From reading the reports of the case, it seems the police went over what the magistrates court ruled about transferring the ownership of Tyson. In fact, you can change ‘keepership’ on a registered dog, as we have done so several times.
The registered dog leaves it owner and goes to live at a new address under the care and charge of a new person designated as the ‘keeper’ so why couldn’t the police have released him to a new keeper. This would have all been recorded on the appropriate exemption form with the Index of Exempted Breeds.
The EDDR wrote to the RCVS, several MPs, MEPs, Home Office, the Dog Legislation Advisory Group, DEFRA, the Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare and several other organisations.
John Laura of DEFRA wrote back saying: "Unfortunately, Defra cannot comment on individual cases. The courts are independent of government; they are fully versant with the facts of cases, and they are best placed to determine how the law is to be applied.
"In general terms, however, the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 prohibits the possession of Pit Bull Terriers unless they are already on the Index of Exempted Dogs or are subject to an order issued by a court directing them to be placed on the Index. One of the conditions for individual dogs being on the Index is that they must be muzzled when in a public place. If an owner or keeper does not comply with this requirement they face possible prosecution, and it is open to a court to order destruction of the dog in question if it decides that it poses a danger to the public.
"While we appreciate that it must be distressing for Ms Ashman, we not in a position to comment on the decision of the court in this, nor indeed any other, case.
Jane Hern, Registrar at the RCVS wrote back, saying: "Whilst I do, on a personal basis, have sympathy with anyone whose pet must be put down against their wishes, I am afraid that there is little that the RCVS can do to affect the inevitable outcome of this case."
The EDDR had urged the RCVS to ask its members – the UK’s vets – not to carry out sentence on Tyson. Ms Hern replied: "Firstly, the euthanasia of a dog is an act which any registered veterinary surgeon is permitted to carry out and any veterinary surgeon asked to act in this case would find it difficult to go against a court order. To refuse might even result in a complaint to our professional conduct department.
"Secondly, even if we could urge veterinary surgeons not to euthanise Tyson, this would not result in his sentence being lifted. Euthanasia is not a procedure that is reserved for veterinary surgeons, and as such can be carried out by other individuals."
RSPCA OPPOSE DEATH SENTENCE
RSPCA chief veterinary officer Tim Miles said: "It seems the only crime Tyson committed was to be seen outside without a muzzle and yet the dog has been given a death sentence as a result of their owner's actions.
"It does seem particularly unfair that the owner is fined for failing to follow current laws and yet the dog - which did not do anything wrong - has to lose its life."
He added: "The RSPCA called for magistrates to have discretion of whether or not to destroy a dog and the Act was amended in 1997 accordingly. It is a pity on this occasion that the court could not exercise more leniency."