Court spares the life of grandma’s dog
Essex dog owner Sylvia Ridgewell broke down and was unable to stand following a hearing before Basildon Magistrates’ Court who decided to order her pet dog, Bob, be registered and exempted as an alternative to destruction; ending an agonising eighty one days of anxiety not knowing whether Bob, seized and held under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) would be allowed to come home.
Events began on May 11th when Bob, a one year old cherished pet became lost after becoming spooked whilst out for a walk in local fields. Owners, Sylvia Ridgewell, aged 71yrs and her 25 year old grandson Kevin, began a frantic search to find him. With the help of friends and neighbours they looked through the night with torches and pensioner Sylvia called his name from her garden just in case he could hear her, until morning light.
Unknown to the neighbourhood search team, a few roads away a police car had stopped a suspected drunk driver, the Police officer had left his car door open and Bob had jumped into the car and planted himself on the rear seat. He was taken to one police station, then on to another and eventually made his way to the stray dog pound. The following morning, the Ridgewell family were ecstatic to hear that their Bob was alive and well, they raced to the kennels to collect Bob, but tears of joy soon disappeared as someone had identified him as a suspected unlawful pit bull type.
The local police hadn’t experience with this type of situation and so the confusion began, no one seemed to know the law or how to proceed, the police didn’t want to issue criminal proceedings, Bob was held at the kennels and days and then weeks soon passed with little progress or information, Bob was seized and unable to be returned. Sylvia thought he would have to die and cried herself to sleep each night, the doctor was called out as her health began to deteriorate under the enormous strain of losing her companion, grandson Kevin went back and forth to the police station desperately trying to find out what to do next to save Bob. They then contacted the Endangered Dogs Defence & Rescue (EDDR) who were able to advise and drive the case forward.
Bob had come into the life of the Ridgewell family as a puppy, he was chosen as the only one in the litter who had a cute pink coloured nose. Following the tragic death of their eighteen year old grandson the family were advised to get a dog. Sylvia’s husband, a double amputee, had a close connection with Bob prior to sadly passing away in December 2007. Bob had become the rock in the family and is very special to grandma Syliva who wrote a moving two page statement explaining to the Court how important Bob is to both her and her grandson, pleading to the court to allow Bob to live as she could not bear to go on without him, she poured her heart out onto paper as in her words - life without him was lonely.
A court summons was received and so began the build up to the legal hearing; sleepless nights, sickness, doubts, panic, anxiety attacks, the two suffered and struggled with every day but Sylvia hung on to that one hope that if she could get to court, they might understand, they might let her dog live. Neighbours rallied behind Bob and began writing notes and posting them through the front door to support Sylvia. Arriving in Court for a 10am hearing, the Ridgewells and Amanda Dunckley from EDDR were able to sit with the Essex police force solicitor prior to the hearing. The solicitor had never encountered a DDA case and took notes on how a 4b application and the critical registration process should proceed; she was then able to explain this process to the court.
There was a two hour wait for court time, the owners hadn’t been in a court before, Sylvia Ridgewell had difficulty breathing and had to go outside for air, all eventually convened in Court 1. Sylvia slowly walked in, visibly shaken and gasping on an inhaler to help open her airways as she sat next to her grandson clutching their photos and statements in support of Bob. The police solicitor opened up the case before three lay magistrates and explained how Bob was currently in a “police cell” as it were and that they had to make an application for his destruction under 4b of the Act, but emphasised they did not want him destroyed. The Police expert had examined Bob on the 12th of May and found him easy to handle describing him as “playful and placid”.
The Magistrates commented that they ‘read the papers’ and asked if the owners ‘fully understood what is being taken on’. They also queried how they could be expected to determine that a dog is not a danger to the public if they hadn’t themselves seen the dog in question and asked if the police had checked the owner’s garden to ensure that it is securely enclosed, to which owner Kevin was able to reply that the fencing was 7ft in height. A folder containing photographs of Bob and the owner’s garden along with a stack of statements was passed to the bench; neighbours and local children had sent in letters and drawings in defence of Bob, one was headed ‘please set Bob free’ by an 11 year old, another, written by a 7 year old said “Bob was a good boy he but didn’t think he was a dog as he eats grass and drinks milk”. There was silence as the magistrates read through the statements and Kevin held his gran’s hand.
The kennels where Bob is detained also sent in a statement for the Court, stating “we have found Bobby to be well behaved and he has shown no aggression towards staff or towards any other dogs. We believe that this is due to the loving home and the responsible owner. Therefore we would recommend that he is placed on the dog register”. Bob had spent time with another dog to help keep him company in kennels.
Kevin was asked to comment and overcome with emotion said “we love him and will do anything to get him back” at which point Sylvia burst into tears and was passed a glass of water and patted on the shoulder by the court usher, she was unable to drink as her hands trembled passing on another photo of her Bob and quietly choking back the tears to say “we love him, he’s all I got”.
Lay Magistrate Mr Payne said “we have no problems” and was satisfied that Bob would not constitute a danger to public safely and ordered he be registered within eight weeks, men and women in the public gallery, sitting in from another case, looked shocked as Sylvia was unable to stand until it was confirmed that Bob ‘was coming home’, she burst into tears again asking: “Is he really coming back?”
Sylvia has put aside her life savings to make sure Bob can be registered and brought home. EDDR has provided the registration and insurance fees. The doctor has been back out to visit Sylvia and has advised rest now that the court hearing is over. Bob is now coming home once neutering, tattooing and the other requirements of registration have been financed and fulfilled.