TWO GERMAN Shepherds who escaped when their owner’s house was burgled were seized by police and charged under the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act for allegedly biting a child.
The two white littermates, Basil and Thorn, together with their mother Sasha, are owned by Dave Duggan from east London. Mr Duggan’s garden backs onto a local park and he had experienced trouble from local youths over a considerable period of time. The youths would taunt his dogs over the fence, and throw rubbish – including traffic cones into Mr Duggan’s garden. On one occasion his fence was set alight. However, Mr Duggan’s complaints to the police and local authority fell on deaf ears, with nothing being done to deter the troublemakers.
On September 17th 2003, Mr Duggan returned home form his part time job and was horrified to find that his back door had been kicked in and his house had been burgled. One of his fish tanks had been smashed, the fish lying dead, and terrapins in another tank had been stolen.
Sasha, the older dog was still at home, but the two younger littermates, Basil and Thorn had escaped in a panic.
Mr Duggan suspected that the burglary was the work of the same troublemakers and called the police to report the burglary and his missing dogs, only to be told that the dogs had bitten a child on the path by the park and had been taken into custody. He was duly charged under Section 3 of the 1991 Dangerous Dogs Act for an aggravated offence – it was alleged that an adult was also bitten when they tried to intervene - and he was informed that in all likelihood the dogs would be destroyed.
Mr Duggan contacted the help group the Fury Defence Fund and, through them, engaged well-known dog law solicitor Trevor Cooper to take up his case.
Prior to the hearing, a deal was brokered with the Crown Prosecution Service that one dog would be charged and the other returned. Thus Thorn was returned to Mr Duggan and Basil remained in custody in secret kennels.
After several adjournments, the case was eventually heard at Snaresbrook Crown Court at the end of May 2004 before a jury. Barrister Pamela Rose represented Mr Duggan for the defence, whilst animal behaviourist Dr Roger Mugford supplied expert evidence as to the dogs’ character and behaviour.
The defence case was outlined in detail to the jury, including Dr Mugford’s report on Basil’s good character and behaviour. The prosecution did not present any photographs of the alleged biting injury to the court, nor a medical report. However, not wishing to belittle the fact that a child had been bitten, the defence accepted that there was an injury.
The judge initially stated that he was sceptical that anyone would break into a house with three large dogs inside, but eventually accepted that it was the burglary that had caused the dogs to escape.
He duly imposed a Contingency Destruction Order on Basil, with certain conditions imposed (as recommended by Dr Mugford), namely that Basil be muzzled and leashed in public, that he be neutered, that he be supervised whilst in the garden and that any future male dog owned by Mr Duggan should also be neutered. Mr Duggan was fined £200 with £150 costs, but an order for Basil’s release was duly made.
Dave Duggan thanked Trevor Cooper, Roger Mugford and the FDF, and paid special tribute to his barrister Pamela Rose. "I would like to publicly acknowledge her superb presentation of my case," he said. "She was wonderful."
Mr Duggan added that he hoped to take action against the Local Authority who had been neglectful in dealing with his complaints, as they had a clear duty to stamp out anti-social behaviour of the kind to which he had been subjected.