British Columbia

Dog attacks: How courts decide on euthanization

Dog attacks lead to high-profile euthanization cases several times a year in B.C..

'A local government can't arbitrarily euthanize a dog if they know who the owner is, they have to go to court'

Yogi, a Rottweiler cross, attacked two women on New Year's Eve in Richmond, B.C.. (Lucas MacNeil)

Dog attacks lead to high-profile euthanization cases several times a year in B.C..

A Richmond woman, for example, was bitten 100 times in a dog attack on December 30 that left her in critical condition.

Kati Mather was seriously injured in a vicious dog attack in Richmond on Wednesday Dec. 30, 2015. (Kati Mather/Facebook)

The rottweiler-husky crossbreed's owner, Lucas MacNeil, says he will defend his pet, which could be put down as a result of the attack. 

So what exactly goes into that deliberation? And what gives a government the power to euthanize an animal owned and cared for by one of its citizens?

After the animal is seized, the municipality can apply to have it labeled a dangerous animal under the Community Charter. That distinction will be given if any of three conditions are met:

  • The animal has seriously injured or killed a human
  • An animal control officer believes the animal is likely to seriously injure or kill a person
  • The animal has seriously injured or killed another animal

Troy DeSouza, a partner at Dominion GovLaw, has been involved in many such cases.

"There are going to be some [owners] that will fight you tooth and nail and if that's the case, a local government can't arbitrarily euthanize a dog if they know who the owner is, they have to go to court."

Factors like possible rehabilitation and quality of ownership can influence whether a dog is euthanized. (CBC)

With the dangerous animal distinction comes the possibility of euthanasia, and that decision rests with a provincial court judge. 

DeSouza says the legislation is partially based on the notion that if animal acts out with extreme aggression once, it could happen again.

"No one can really predict the future," says DeSouza. "But it's interesting that the law [...] does give an animal control officer some opportunity to make that prediction."

The court will tap experts, such as animal control officers and animal behaviour specialists, to speak to whether an animal can be rehabilitated, or whether it has an irresponsible owner.

Alternatives to euthanizing

Those determinations can make euthanizing an animal less likely. 

In one case involving a pitbull which attacked its owners, DeSouza's firm successfully argued to ban those owners from keeping pets, instead of putting the dog down for its violent outburst.

No matter the final result of these cases, he acknowledges that the issue can be divisive.

"There is a fundamental disagreement with whether you should be able to euthanize a dog," he says. 

"All I can say is that the law does allow that, and the courts, the judge, will make that decision."


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