British Columbia·In Depth

'I've done a bad thing': Dog's tragic death divides B.C. island paradise

The crack of a gunshot broke the peace on tiny Savary Island on Feb. 3, 2017. More than a year later, the reverberations from the bullet that killed a local couple's dog continue to echo through the close-knit B.C. community.

Judge wrote reasons for sentence to clear confusion that has plagued residents of tiny Savary Island

Maybe was shot on Savary Island in February 2017. The three-year-old Australian shepherd's death has riven the tiny community. (Submitted by Hazel Hollingdale)

Darren Claydon can still hear the crack of the shot that killed his dog Maybe.

It was a snowy morning on Savary Island in February 2017. It's not often you hear the sound of a rifle in the tiny West Coast community.

Along with the sound, Claydon says he also can't shake the thought of what he now knows to have been Maybe's last moments, as the friendly Australian shepherd approached one of his island neighbours.

"It's the image of my dog walking up to him and him putting the muzzle of the gun to his head," Claydon says.

"For months after that I couldn't get the image of her head out of my mind — with the bullet hole in it. That sounds gross. And it was."

'Rumour, gossip and miscommunication'

More than a year later, the gunshot's echoes still reverberate in the dissension between the clutch of permanent residents who call Savary Island home year-round.

In an attempt to heal the rift, the provincial court judge who suspended sentence for Eric Ferreira, the man who shot Maybe, has now posted a written copy of reasons she delivered orally three months ago.

Hazel Hollingdale and Darren Claydon in happier times with their Australian shepherd Maybe. The couple hope the dog's death draws attention to the need for resources to investigate animal cruelty. (Submitted by Hazel Hollingdale)

"Savary Island has suffered from ongoing disputes amongst its citizens about what actually happened on the day of the shooting and the weeks subsequent to that," writes Judge Nancy Adams.

"The Island seeks 'full disclosure of the complete set of facts and evidence regarding the killing of Maybe, as rumour, gossip and miscommunication are keeping the Island divided.'"

Adams suspended passing of sentence for Ferreira, placing him on probation for two years after he pleaded guilty to one count of discharging a firearm in contravention of the Wildlife Act.

He has been ordered to pay restitution of $2,000 to Claydon and prohibited from possessing, storing or transporting firearms to Savary Island for the duration of his probation.

A charge of killing or injuring an animal was stayed.

'He 'saw black' and shot the dog'

According to Adams's ruling, Claydon ran into Ferreira minutes after he fired the shot. Claydon was searching for Maybe, who had run into the bushes during an off-leash walk.

Ferreira was holding a .22 rifle.

Maybe, who was shot to death in February 2017, was a familiar presence in the tiny community of Savary Island. (Submitted by Hazel Hollingdale)

"Mr. Claydon had a bad feeling and asked: 'Did you see my dog?" the judge writes.

Ferreira claimed he'd just seen it running down the road.

"This was a lie," Adams writes. "Mr. Ferreira had just shot the dog one minute earlier."

Maybe was well-known to both residents and summer visitors to the island, which sits 144 kilometres northwest of Vancouver in the scenic waters of the Salish Sea.

Claydon drives a taxi on the island and Maybe was a constant companion. According to the ruling, Ferreira would later claim he saw the dog biting at the stomach of a deer.

"The dog came towards him when called and looked at the gun he was holding. He shot the dog once in the head," Adams writes.

"He said that he became mad when he saw the deer. He was so mad that he 'saw black' and shot the dog. He said he did not even realize initially that he had shot the dog."

'I shot their dog in a fit of rage'

But that confession came much later.

On the morning of Feb. 3, 2017, and in the 10 days after he told Claydon he'd seen the dog running in a different direction, Ferreira kept his secret.

Maybe the Australian shepherd enjoyed playing on the shores of Savary Island, which sits nearly 150 kilometres northwest of Vancouver in the Salish Sea. (Submitted by Hazel Hollingdale)

Meanwhile, the community combed every accessible part of the 7.5 kilometre-long island, beating the bushes and looking inside and outside of cabins, 

While his neighbours searched, Ferreira went back to the site of the shooting to recover Maybe's body. He buried it at one of his job sites.

And then on the morning of Feb. 12, the snow melted, and the thaw exposed blood in the foliage.

Claydon's partner, Hazel Hollingdale, found blood and sinew under the bushes while searching with a friend.

"She noticed Mr. Ferreira watching her from his truck as she discovered the partial remains of Maybe," Adams writes.

According to the judgment, Ferreira spoke with Hollingdale's friend the next day.

"I've done a bad thing. I have to be honest," he said. "I shot their dog in a fit of rage."

'A blameless life'

Ferreira bought his first lot on Savary Island when he was 16.

The 52-year-old has been an integral part of island life ever since: a fire department volunteer and a water trustee.

He had no criminal record.

"By all accounts he has led a blameless life," Adams writes.

"He accepts that his actions, and his alone, cost Maybe her life and that he is to blame for the sadness and disconnection troubling the community since this event."

A framed picture and flowers in memory of Maybe. Eric Ferreira, the man who killed her, was given a suspended sentence. (Submitted by Hazel Hollingdale)

Twenty-seven households and individuals contributed to a community impact statement, a legal right extended to all offences as part of federal legislation which came into force in 2015.

"Islanders experienced a large emotional impact from this incident … islanders now feel a sense of distrust with each other compounded by feelings of loss of personal safety, security and freedom arising from the shooting itself," Adams writes.

"Many islanders are angry when they contemplate that 'one selfish, arrogant, entitled person' caused so much pain and confusion."

'Those are the images of our dog'

Claydon and Hollingdale say they hope the publication of the reasons for sentence will clear up the "common errors of fact" the judge addresses directly in her ruling.

"Mr. Ferreira had no justification to shoot the dog," Adams writes.

"Maybe was not an aggressive and totally undisciplined pet. The dog had not been chasing deer all over the Island — she was on an off-leash walk with her owner who was only minutes behind."

The couple are working with a local MP to come up with legislative proposals that would see more resources for the investigation — and prosecution — of animal cruelty.

Hollingdale says Ferreira ultimately gave them back Maybe's body.

"He unearthed her and hosed her off and gave her back to us, and we buried her, and we saw the shot in her head. And it's disgusting," says Hollingdale.

"Those are the images of our dog that we have in our head. And it's traumatic."

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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