British Columbia

Death row dog loses appeal

Punky the dog has a history of biting and unless his owner can get leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, his days on death row are about to end in his execution.

'It was a horrible thing for this last victim ... but people make mistakes. Dogs bite,' says owner

B.C.'s Court of Appeal has upheld a B.C. Supreme Court order to have Punky destroyed because he's considered a danger to the public. This photo shows Punky before he was locked up. (Susan Santics/Facebook)

The B.C. Court of Appeal has ruled that Punky is a dangerous dog, after a two-year battle by his owner to save his life.

Punky is a four-year-old Australian cattle dog whose owner has fought to spring him from doggy death row after he bit a woman in an off-leash park in Vancouver in 2017. A provincial judge ruled Punky dangerous.

The B.C. Supreme Court agreed and on Friday, so did three justices of the B.C. Court of Appeal.

"Given Punky's past behaviour, temperament and lack of rehabilitation prospects ... the dog poses an unacceptable risk to the public and ought to be destroyed," Justice Patrice Abrioux wrote.

The news hit the dog's owner, Susan Santics, hard. She says he had nipped before, and it was his nature to herd people, but the wounds were not serious and she was convinced she could retrain the dog who was family to her.

'There are no bad dogs'

"He means the world to me. I've had him since he was seven weeks old. He was a fearful and reactive dog. That's what I've learned now. There are no bad dogs," said Santics, who has spent the past two years learning better techniques to handle Punky. She planned to use a muzzle and keep him penned securely.

Santics says the day Punky bit the stranger in 2017, the woman yelled, and he was chasing a crow.

Susan Santics says she is devastated by the incarceration of her Australian cattle dog, Punky, and the prospect that he will be killed because he has been deemed dangerous. (Yvette Brend/CBC News)

She believes the loud noises and prey provoked her dog. Efforts to rehabilitate Punky have been difficult, she says, due to strict city bylaw shelter rules that prevent her from even entering the kennel to touch the dog during weekly 30-minute visits.

In court Friday, she blurted out "Yeah right, just kill a dog," after the sitting justice dismissed the case, and in her words, her dog's life, in a few short words.

'People make mistakes. Dogs bite'

The retired nurse's aide says she hopes to take Punky's fight to the Supreme Court of Canada. But the court doesn't hear every case and it's an expensive proposition she will have to discuss with her lawyer, Victoria Schroff.

For now, she hopes the City of Vancouver relents and loosens its strict rules, allowing her in the dog's kennel to at least touch Punky, who has been in custody for two years, ever since he sunk his teeth into Alyssa Prattas's leg at Locarno Park on Aug. 27, 2017.

Prattas has filed a civil lawsuit that alleges that Punky charged, repeatedly lunged and bit her legs and hands, causing serious injuries. The lawsuit claims that Santics failed to provide assistance or call for help during the attack.

But Santics denies this, saying she tried to run to get alcohol wipes for the wounds, which she does not believe needed stitches in the end.

Punky was seven weeks old when Susan Santics became his owner. She said she rescued him from mistreatment at a folk festival. (Susan Santics/Facebook)

"It was a horrible thing for this last victim. I admit it. I wouldn't want to go through it. But people make mistakes. Dogs bite. We learn how to train them, which I have done for the last two years," said Santics.

Despite this, the court has ruled that given Punky's past aggression, his time is almost up. 

Santics says her lawyer, Victoria Shroff, tried to contact the bylaw department Friday to ensure the dog is not immediately destroyed, in case the court battle continues.

Shroff said Punky could be euthanized immediately, but she has asked for more time for Santics to consider her options and to allow her another visit with the dog on Monday. 

Either way, Santics hopes she will at least be allowed inside Punky's kennel to pet him — which has not been allowed in the two years he's been locked up — at least one last time.

Punky, seen here as a puppy, attacked a stranger in a Vancouver park in 2017, leading to a provincial court order to end his life. The ruling has since been upheld by the B.C. Supreme Court and the B.C. Court of Appeal. (Susan Santics/Facebook)

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a CBC Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@CBC.ca @ybrend

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