British Columbia

11 more days for Punky, as death row dog wins last minute reprieve

A canine on doggy death row for the past two years has another 11 more days to live, unless his owner and lawyer decide to try to push his case further.

Punky was set to be put down at noon but has until Aug. 23

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)

Punky was set to be destroyed on Aug. 12 at noon.

But the four-year-old Australian cattle dog got a last minute reprieve on Monday, so that his owner can consider whether to try to take the dog's case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

On Friday, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld past rulings that Punky was a dangerous dog and should be destroyed, leaving the dog's owner in tears in the courtroom after a two-year legal battle to save his life.

Animal rights lawyer Victoria Shroff said Punky's hours were numbered by the time she got confirmation from the prosecutor that she'd been granted a temporary delay before the dog is destroyed. That came Monday morning after she began pleading Friday.

"I had wonderful news this morning," she said.

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)

Shroff said Punky will be spared until Aug. 23 to give his owner and legal team time to decide if they plan to try to take his case even higher and seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

It turns out Punky's case has sparked a lot of legal questions.

Shroff said in her 20 years experience this is the first dangerous dog case she has dealt with at the Court of Appeal level. She said that the decision published Friday ruled that provincial court judges do not have jurisdiction to make conditional orders to release dangerous dogs or make any decision short of of destruction.

Destruction order, last straw

It's unclear what that will mean in the future. Some fear the precedent will lead to more dogs being destroyed.

Lawyer Rebeka Breder acting for the B.C. SPCA  feared Punky's case could erase the power of the courts to release animals on specific conditions, a tool she's used to save dogs for years.

"Now, as a result of this case, the power of the court to do so is, unfortunately, completely eliminated — a devastating effect on dogs in the future," Breder wrote in an email to CBC.

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)

Shroff agreed more dog deaths was a risk.

But she said the precedent could also translate into better prevention and negotiated releases, at a lower level.

'Once destroyed, he or she is gone'

In other places in Canada, she said, other options — such as muzzling, penning and training — are fully explored before a dog is killed.

"The destruction order should be the very, very last thing that happens because it is not reversible," she said.

"It's not like you seize property, like a car or a computer. It is a sentient being, and once that is destroyed, he or she is gone."

Punky's owner, Susan Santics, says her dog deserved more options. But now the animal faces death again in 11 days.

Punky ended up on doggy death row after he bit a woman in an off-leash park in 2017. After that, he was ruled dangerous by a provincial court judge. That decision was appealed.

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

Justice Patrice Abrioux wrote in the unanimous three-judge ruling that "given Punky's past behaviour, temperament and lack of rehabilitation prospects," he posed an unacceptable risk and needed to be destroyed.

Punky has been in city custody for two years, ever since he attacked Alyssa Prattas 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.

'People make mistakes, dogs bite'

"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 outside the courthouse on Friday.

Since then, dozens of people have reached out offering to adopt the dog and suggesting he be relocated or some other option be found, other than destruction.

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

About the Author

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

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