Yellowknife man found guilty of 1 of 2 charges in dog attack case

A Yellowknife man has been found guilty of having his dog at large after the dog mauled a neighbour’s dog, which died two days after the attack.

Judge said dog owner was not a credible witness

Douglas McNiven is facing two charges under the city's dog bylaw because his dog, Aloha, got loose and latched onto a dog being walked past his house. (Pat Kane/CBC)

A Yellowknife man has been found guilty of having his dog at large after the dog mauled a neighbour's dog, which died two days after the attack.

Douglas McNiven, 59, was listening in to the verdict by phone to territorial court on Friday. He was found not guilty of his dog biting a person, another charge he was facing as a result of the same attack in June of 2019.

In giving his decision, Judge Donovan Molloy said McNiven, a local lawyer, was not a credible witness.

McNiven testified that his dog, Aloha, was tethered on his front lawn but her collar snapped when she reached the end of the metal cable as she charged at the much smaller dog, Abby, being walked on a leash by neighbour William Cheung.

"Despite Mr. McNiven's attempt to suggest that Mr. Cheung walking his dog by his house amounted to provocation, there wasn't a shred of evidence of any provocation of Aloha," said Molloy in his decision.

Abby, an Australian Shepherd/poodle mix, was attacked by a loose dog in June of 2019. She was put down two days later. The owner of the dog that attacked Abby will hear the verdict in his case on Friday. (Submitted by William Chueng)

Cheung and another neighbour who stepped in to help said Aloha was not tethered. Molloy pointed out that that was backed up by testimony from a veterinarian who said he considers both McNiven and Cheung friends.

Dr. Michael Hughes, who treated Abby after the attack, said McNiven confided in the days after the attack that Aloha was not on a cable, but was in the back of the house and ran through a series of open doors to get to the front lawn and to Abby. Paraphrasing Hughes's recollection of that conversation, Molloy recalled the vet saying that McNiven told him "the stars didn't align to keep (Aloha) in the house."

Molloy noted that Huges testified that he suggested to McNiven that he fence his front yard to prevent Aloha from escaping. Hughes said McNiven balked at that, saying he had spent $10,000 to fence his back yard and did not want to spend more money fencing the front. 

There wasn't a shred of evidence of any provocation of Aloha.- Judge Donovan Molloy

The veterinarian said McNiven told him, "If people don't want my dog attacking them they shouldn't walk by my house."

McNiven denied saying any of those things to the veterinarian. But Molloy said Hughes was "a very credible and reliable witness.... It's clear this conversation stuck in Mr. Hughes's mind because Mr. McNiven's position was preposterous."

Both Cheung and McNiven suffered cuts and other injuries to their hands while trying to pull Aloha's jaws open to release Abby. Molloy said all witnesses said that Aloha would not release his grip, so it was unlikely that any of the injuries either man suffered was the result of a distinct bite from the dog.

In his decision Molloy also levelled criticism at the city municipal enforcement division's investigation of the incident, describing it as "wholly incompetent."

McNiven said he expected bylaw officers to show up, but they did not. The city's lawyer said the lack of investigation was not relevant to the issues central to the trial. Molloy disagreed, pointing out that incident reports are valuable sources of information about any event that ends up in court months later.

Molloy said the city should have seized Aloha instead of simply ordering McNiven to quarantine her, since McNiven's wife operates a child care service in the same house.

In a written comment after the verdict, Cheung said he hopes the case highlights the need for stronger bylaws and the importance of responsible dog ownership.

"This is something that nobody should go through,"wrote Cheung. "Seeing my dog attacked so viciously is something I will never forget."

Sentencing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 21. McNiven is facing a fine of up to $2,500 and the possibilities of having to give up his dog or have it put down.