Who do you think is right - the dog owner or the council?
A High Court battle between the owner of a "dangerous" dog and South Waikato District Council has cost ratepayers more than $67,000 - and looks likely to rise further.
But the council is defending the spiralling legal costs saying it comes down to a choice between dollars and human safety.
Officials are vowing to keep fighting to close what they describe as a legal loophole that could see the dog released.
The fight began in late 2010 when Tokoroa woman Carolyn King's American Staffordshire terrier Jimbo attacked and killed a neighbouring family's pet rabbit while he was with a couple who Mrs King had been considering rehoming the dog with.
The dog had been sent outside to chase a suspected burglar.
The dog was taken by animal control to the pound where a month later it injured the pound's resident dog.
The attack led to two convictions under the Dog Control Act for Mrs King and a death sentence for Jimbo.
But Mrs King refused to let the issue drop and an appeal meant a stay of execution for almost two years as Jimbo awaited a result, and legal fees stacked up for both sides.
A High Court decision released this week finally quashed Mrs Kings convictions but with the judge ordering a rehearing on Jimbo's rabbit attack, he remains locked up until his fate is decided. Mrs King was briefly reunited with Jimbo in an emotional meeting0 when the Waikato Times visited the pound with Mrs King and South Waikato District Council chief executive David Hall to discuss the issue.
"[Jimbo] was really unhappy. Of course he recognised me, he didn't want to leave me. I had to give him a bit of a push and tell him to go. They're not a dangerous breed at all. In England, they're called nanny dogs because they're so good with children, they're a lovely breed," Mrs King said.
Mr Hall said Mrs King had "successfully exploited a loophole" and although council had spent $67,000 on legal fees over the case he couldn't rule out spending more arguing for Jimbo to be put down.
Mr Hall said Jimbo was dangerous, had been involved in other attacks, and simply should not be released in case he struck again.
"We've always had the ability to let the dog go, but the thing that holds me back from making that decision is the concern that it's going to be involved in another attack. And while it may be an animal that seems to be quite good with people, there are many cases where somebody has tried to separate two animals that were fighting and come off worse for wear, so really it's a question of what's more important: the public safety or the dollars?"
"We certainly don't want to be spending that much money but we're kind of in between a rock and a hard place," Mr Hall said.
Council would try to get the law strengthened to close the loophole- which prevents the animal being put down where there is no conviction of the owner - but Mrs King could save both sides further legal costs by giving the dog up voluntarily for destruction. A decision on whether council would head back to court over the rabbit incident would be made next week.
Cassandra Barlow, who owned the pair of rabbits attacked by Jimbo said the attack was not a case of "playfulness getting out of hand".
"This dog is aggressive... I have no doubt that it will attack and kill again".
Mrs King's lawyer, Arama Ngapo-Lipscombe described the case as a ‘David and Goliath' battle. She said the High Court had agreed with her argument that Mrs King couldn't be convicted of charges from Jimbo's behaviour when he was out of her care.
When Jimbo attacked the rabbit he was under the care of a couple who were intending to rehome him while the second attack happened when he was at the council's pound.
She said Mrs King, had spent roughly 20 years volunteering, committed to re-housing dogs for the council, and never had any incidents.
"This is not someone with no experience, this is someone who's a qualified dog trainer and the dog is an award-winning show dog. It was not a loophole, it's pretty obvious. It's not trying to be tricky, it's just the law. It's only fair and reasonable that we should have the right to defend ourselves," she said.
Mrs King claimed she did not know how much the case had cost her but she had financial help from her friend and Jimbo's breeder Sue Dennis. She runs a 12-hectare property and a dog rescue homing about 20 dogs and puppies. She also houses wild cats and has three dogs of her own.
She pays for registrations, vet bills and food for all dogs in her rescue from her own pocket until they can be rehomed, and said the council used to bring her dogs each week but had said they wouldn't any more unless she has Jimbo put down.
"In all his career he's never fought anything. All he wants to do is play with everybody, even the cats. I love all my dogs here. You get to know them and work with them and love them, everyone of them is special. And [Jimbo's] a big softie. He's a lovely dog," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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