Punky the dog gets temporary stay of execution

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Dog collar and tag/Shutterstock

Punky, a four-year-old Australian cattle dog, will live for at least another week while his owner prepares to appeal his fate to the Supreme Court of Canada, B.C.’s Court of Appeal said Aug. 22.

“We are here today to ask for a stay of that execution,” owner Susan Santics’ lawyer Victoria Shroff told Justice Peter Willcock.

“An animal’s life would be snuffed out.”

That puts on hold an Aug. 9 decision of the same court upholding earlier court rulings sealing Punky’s fate.

Punky has been held in the city’s bow-wow hoosegow for two years. And, said city lawyer Robert LeBlanc, the pound is full and all spaces are needed.

“Given Punky’s past behaviour, temperament and lack of rehabilitation prospects, it was clearly open to the Provincial Court judge to conclude that the dog posed an unacceptable risk to the public and ought to be destroyed,” Justice Patrice Abrioux wrote in the unanimous Aug. 9 ruling of three judges.

But, when Santics and Shroff appeared before him Aug. 22, Willcock agreed the dog should not be put down until he decides whether the case has enough merit to go to the high court in Ottawa.

“The city should not plan on destroying the animal tomorrow,” Willcock said.

“It is clear there would be irreparable harm if the stay is not approved,” he said.

Legally speaking, Willcock will render a decision Friday morning on whether or not he believes the case has merit to go to the Supreme Court of Canada. The city and Santics will then have seven days to decide what to do.

Even then, the high court might decide not to hear the case. Or, if it does, the justices could send it back to a lower court for reconsideration.

So, Punky lives as court procedure moves forward.

This comes after two years of legal wrangling following Punky’s charging a woman at Vancouver’s Locarno Park and sinking his teeth into her leg in August 2017. Those facts are not in dispute.

Under a provincial court judgement, Santics’ dog was designated as dangerous and should be euthanized, a decision the province’s supreme and appeal courts upheld.

The Appeal Court ruled once the provincial court has decided a dog is likely to kill or seriously injure someone, it should be destroyed.

A B.C. Supreme Court ruling said the wounds were serious, including deep puncture wounds to the woman’s right leg and right hand, as well as other scrapes, tears, swelling and bruising.

The Supreme Court said the victim testified Santics stood by and did nothing as she was attacked.

That ruling said Santics was fined $1,500 for violating a Vancouver bylaw which prohibits a person who keeps a dog from permitting, suffering or allowing the dog to bite, attack or injure a person or domestic animal.

That fine was not appealed and Santics did not challenge the finding that Punky is a dangerous dog, the court said.

Shroff took issue before Willcock that no experts were called about “Punky’s rehabilitative potential.”

The provincial court judge found Punky had not only seriously injured the Locarno victim but had also displayed aggression and a willingness to bite since at least March 2016.

Further, Abrioux said, there is evidence suggesting a strong likelihood that a similar attack will occur. She said multiple witnesses agreed the dog was aggressive.

Shroff told Willcock there have been no signs of aggression since Punky has been behind bars.

Willcock dismissed that argument, saying “there is a history of aggressive behaviour.”

“Multiple witnesses, including a veterinarian and Ms. Santics herself, described instances wherein Punky was violent and aggressive. Some of these instances involved biting,” Abrioux said. “At the same time, there was little evidence that Punky would receive or be responsive to formal behavioural training.”

The appeal is the first such case the court of appeal has heard to address the dangerous dog provisions of the Vancouver Charter.

Shroff argued there is national if not international interest in Punky’s case, proffering to Willcock a handful of news stories.

The judge said the Supreme Court of Canada hear cases based on legal arguments of national significance, not web hits.

However, in a news release sent out before court sat, Shroff said, “We come down to the issue of animals being classified as property under the law, though a dog is a sentient being and to many Canadians, a family member. In most cases, there is a way to balance protection of the public without destroying dogs.”