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Numerous groups in court Thursday seeking to save 21 pit bulls

File photo of a pit bull. CITYNEWS

The owners of 21 alleged fighting dogs believe they have found a solution to save the animals from a potential death sentence.

Ken Marley, who represents three people accused of running a dogfighting ring near Chatham, Ont., said his clients have agreed in principle to transfer ownership of the dogs to a rescue organization north of Toronto.

“As an interim measure at least, my clients would prefer to see the dogs saved and adopted as opposed to being put down,” Marley said.

Several lawyers have told The Canadian Press they will attend court Thursday in Chatham, Ont., on behalf of animal rights and rescue groups in an effort to intervene in an application by the Ontario Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Animals to destroy 21 dogs it seized from an alleged dogfighting ring last October.

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The court appearance is only scheduled to set a date to hear the society’s application, but the lawyers are hoping to use that opportunity to file motions to intervene. Elizabeth Quinto, who represents Bullies in Need, has already filed a motion with the court.

The OSPCA seized 31 dogs on Oct. 15, 2015, and has already euthanized three of them for medical reasons. The society had members of the American SPCA evaluate the dogs behaviourally and they concluded that 21 of them, all deemed pit bulls, are a menace to society and cannot be rehabilitated.

While the dogs are currently in the OSPCA’s custody at an undisclosed location somewhere in Ontario, the animals remain the property of Marley’s clients. But they’ve agreed to transfer ownership to Dog Tales, an opulent animal sanctuary in King City, Ont., owned by one of Canada’s richest families.

“At Dog Tales we are fortunate enough to have the facilities and the resources to provide for our dogs in ways that many other shelters cannot,” owner Danielle Eden said in an email.

“We are prepared to take full responsibility for these dogs, including veterinary care and unconditional love, all at no cost to the OSPCA. There’s no catch here, just a simple, straightforward solution that would save 21 lives.”

John Nunziata, Dog Tales’ lawyer, said he’ll tell the court his client’s intentions. Bullies in Need and Animal Justice are also looking to intervene, all in an effort to give a legal voice to the dogs.

Because the dogs have been deemed pit bulls by the OSPCA, there is an added complication because pit bulls are banned in the province. Only a pound can take in pit bull-type dogs and Dog Tales is not a pound.

Nunziata said the sanctuary is applying to the local municipality in an effort to get that designation.

Brian Shiller, who represents the OSPCA, said it doesn’t matter who owns the dogs.

“When a dog is bred to fight, it’s very dangerous to have them out there,” Shiller said.

“What if the OSPCA acquiesces and says they can all be rehabilitated and then one dog goes to a family and rips into a five-year-old? We can’t take that risk.”