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Montreal lawyer challenges order to euthanize pit bull involved in attack

A prominent Montreal lawyer was in court Thursday in an attempt to save a pit bull-type dog that attacked six people last summer from being put down.

Anne-France Goldwater argued the section of the municipal bylaw that orders a dog to be euthanized once declared dangerous contravenes provincial animal welfare legislation.

The Crown announced this week that there would be no criminal charges against the woman who was watching the dog when the attacks took place last August. She had agreed to take care of it when the owner had a medical emergency.

Goldwater asked the Quebec Superior Court to allow the dog named Shotta, who was seized after the attack, to be sent to a specialized refuge in New York, where it would be kept away from the public and never adopted to a home.

Goldwater, a prominent animal rights activist, acknowledged at the beginning of the hearing the animal in question had attacked people – including several children – and was “not the best of dogs.”

But she added it is often the most difficult cases that test the laws and rights society puts in place.

“We’ll never advance our rights with the nice little neighbourhood dog who never does anything (wrong),” she told Justice Lukasz Granosik. “We test them in a difficult situation to see if the laws have claws and teeth.”

Goldwater said the evidence demonstrated the dog in the current case wasn’t given a proper behavioural evaluation and its owner, who she represents, was shut out of the process.

She said a portion of the city’s animal control bylaw, which states that dogs must be put down after being deemed dangerous, should be declared “inoperative” because it contravenes provincial legislation that describes animals as “sentient beings” that have “biological needs.”

A lawyer for the City of Montreal countered municipal authorities followed all proper procedures following the attack.

Alexandre Paul-Hus said a behavioural evaluation was not necessary in this case to deem the dog was dangerous, since it had attacked several people, including children.

“This is not a borderline case, it is not an ambiguous case,” he said.

Paul-Hus also took issue with Goldwater’s argument that the bylaw is invalid, arguing nothing in Quebec’s law forbids euthanizing an animal.

“The act of euthanasia, if it is done in a fair and dignified manner…is not a murder,” he said. “It is not a crime nor an infraction.”

Among the victims were the two grandchildren of the woman watching the dog.

The dog first attacked a four-year-old girl, wounding her in the head. The animal was then enclosed, but managed to escape and wounded the girl’s seven-year-old brother in the arm later in the day.

The dog’s life was temporarily spared pending a police investigation.

Outside the courtroom, Goldwater said the dog had never previously shown any aggression towards humans before that day, but suggested that in any case, an animal cannot be held responsible for its actions, nor punished like a human. She said many things can make a dog become dangerous, including a lack of proper socialization.

“If a dog is too dangerous for human company, don’t keep the dog in human company,” she said. “Put him in a refuge where he is safe.”

The Montreal SPCA, which has custody of the dog, supported Goldwater’s request that the dog be transferred to the Road to Home Rescue in New York while the legal battle plays out.

The judge said he would rule at a later date, but assured Goldwater and the SPCA representative that he would render a decision quickly out of concern for the animal’s welfare.