Punky’s legacy: What all dog owners should know about this case
"Does this mean that a dog who has injured another person or animal will be automatically killed upon a finding of 'dangerous'? Time will tell. The judge will need to be convinced that the dog “does not pose an unacceptable risk to the public” and that “given the totality of evidence, the dog will not kill or seriously injure in the future.'"
On Jan. 23, 2020, the City of Vancouver euthanized an Australian Cattle dog, named Punky Santics, after a series of lost appeals. This is a case where a judge found that Punky had a history of aggression and was unmanageable, and wasn’t confident that the dog owner, Susan Santics, would “follow through with properly controlling Punky to the extent required to protect the public.”
It is upsetting that Punky was killed. It is even more upsetting that as a result of this case, all dogs in British Columbia will now suffer the consequences – and this is the most important part of the case.
You may have read that some provinces, like Ontario, P.E.I. and Saskatchewan, have laws that specifically allow for conditional orders (where dogs are released on conditions, instead of being killed).
What was often missed in the media is that up until the Santics case, British Columbia had 15 years of hard-earned, good, case law that did allow conditional orders; this gave us a workable system in B.C. for defending dogs.
In short, dogs were released on conditional orders in British Columbia.
Conditional orders were a way to truly protect the welfare of the dog and public safety by ensuring conditions such as proper training, diet, correct handling of dogs and proper containment on public and private property. Conditional orders were never routine; a lot of work, knowledge, and creativity – only achieved from countless hours of courtroom experience – and research went into arguing for, and making, these orders – that is how I was able to save all dogs on death row in my cases.
When I discovered that Santics was appealing to the British Columbia Court of Appeal (B.C.’s highest court), I warned both sides of the risk that this case could set a very dangerous precedent. I completely appreciated that Santics wanted to save her dog, but I was extremely worried about the bigger picture. Specifically, I was concerned that the B.C. Court of Appeal would rule against the making of conditional orders, and if that happened, it would mean that all of the previous case law that helped dogs and public safety with conditional orders would no longer be valid.
Unfortunately, I was right. As a result of the Santics case, conditional orders are no longer allowed in British Columbia in dog “destructions” cases. Good dogs will now most likely be killed.
As part of my animal law practice, I have defended dogs for the past 15 years. I have never lost a case to save a dog’s life under the old system. One of my cases at the B.C. Supreme Court, Smith v Central Okanagan, was a precedent where the court confirmed that generally good and manageable dogs can be released on conditions, even if they caused some harm. I have always argued that just because a dog may meet the technical definition of “dangerous,” does not mean the dog should be killed. They should be spared if there is a responsible dog owner who is willing to properly manage her dog in the future, including to follow the recommendations of a reputable animal behaviourist.
My heart goes out to Punky and Santics. However, my heart goes out even more to all dogs in B.C. I generally agree with taking risks in animal law litigation, but this was not one of those cases. The legal ramifications are now devastating – instead of being released on conditions and given another chance, dogs that are manageable and generally good, can be ordered killed if a judge finds that the dog meets the definition of “dangerous” under the Vancouver Charter or Community Charter.
Does this mean that a dog who has injured another person or animal will be automatically killed upon a finding of “dangerous”? Time will tell. The judge will need to be convinced that the dog “does not pose an unacceptable risk to the public” and that “given the totality of evidence, the dog will not kill or seriously injure in the future”.
There may also be other creative ways to deal with this decision, such as with the use of probation orders. I have already had success in two cases, thanks to the collaboration with the City of Vancouver and animal behaviorist, Dr. Rebecca Ledger. I will continue to vigorously defend dogs and to ensure that dogs on death row still have a chance to life, and that public safety is not compromised.