Karen Jonkman’s presentation about a dog attack sparked much discussion at the Nov. 30 District of Kitimat Council meeting.
Jonkman spoke on behalf John and Caroline Tavares and their family and other concerned residents of Baker St., relating what she described as a “traumatic incident” on July 31.
That day John Tavares was out walking his small dog, Bella, on a leash when pair were attacked by a German Shepherd-type dog that ran out from between a house and a garage across the street.
Jonkman said the dog ran directly at John and Bella “just like a missile.” She saw John trying to put himself between the two dogs, but the larger dog was very persistent.
“John pulled up little Bella up into his arms and then the Shepherd lunged and grabbed Bella,” Jonkman said, adding that at that point, she and her husband ran out to help. They saw the larger dog’s owner trying to get their dog off of Tavares and Bella, as well, which Jonkman said took some time but was finally managed.
Jonkman said John’s arm and hand were injured, and Bella was badly injured and unfortunately succumbed to her injuries.
“This little dog was so loved by her family, like, she was always in the middle of whatever was going on at the Tavares house,” she said. “The grandchildren were especially attached to Bella. They dressed her up, they carried her around, they played with her, they took her for walks, but everything changed that day that Bella was killed.”
Jonkman said she came forward after residents were dissatisfied with a report received the end of November about what should be done to rehabilitate the attacking dog.
The report was created by Dr. Rebecca Ledger, an animal behaviour and welfare scientist, who was brought on by the District to assess the situation. In her presentation, Jonkman said the report included a list of Dr. Ledger’s recommendations, including that the dog should be allowed to return to live with its owners and should complete several hours of obedience training.
However, Jonkman said she, the Tavares’, and the other Baker St. residents do not feel that these recommendations are adequate for dealing with a “dangerous” dog which, according to the District of Kitimat bylaws, the dog that attacked John and Bella would be considered.
“This is a dangerous dog,” she said to Council. “By your definition [in the bylaws], this animal that attacked and killed Bella and attacked John, this is a dangerous dog.”
The District of Kitimat bylaws state that, among other things, a “dangerous dog” refers to a dog that has killed or seriously injured a person or animal, and a dog that has bitten, attacked, or aggressively pursued a person or animal without provocation.
Jonkman said the owners have built a “fortress” to keep their dog in so it doesn’t get out again, but she, the Tavares’, and others on the street were upset as to why the dog was not put down or dealt with in a stricter manner.
“This traumatic event, it left all of us on the street shaken, upset, and fearful. Like, for those of us who saw it, it was traumatic. It was very upsetting. I’ll never forget the sound of that little dog screaming, it was awful. It was just awful,” she said. “We all said, thank goodness it wasn’t the grandchildren walking Bella when that happened. We don’t want to think how this may have turned out if it was the kids, as they did walk her up and down the street.”
Mayor Phil Germuth said that, while he deeply feels for the Tavares’ and the Baker St. residents, from a Council perspective, there wasn’t much else they could do.
“We didn’t have the full authority in this,” Germuth said. “We had two choices to make: we either went this route, with the expert and the dog person, etc. Or we went and tried to have it destroyed.”
“If we would’ve gone down that route and tried to have it destroyed, from our information, they would’ve been able to go to court and they would’ve had somebody there that would’ve said no and we would’ve lost that. That dog would’ve been able to go back home without any conditions or any requirements — or recommendations.”
Warren Waycheshen, CAO with the District, confirmed Germuth’s statement, saying that there is a strict process that governs what happens to dogs who have killed another dog, and that municipalities don’t have the power to unilaterally decide that a dog should be put down. For that to be decided, an application has to be made to the court, and only a judge can order the dog be put down.
“Clearly, in this case, if we had put out the order to destroy the dog, it would’ve gone to court and if an expert would’ve been there — as this expert was — pretty much the chances are the judge would’ve gone with the expert and said the dog could be rehabilitated and then the dog would’ve been back there with, of course, no recommendations at all,” Germuth added.
“I’ve had dogs my whole life, I’m sure almost everybody, every member of Council has had pets, and we know that they’re family,” he continued. “Of course we feel for the Tavares’ and everybody that witnessed this. But there was only so much we could do as a council, and there’s only so much any council can do in a matter like this.”
The councillors also each spoke to the issue, addressing Jonkman and Caroline Tavares, who was also present virtually for the meeting, and while all were in agreement that they would, as well, feel angered and upset by the situation, the majority agreed with Germuth, saying they felt it was the best option staff and council could provide to get at least some recommendations and conditions for the dog and its owners.
“I think I would feel traumatized in the same way that you feel traumatized,” Councillor Lani Gibson said. “As much as, yes, I would be uncomfortable with living on your street after this incident, I do fully support staff’s decision on this. Based upon all of the information that was presented to us, I felt at the time — and after hearing additional information from you and Mrs. Tavares — I do feel that for the best interests and for the safety of the residents of Baker Street, that the decision that was made by staff, the direction they took was the best course of action.”
However, Councillor Mario Feldhoff added that he, unlike many of the others, was not so much supportive of the decision made by staff and council.
“I just want to let you know that not all councillors felt the same way. I’m not happy with the decision,” he said. “I’ve got small dogs. I’m quite disappointed with the decision, myself.”
Feldhoff asked whether there was, or could be put in place, a higher licensing fee for dogs and other animals that are considered dangerous. Waycheshen confirmed that there is a higher fee, but only in the case that the dog gets out and is impounded. There is already an impoundment fee associated with that, but it goes higher if the dog is deemed dangerous.
Councillor Mark Zielinski asked whether there was any sort of “replacement cost” associated for the owners of a dog that kills another dog, and Waycheshen said there is nothing of that nature in the bylaws at this time.
The report by Jonkman was received for information by Council, and Feldhoff said that he is proposing to put forward a motion at the December 7 council meeting, asking staff to work on a presentation for a future Union of B.C. Municipalities convention that could address instances such as this one.