Yellowknife municipal enforcement’s investigation into a dog’s lethal attack on a smaller animal on a city street in 2019 was “woefully incompetent,” said a Territorial Court judge on Friday.
As he found the larger dog’s owner, Douglas McNiven, guilty of not having his dog Aloha on a secured leash, Judge Donovan Molloy said bylaw officers did “nothing that could even be said to resemble an investigation of this serious incident.”
The attack resulted in the eventual death of an Australian shepherd/poodle mix that was being walked along Finlayson Drive.
“Counsel for the City maintained the lack of any investigation by the City’s municipal enforcement officers was irrelevant in determination of the issues in this case, but it is very relevant and any government body that has the authority to investigate and charge people with offences [must ensure] investigations are conducted in a professional manner,” said Molloy.
“Competence is one of professionalism’s cornerstones … and if the lack of investigation in this incident is any sort of barometer, the conduct here of the City’s municipal enforcement officers was woefully incompetent.”
Taking statements at the time of an incident can help witnesses later refresh their memories while testifying at trial, said Molloy.
An investigation would have also likely identified some of the other witnesses to the attack, helping the court achieve the goal of any trial – “the discovery of the truth” – said the judge.
He said the City’s lawyers did not prove McNiven, a local lawyer who specializes in commercial law, was guilty of a second charge of having a dog that bites someone without provocation.
During the lunch hour of June 21, 2019, William Chueng was walking along Finlayson Drive with his three small dogs, including his eight-year-old Abby, when McNiven’s large “mixed-breed dog, with significant pitbull attributes” ran across McNiven’s front lawn and “seized Abby in its jaws in the mid-area of her body,” said the judge.
The court heard McNiven and Chueng suffered injuries to their hands while trying to force Aloha’s jaws apart, as it was intent on holding on to the smaller dog.
The attack did not end until a third party – who also tried “delivering a number of blows” to Aloha’s head and snout, to the objection of McNiven and his daughter Indiana – poured water into the mouth of the aggressive dog.
That third party drove the injured dog to a veterinarian, while Chueng and McNiven travelled separately to the emergency room at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
Municipal enforcement officers attended the hospital and spoke to each of the men.
McNiven earlier testified he had expected officers to gather evidence at the scene following the attack, which they did not. Instead, they ordered McNiven to quarantine Aloha for 10 days on his property.
The injured dog was operated on by Dr Michael Hughes, a veterinarian at the Yellowknife Veterinary Clinic, who closed a large open wound on Abby – five centimetres in diameter – plus several other bite marks.
The dog’s condition deteriorated a few days later and she died, despite further treatment.
‘Engaging in hyperbole’
Hughes was friends with both Chueng and McNiven and became emotional when testifying at the trial in March.
He testified that he told McNiven he should build a fence in his front yard, similar to the $10,000 one he has in the rear of his property.
McNiven immediately paid all costs associated with Abby’s care, which totalled $4,178.
Chueng visited McNiven’s house later in the day following the attack. “During this exchange,” stated the judge, “Mr McNiven claimed he felt Mr Chueng was trying to ‘shake me down,’ and was concerned … that Mr Chueng might strike him.”
However, the judge found it odd that McNiven did still invite Chueng into his home.
“I find this … another example of Mr McNiven engaging in hyperbole,” said Molloy.
McNiven’s defence amounted to claiming Aloha had been tethered to a post in the yard by a steel cable attached to a collar for a short time on that day. The collar must have broken, he argued, when the dog lunged at Chueng and his three dogs as they passed by.
Chueng testified the dog ran from the front of the house and it had no collar.
On Friday, Molloy noted a witness testified there was no evidence of that cable in the yard when the attack took place and Aloha had a reputation for being aggressive.
Hughes had testified that McNiven “said he felt horrible, that it was a horrible accident, you know, the stars didn’t align,” the judge read from the veterinarian’s earlier testimony.
“He said to me, ‘If people don’t want my dog to attack them, they shouldn’t walk by my house.’ My comment back to Doug was, ‘Doug … that is [expletive] bullshit and you know it as a citizen and you know it as a lawyer. You know people have the right to live safely.”
McNiven denied he made those statements to Hughes.
Molloy said he believed the veterinarian “presented as a very credible and reliable witness.”
“I reject the evidence of both Douglas and Indiana McNiven that Aloha was tethered just prior to her attack on Abby,” said Molloy. “Douglas McNiven’s testimony was problematic for its exaggerations and its inability to directly answer questions … and repeated efforts to malign Mr Chueng at every opportunity.”
Sentencing was set for August 21.
Under City of Yellowknife bylaws, a dog owner can face a fine of up to $2,500 and a jail term of three months for a first offence. An order could also be made to have McNiven’s dog put down and prevent the accused from owning dogs for a period of time.
Said veterinarian Hughes while on the stand: “I’ve got two of my friends who are against each other.
“Life is too short for this, you know, life is way too short to have people upset. I think about that poor little dog dying … it’s a tragedy and life is too short.”