After a stern dressing down by the lawyer representing the owner of Elliot the Rottweiler on May 8, 2023, Central Elgin council postponed consideration of the appeal of Elliot’s dangerous dog designation. “With the greatest of respect today I have never seen a municipality … operate in a manner that so obviously ignores an appellant’s right to procedural fairness,” said lawyer Jennifer Friedman, legal counsel for Elliot’s owner, Margaret Barrie. Ms. Friedman’s practice is exclusively dedicated to animal law in Canada, and a “significant portion” of her caseload involves dangerous dog files.
“There are respectfully serious concerns about bias in the (January 10, 2023) Erica Cheeseman hearing, the conduct of two members of council amounted to not just reasonable apprehension of bias, but arguably actual bias that is specifically germane to this hearing,” said Ms. Friedman.
“Cr. (Norman) Watson prejudged the matter and indicated that all large dogs are dangerous. This is particularly troubling as Elliot is a large dog.
“Mayor (Andrew) Sloan voted to affirm the dangerous dog designation without actually being present during the (Cheeseman) hearing,” she added. “This is extremely problematic as a vote ought to only be made after being part of the panel from the outset and after careful consideration of the evidence.”
She asked that Cr. Watson and Mayor Sloan recuse themselves from Elliot’s hearing.
A report compiled by Curtis Gremonprez, CE Manager of Bylaw Enforcement, states that the dangerous dog designation was applied after the municipality received a complaint on March 7, 2023. “The complainant alleges that while out walking their dog (on the berm in Port Stanley), an off-leash dog owned by the defendant approached them and bit their dog in the face causing $1,200 worth of vet bills.”
Mr. Gremonprez said he had collected all pertinent witness statements, as well as the veterinarian’s bill, before assigning Elliot a dangerous dog designation.
A March 30, 2023 email sent to Mr. Gremonprez and submitted to council as evidence, appears to be written by Elliot’s owner, however, the name is redacted. “I am so heartbroken about this,” according to the message. “My boy was defending himself. It is completely my fault that this happened. In honesty I thought it was ok for him to be off leash on the (berm). So many people take their dogs there and let them run …
“He is my emotional support animal,” the message continues. “He was designated that by a mental health professional in Texas. I got him shortly after my husband died when he was eight weeks old …
“He ran up to play and the other dog was cranky and so he snapped and growled at Elliot and Elliot retaliated,” the message adds. “I found out later that the other dog was very sick so obviously he didn't want to be bothered with my boy. That doesn't make Elliot a dangerous dog. His breed is very discriminated against.”
A second piece of evidence submitted to council suggests Ms. Barrie paid the veterinarian bill.
Ms. Friedman said: “If (her) requests are denied, respectfully, I’m putting council on notice that I may be advancing a (Canadian) Charter (of Rights and Freedoms) argument on behalf of my client, and notifying the Attorney General (of Ontario).”
After Cr. Morgaine Halpin’s asked the municipality’s lawyer, Nick Lobe, for his input on the file, Mr. Lobe recommended council proceed into a closed session. After deliberating behind closed doors, council returned and approved Mayor Andrew Sloan’s motion to “adjourn to a time in the future.”
Ms. Friedman’s mention of the Erica Cheeseman case refers to a January 10, 2023 meeting where CE council affirmed the Potentially Dangerous Dog Designation for the Port Stanley resident’s 145-pound Dane-Mastiff. Moose was accused of “bulldozing” a man across a street as he tried to protect his 22-pound Cockapoo from the larger dog’s attack. Moose was wearing a muzzle at the time.
Bylaw No. 0456 requires owners of dangerous dogs to obtain and maintain $1 million in public liability insurance to cover any damage or injury the dog may cause. These dogs must also be confined and secured when on home turf and muzzled when they leave home.
During the Cheeseman hearing, Cr. Watson said: “Any time I see a dog with a muzzle and weighs 140 pounds and can take out a grown man, that’s a dangerous dog, not potentially, that’s a dangerous dog in my mind,” said Ward 3 Councillor Norman Watson.
The chairperson of the Cheeseman hearing, Deputy Mayor Todd Noble, was entertaining a motion to defer the matter to Council’s January 25, 2023 meeting, when Mayor Andrew Sloan joined the session near its conclusion. “Thank you very much. I’ve looked at the information. If the clerk wants to call the vote, I’d be glad to participate.” In the end, Mayor Sloan voted in favor of affirming the potentially dangerous dog designation.