A summer afternoon at a popular park in Vancouver that lead to a multi-year legal fight has ended with the euthanasia of Punky, a four-year-old Australian cattle dog.
In August 2017, Susan Santics was playing fetch with her dog Punky at Vancouver’s Locarno Park. After one final throw for the day, Santics said Punky was distracted and ran to a woman who was lying on a towel near a tree.
Punky then bit the woman below the knee, breaking the skin and causing what was described in court as “multiple puncture wounds, including a deep puncture to her right leg and punctures to her right hand, as well as scrapes, swelling and bruising.”
Punky was seized by Vancouver Animal Control on Sept. 13, 2017. Court documents included a description of how the dog reacted when an animal control officer approached.
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“The officer testified that she found Punky in the yard, unmuzzled and lunging at her,” the documents read. “She attempted for about an hour to restrain Punky for transportation in her vehicle, but was unsuccessful.”
On Thursday, standing outside of the Vancouver Animal Control building on Raymur Avenue — where Punky had been kept alone in a kennel for more two and a half years — Santics refuted the claims.
Because she represented herself in the original trial in July of 2018, Santics said she wasn’t clear about the process and she was unable to fight against what she called a lot of misinformation.
“It’s been very unjust,” she said. “I wasn’t represented and I should have had a retrial.”
Punky was found to be a dangerous dog and ordered destroyed in July 2018 by a B.C. Provincial Court judge. Later that year, in December, the case was heard in the B.C. Court of Appeal.
By this point, animal law lawyer and UBC Allard School of Law Adjunct Professor Victoria Shroff was involved, fighting to save Punky’s life.
“Killing a dog should not be the first avenue we go down. It should be more about how can we do things to keep the public safe,” she said on Thursday, just hours before the scheduled euthanization of Punky.
“These things are really solvable with a muzzle order. There are easy solutions.”
“This could have all been solved with them giving him back to me with strict conditions,” she said. “I did get a muzzle on him at some point.”
But in a unanimous decision, the high court upheld the ruling to destroy Punky.
The three judges agreed with Justice Patrice Abrioux, who ruled: “In my view, given Punky’s past behaviour, temperament and lack of rehabilitation prospects, it was clearly open to the Provincial Court judge to conclude that the dog posed an unacceptable risk to the public and ought to be destroyed.”
Shroff said there were other options.
“There were so many other prospects for him. It’s different in a situation where nothing can be done, but we literally had people from all over the world saying, ‘I will take him, I will rehabilitate him, I will pay for him.’”
What does this case mean for other dog owners?
While some are calling this case the death knell for any dog deemed aggressive and seized by animal control, Shroff said that’s not necessarily the case.
She said while it does give animal control more power, there is still the option of releasing a dog with conditions, which is something she has seen work.
“In my 20 years as an animal law lawyer, I have never had a dog reoffend,” she said. “So the system is working. There are ways to have a dog released on a safety release plan.”
A last ditch attempt to save Punky’s life was quashed last week when the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed a leave for appeal.
On Thursday afternoon, Punky was euthanized at a Vancouver Animal Control facility. Santics asked to be there for her dog’s final moments, but was told that was not allowed.
She said she was also denied a request to have one final good-bye with Punky. She later received an email informing her the dog had been euthanized, while offering her options for cremation.
“They didn’t let me go in and hug him,” she said. “It would have been pretty overwhelming, but they should have let me do that.”