John Andre is fulltime operational Fire-fighter and dog owner. A chance encounter with another walker lead John in to a brush with UK dog laws. A brush he won’t soon forget. Here he tells his story:
On Dec 7th last year my wife and I adopted a 3 year old male Rottie named Grizzly from our local rescue (name came with him ironically!!). He had a big list to fit as we have 2 kids, 3 other dogs including another male Rottie and 2 cats. So we of course we had to have a well-balanced dog. Griz rose to the task with flying colours; he is a lovely well natured pet who has settled in very well.
On Jan 14th I was walking him on the Wirral Way a local walking spot near our home. I was in the habit of walking Griz on lead as he was a relatively new dog and his recall was slightly poor.
I let him off lead to do his business as he seemed reluctant to do it on lead. I didn’t realise an elderly man was walking his dog on lead on the lower path. Grizzly ran approx 10ft towards this man and his dog with the other dog biting Griz in the face; as mine retaliated the owner began to kick and punch my dog. I was only a few feet away and shouted to the man to stop kicking my dog as I would deal with the situation (this would be later backed up by a witness). I grabbed Griz who at this time was cowering on the floor, the man said, “that thing should be on a F–ing lead”, didn’t mention anything about him receiving a bite, I apologised and went on my way. I looked back to see him talking to a man who had been walking just behind us.
Approx 10pm that night a WPC and Community support officer, knocked at the door, almost bringing the front door off its hinges. I went to the door with one of the Rotties as a couple of days previous one of our neighbours had been subject to an armed robbery in the home. On realising it was the Police, our hearts sunk thinking the worst about a family member.
I remember to this day the look on the WPCs face when she saw the Rottie – it was like she’d won the lottery.
She started by asking me whether I owned a green estate car, I replied I did and so she asked me what had happened on the Wirral Way. I asked her what it was about she said a man had reported that my dog had bitten him and it was serious as he had been taken to hospital in an ambulance.
My wife and I were horrified and then reality kicked in. I said that I had witnessed the whole incident and at no time did I see our dog bite him or an opportunity to bite. My wife asked about how could they say which dog bit who, especially as his dog had been the instigator and of an aggressive nature. In addition, the other owner had hauled his dog in the air, which could create an impulsive attack. At this point, the WPC was very rude and dismissive to us both and said they didn’t need any proof as his word was enough but if we insisted on proof they would do bite impressions
She asked how old Grizzly was and his name, sneering when we told her. We didn’t know his exact age as he was a rescue and on telling her this, she seemed even more dismissive. She then enquired where we got him from so we told her our local rescue. At this point I informed the Police officer that Griz was semi-muzzled at the time as he was wearing a Gentle Leader & so how could he have delivered this devastating bite?
She just wasn’t interested, stated that we would be going to court and that Griz would likely be destroyed. My wife asked what would be done about the obvious abuse and attack on our dog – she replied that she would also kick a dog if it bit her. At this point I’d heard enough and asked them to leave; my wife and I were in bits.
On a follow up visit to the rescue the WPC opened her enquiries by making the statement to the kennel manager, “well it’s only a Rottweiler and they’re horrible dogs anyway” – well if that’s not breed prejudice? It was at this point that we realised that we were subject to such prejudice and that we were being victimised.
I was asked to volunteer a statement on the Monday and that the WPC would pick me up from home. When I got in the car I was cautioned under the DDA sec3. On arrival at the station, I was put in a holding cell. After about 1 hour, I was interviewed and allowed to read the other man’s statement.
It was like reading a piece of horror fiction with all the buzz words i.e. children, dangerous dog etc (as if it had been coached) and topped it off with him stating he now felt nervous about taking his daily walk in the future (taking into consideration that this man gladly engaged fully grown Rottie punching and kicking it – which he had carefully omitted from his statement) & since that day, I come across him daily – he has never changed his routine or stopped walking his dog since.
I was asked if I wanted it to be dealt with today – I imagined I would be ticked off and sent on my way so I agreed. I was then arrested and put in a holding room, denied any phone calls for nearly 5 hours and had to ask to use the toilet or for a drink. My wife was frantic at home as she expected me to be about a 1/2 hour.
To put things into perspective, two days before I was arrested over this issue, a local family man was murdered and his son stabbed not 1/2 mile away from where I was held, yet the Police thought that it was in the publics’ best interest to have a WPC (and more in the background) off the street gathering information on a minor dog squabble for best part of a day than out trying to catch the maniac who was still at large. Also the girl in the next cell had head-butted a girl in the local high street; she was released with a caution, a fine of £100 and ordered to write a letter of apology- no such treatment for me.
I was finally charged under DDA Section 3 1 & 4 and bailed to appear in court the following month. At this point I engaged the services of Mr Trevor Cooper to defend me.
Mr Cooper doesn’t accept public funded work & so I had to foot the bill myself. In everyone’s opinion he is the best and as a Fire-Fighter, I could have potentially lost my job (and pension of 23 years) if I had received a criminal conviction. And just as important to me, my dog could have been destroyed.
We live in a very small community and everyone knows everyone else’s business and so I began to research into the complainant’s background amongst fellow dog-walkers. As it turned out he is a serial complainer who has terrorised the local area for some time especially towards female dog walkers. In some cases, to such a degree that some avoid walking in the area. One elderly lady was prepared to testify in court about his behaviour regarding a similar incident and the aggressive nature of his dog.
Due to the short timescale, Trevor asked for an adjournment in absence for us to compile our case. The CPS refused & I appeared in court for just 20 seconds for it to be adjourned, awaiting medical evidence however I still had to pay for my Barristers fee (who had travelled from Leeds).
The issue of victimisation and breed prejudice was further founded when I had to make two complaints regarding harassment. The owner of the other dog lives close to me. He had repeatedly shouted abuse at me, walked his dog in circles around me to try to encourage my dog to attack him and approached me aggressively, in my face swearing and shouting that my dog should be muzzled. On both occasions, I reported the incidents to the Police. On both occasions, I was told that the WPC was consulted and to tell me to walk my dog elsewhere. No action was taken against the other guy. I have 4 dogs and walking my dogs has become a stressful activity, especially as I regularly encounter this guy who is verbally abusive and despite being older, is much bigger in size and who seemingly is allowed to harass me and make me and my wife feel unsafe. Many other dog walkers feel unsafe when this guy is out walking his dog – due to the aggressive nature of his dog and his abusive nature. Our evidence, including names and addresses of such complainants were never investigated or considered by the Police.
I have also heard via the local grapevine that the same WPC had previously owned a dog which was known to be aggressive, had actually bitten on a number of occasions, once very seriously through bike leathers and the case was brushed under the carpet & never pursued. Where is the equal and fair practice in the law? (this is here say and I do not have any evidence but I do have her name & badge if it could be researched at any point)
Prior to the second court appearance, we received the medical evidence of the alleged bite. What nonsense! The injury was a tiny flap of skin, smaller than the nail of a little finger on the back of his hand secured by a steri-strip. The doctor said it was an alleged dog bite and described the injury as superficial with no tendon damage (medical record can be supplied). Why he needed an emergency Ambulance is beyond me! What a waste of already stretched resources. The trial (whole day) was set for the end of April with a mention on 17th of March.
Third and final court appearance was on 17th March. We managed to plea bargain (after many phone calls between CPS and Trevor) to the lesser charge; section 2, of the soon to be obsolete, 1871 Dogs Act. I reluctantly admitted liability at risk of being taken to full trial where my solicitor informed me that I would lose, end up with a conviction and the fate of the dog would be in the balance. The CPS also wanted to enforce that a DCO was made therefore a muzzle and lead order was placed on our kind gentle pet for the rest of his life, which I see of detriment to him as he is very energetic and lively, & I was to organise third party liability insurance.
Negotiations that day to have one or the other were flatly refused – it was either this deal or a full trial. I would also like to note that a certain WPC was at the centre of the discussions with the CPS and she would not bend on the order.
Some may say that I got a good result – I did not get a conviction, a fine or have to pay costs and my dog was not destroyed. On reflection, I feel bitterness and anger towards the WPC – whether it was a promotion in sight or they just needed their quota on dog charges for the month, who knows? Or as I truly believed, she just hated Rottweilers.
I also feel immense bitterness towards the old chap who pursed this, especially after learning more about his character and the number of people who have been affected by his malice. Finally, I feel disappointed in the system.
I was never innocent until proven guilty. I could not afford to take this to trial and have my evidence, references, and witnesses presented (costs around 5K). The DDA was used inappropriately – as you will know, section 3 (1 & 4) were devised to deal with cases of dog fighting and for those who were training aggressive dogs for their own personal use.
No one was interested in the aggressive dog which caused the fight. No one was interested in highlighting that there was no clear evidence as to which dog had bitten. No one was interested in pursuing the other complaints. No one was interested that if he hadn’t been a Rottweiler that I wouldn’t be writing this today. If Merseyside Police & Wirral CPS deems this to be an appropriate use of resource and a fair outcome, then shame on then and God help any other family man out walking his dog who may suffer at the hands of the system.