Dog’s fate in question after attack on four-year-old in Shelburne

Published on May 27, 2014

SHELBURNE - A complicated situation has fallen into the hands of the Municipality of Shelburne after a four-year old was attacked by a dog at Roseway Park.

There were no adults around when the four-year old approached the dog.

The six-year old beagle, lab and duck toller mix named Stormy was tied in its own yard.

When the child crouched down to visit, the dog bit the child in the face. The child suffered bruising and puncture wounds from the attack.

The mother of the child, Shirley Oikle, took her son to the emergency department where he was treated. 

Oikle said she had been standing in her backyard two doors down when she lost sight of her son. It was in those moments the dog attacked.

The bylaw enforcement officer took the dog from the home and as per custom, it was held for 10 days to see if the dog was rabid. According to its bylaws, the municipality could at day 14 destroy the dog.

What the municipality realized soon after taking the dog was that she was pregnant and due any day.

She has since had her puppies while in captivity.

According to Silvia Jay, a dog behaviour specialist from Nova Scotia, this could be a mitigating factor in the attack.

“If she never has bitten before or showed aggression, the bite could have been circumstantial,” she said. She said the hormones from the pregnancy could have played a part but without seeing what actually happened it would be difficult to determine.

The SPCA manager in Yarmouth, Carol Denomme, said the pregnancy of the dog could have been a factor.

“The dog was older at six years and pregnant for the first time,” she said. “There was no one around, the dog could have been growling and giving out warning signs but children don’t listen to warnings."

But she did admit even a pregnant dog should have walked away rather than attack.

“We don’t know if the child fell on the dog and she was protecting her puppies,” she said.

The family of the dog is upset and wants its dog back.

“I felt really bad when it happened,” said Claire Brown. “She has never been in trouble before. It was totally out of character.”

She said she didn’t even know there was a child visiting in her yard.

They have searched the bylaws and are attempting to get the dog back before it is destroyed.

Within the municipal bylaw, there is a stipulation stating a long list of requirements if owning a dangerous dog.

Brown’s children have been building an enclosure, posting signs and the family has been doing its best to check off all that needs to be done to keep the dog.

But Shelburne Municipal CAO Kirk Cox said even that if they complete all the requirements, they still might not have their dog returned.

“Yes, (these) conditions would be irrelevant if the dog was deemed a considerable danger,” said Cox. 

“Next week things will be more clear,” he said. “But for now, we know of the incident, we have met with both parties, we are assessing and trying to determine the facts…but our bylaw is clear about our options…return the dog with conditions or put it down.”

Denomme said she believes the SPCA would have approached the situation differently.

“A dangerous dog is a heavy label,” she said. “I don’t think I would have removed the dog from the family. I can’t say to Shelburne you’re doing this wrong but I think they are.”

She thinks the dog should be reassessed after the puppies are weaned and even offered a kennel at the Yarmouth SPCA to house the dog and her puppies.

“The bylaws are in place to protect the people not the dogs and I understand,” she said. “It’s a bit of a 'you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t' situation.”

Brown and her children have been visiting their dog outside the fence of the municipal compound where their pet is being held and said she is disgusted by the conditions the dog is being kept in.

“There is pee and feces all around, and her bowl is empty every time I go …it is not the conditions (she) should be kept in.”

She said she has all of the conditions met and is waiting for the municipality to get back to her whether she can have her dog back.

“I'm upset. I just want to make sure all the pups are nursing properly. I've done everything I can and still feel like I'm fighting them,” she said.

“We want to get the dog back,” she said. “It’s the kids’ pet.”

But the family of the four-year-old who was bitten is very upset about the entire situation and wants the dog put down.

“It’s a safety measure any parent would take,” said Oikle. “I don’t care if the dog was pregnant …an aggressive dog is an aggressive dog whether pregnant or not.”

She said she doesn’t understand why Brown wouldn’t have warned nearby parents that her dog was pregnant and potentially a threat.

“Now I just feel total disgust,” she said, adding her son was devastated an animal would hurt him.