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Court / Dog given second chance after court ruling

A DOG who attacked a Jack Russell which later died from its injuries is to live another day after a decision at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Thursday went in its favour.

Sheriff Ian Cruickshank decided against ordering the destruction of Staffordshire bull terrier Joey as he felt there was not a concern over public safety.

However, at the court on Thursday he imposed a number of conditions the dog’s owner Anna Etzel must adhere to – and if she does not, Joey will be put to sleep.

Etzel, 24, of Lerwick’s Holmsgarth Brae, previously pleaded guilty to a dangerously out of control dog offence which took place around two and a half years ago.

The case had been deferred from Wednesday after Sheriff Cruickshank said he wanted to consider matters overnight before deciding on the dog’s fate.

The court previously heard that Joey was already subject to a dog control order stipulating that it should always be muzzled and on a lead when in a public place.

This order had been put in place after Joey attacked and killed another small dog.

In the Jack Russell incident on 28 December 2018, near to Etzel’s house, Joey had left home without his owner’s knowledge and attacked the dog.

The Jack Russell’s owner had attempted to intervene but was propelled to the ground, sustaining injury in the process.

When the man got to his knees he was eventually able to release Joey’s hold, with the other dog falling to the ground unconscious. It later died.

Defence agent Tommy Allan previously told court that in the ensuing two and a half years there had been no further breaches of the dog control order.

He said Etzel considered Joey to be her “closest friend” and was “keen to get the chance to keep the dog”, with Allan adding she had done what she could to ensure their house was secure and was able to regularly exercise the dog without any further incidents.

Etzel had told Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday that she had learned to take good care of him in the two and a half years since the last incident.

Asked by Allan how she felt about her pet having been responsible for killing another dog owner’s beloved pet, she replied: “I felt awful. I couldn’t be more apologetic…I really hope they forgive me someday.”

She also said she found the prospect of Joey being rehomed “heartbreaking” and described the animal as “kind of like my rock”.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie, who himself is well known for being fond of dogs, said he did not doubt that she loved the animal and there was “no doubt he’s a hugely important part of your life”, but he was also a “large, powerful dog” with a “high prey drive” who had been responsible for the death of two smaller dogs.

He suggested that the imposition of a dog control order just weeks after she took ownership of Joey should have been a “red flag to immediately start some form of training”.

Etzel said it had been difficult to find accredited dog trainers in the islands willing to take the case on, which she suggested may have been a reluctance to attract “bad publicity” in a small community.

She insisted it would be in the animal’s best interests to remain under her ownership, and responding to the fiscal’s suggestion that she was “effectively playing Russian roulette with his life” she replied: “I feel he has gotten very attached to me – I think he’d be worse off if he left me.”

Asked if she accepted public safety had to take priority, she responded: “I personally don’t think he is a danger to the public.”

The fiscal summed up by saying he did not underestimate the difficulty of the decision, but the fact was that Joey had killed another dog while subject to a dog control notice.

While it was within the sheriff’s gift to order the dog’s destruction, Mackenzie suggested the alternative would be an order contingent on Joey being rehomed through a named charity.

Allan said Joey was originally a rescue dog and was now around five or six years old.

The sheriff said it was “not a pleasant task that I have to undertake” but because his decision “might end a dog’s life” he would reflect overnight before making a determination on Thursday.

At the court on Thursday Sheriff Cruickshank said he had researched the law around the case.

He said there was a number of factors to consider, such as the temperament and past behaviour of Joey, as well as whether Etzel was a fit and proper owner.

The sheriff said a key factor was that Joey did not bite, or attempt to bite, any humans in the Jack Russell incident.

He highlighted evidence in court in which Etzel said Joey was now “placid and chilled” – and he was not interested in other dogs when out and about.

The sheriff said having heard evidence in court he was satisfied that Etzel was a fit and proper owner.

Taking everything into account he said he was not persuaded to order Joey to be put down.

But he placed a number of conditions on the dog – and if they are breached then Joey is likely to be destroyed.

They include the dog being muzzled and on a lead when in public, and to keep in contact with the local environmental health department on measures to keep Joey secure when inside.

The sheriff did, however, order Etzel to pay £300 in compensation for the Jack Russell incident.