Courts 'let down' dog victim

By Chloe Johnson

Owner fights for life of dog that left child with 24 stitches.

Ben Oliver. Photo / Greg Bowker
Ben Oliver. Photo / Greg Bowker

Four-year-old Ben Oliver still has scars from the day a bull mastiff-great dane cross named Wolfie lunged at him.

His father, David Oliver, wants Wolfie destroyed. However, dog owner Tamsin Orr-Walker is fighting to keep him alive.

The case has been before the courts for 17 months but, last week, Orr-Walker was discharged without conviction in the Waitakere District Court.

Orr-Walker was scheduled for a defended hearing but she changed her plea to guilty to owning the dog that attacked and left the boy needing 24 stitches, outside the Hardware cafe in Titirangi.

A decision on the destruction of the dog has been deferred until the end of next month.

Auckland Council prosecutions team leader Vernon Tamatea said a dog cannot be destroyed during a prosecution unless ordered by the court under exceptional circumstances. He said Wolfie was seized on the day of the attack but later returned to Orr-Walker under strict conditions.

Judge Russell Callander said the consequences of a conviction were out of proportion with the offence. "Her CV is self evident in terms of involvement over a considerable period of time working with animal welfare issues."

Oliver told the Herald on Sunday his family had been let down by the justice system.

"It seems wrong something like this can happen and, almost a year and a half down the line, the dog is still alive and no decision has been made on it," Oliver said. "The person responsible for the dog has pleaded guilty and that is it. I'm disappointed. The whole system is ridiculous."

He said a discharge without conviction sent a weak message to dog owners.

"We need a message that says this isn't okay and you can't have dogs in a public place doing things like that to kids."

Orr-Walker told the Herald on Sunday Wolfie was a family pet that had not been aggressive before. "He has since been assessed by a qualified animal behaviourist who believes the incident was an atypical response for a dog of his high level of sociability," Orr-Walker said. She did not want her beloved dog killed and suggested alternative solutions such as a muzzle order or continued separation from the public.

"Driving for the destruction of a dog for a one-off incident only appears to be retaliatory."

Victim awarded $5000 in emotional reparation

The scarred survivor of a vicious dog attack has told a court "I want my face back".

"Every day I look in the mirror it reminds me of the attack. I see a smile that isn't mine. I want my smile back."

Dannevirke mother-of-two Katrina Smith said her 5-year-old daughter was afraid to come near her because of the horrific facial wounds.

The attack also left her with a fractured and dislocated shoulder, a broken arm, irreparable nerve damage to her face and injuries to her eye.

After arriving at a client's property to clean his house on April 18 this year, she was set upon by an American bulldog sharpei cross. Hooch jumped at her from behind, knocked her to the ground and began biting her face.

At the sentencing of the dog's owner in the Hastings District Court on Friday, Smith, 45, told of emotional and physical struggles.

After two hours of facial surgery in Hutt Hospital, a surgeon lost count of how many stitches he'd put in.

She said she'd also been growing her hair longer to cover scars, had trouble sleeping, felt anxious to be by herself and had a "droop" to the right side of her face. Last month her former client - and the dog's owner - Daryn Paul Boyden, 29, defended a charge of not having his dog under proper control, and claimed the dog had been on a chain tied to a tree at his home in rural Dannevirke.

Smith said the dog could run the length of the driveway on a lead attached to a wire.

Judge Richard Watson found the charge proven in a reserved decision.

At Friday's sentencing Boyden's lawyer, Sam Cowan, said his client was "extremely remorseful" . He said Boyden had visited his former cleaner to apologise for the attack and had set up an account at a Dannevirke osteopath to help with her recovery.

At the time of the attack, he was at his parents' home nearby, but when called by a neighbour he returned and shot the dog.

Judge Watson said he accepted Boyden's good character but he should have warned his cleaner.

Boyden was ordered to pay $5000 in emotional reparation.

Hawke's Bay Today

- Herald on Sunday

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