John Weekes

John Weekes is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Bid to save dog angers parents of bitten boy

Ben Oliver with the wounds he received during the dog attack.
Ben Oliver with the wounds he received during the dog attack.

The parents of a boy whose face was mauled in a dog attack are furious the owner is returning to court to save her pet two years after their son was injured.

When 4-year-old Ben Oliver was bitten in 2011, he needed more than 20 stitches to hold his face together. The dog owner, conservationist Tamsin Orr-Walker, has expressed regret over the incident but is fighting to keep great dane-mastiff cross Wolfe alive.

Ben's father David Oliver said he and his wife Leigh were dreading a district court callover next Monday ahead of a re-hearing set for December. "Two and a half years after the attack, every time this comes up we have to relive the whole thing."

Last December, Orr-Walker was discharged without conviction in Waitakere District Court. A decision on destroying Wolfe was deferred to February, when Judge Russell Callander ordered the animal be put down. Auckland Council said Orr-Walker appealed and the High Court dismissed her appeal, but when doing so it relied on a disputed version of facts.

Specifically, it is disputed how close Ben was to Wolfe before the dog lunged. Ultimately, Wolfe has won a stay of execution.

Orr-Walker said she understands the Olivers' distress but Wolfe is 11 years old and may have only another six months to live. She blamed earlier bungled court hearings for the complex, lengthy affair.

After Wolfe bit Ben, Auckland Council seized the dog but returned him to Orr-Walker under strict conditions. "He was released back to us because he was considered non-aggressive," Orr-Walker said.

She estimated she had spent $20,000 on legal costs - and ratepayers were also forking out. Auckland Council said it did not record how many hours inhouse lawyers spent on the battle but its prosecutions team leader Vernon Tamatea said the case was managed cost-effectively.

Orr-Walker said Wolfe should be muzzled when he went out. She said her property had a 1.8m fence and Wolfe wasn't allowed off the property. "We've made massive changes in the way we deal with him."

David Oliver was not convinced. "It's an absolute disgrace. When this is the way the law's allowed to be used, how does that protect the victims of dog attacks? What's to stop it from happening again? Nothing."

- Herald on Sunday

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