A Rottweiler named Chopper that bit a Tauranga vet’s arm during a visit to her practice must be put down, a judge has ruled.
The dog’s owner, Helen Tina Fraser, was convicted and sentenced in the Tauranga District Court on Monday, after she was found guilty of owning a dog causing serious injury to a person.
As well as making the order for the destruction of Chopper, Judge David Cameron ordered Fraser to pay reparation to the victim, Dr Liza Schneider, of $2000 for emotional harm plus $849.50 for medical expenses incurred after the attack on October 14, 2021.
The Tauranga Holistic Vets co-owner’s injuries included a broken ulna, deep puncture wounds and nerve damage, and required surgery.
The charge against Fraser carried a maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment or a $20,000 fine, and the court must order the destruction of the dog on conviction unless exceptional circumstances relating to the attack can be proven.
Fraser had sought a discharge without conviction and a finding of exceptional circumstances to avoid her dog having to be euthanased.
The case had been going through the courts for more than a year.
After a trial, Judge Cameron initially found Fraser not guilty. The Tauranga City Council appealed the decision to the High Court and Justice Timothy Brewer overturned it, finding Fraser guilty and returning the case to the District Court for sentencing. Judge Cameron reserved his sentencing decision after a hearing in June.
Outside the courthouse on Monday, supporters of Fraser and Chopper waved placards at passing motorists before heading inside to await the decision.
Seated on the other side of the public gallery were Schneider’s supporters, including staff and clients.
Judge Cameron told Fraser in deciding whether a discharge was warranted he must assess the gravity of the offending and whether the consequences of a conviction would be “out of all proportion” to that.
He said he did not accept the defence’s position that Schneider shared some culpability for the attack.
“The charge required Ms Fraser to prove a total absence of fault and she failed to do that … Dr Schneider has no culpability in terms of the charge. The only person culpable is Ms Fraser,” he said.
Judge Cameron said in terms of mitigating factors, Fraser had provided letters of expert opinion regarding Chopper’s behaviour after the incident and ongoing training, as well as of remorse.
He said any rehabilitation had to be balanced against the fact Chopper rushed a cyclist in February this year, for which Fraser was fined.
“I do not accept she had shown any remorse for the offending given that she had been complicit in one of her sons running a Facebook social media page supporting Chopper and blaming Dr Schneider, as well as criticising the actions of Tauranga City Council.”
Judge Cameron said the extent of Schneider’s injuries was a “serious aggravating factor” and her victim impact statement read to the court in June showed the attack had “enormous negative consequences” for her.
“It was clear that Ms Schneider’s rehabilitation was ongoing,” he said.
He said the material provided by Fraser “did not disclose a real and appreciable risk” that a conviction might impede her future employment prospects as a financial adviser, as she had suggested.
Judge Cameron said there was “simply nothing to suggest” the consequences of a conviction for Fraser would be out of all proportion to the gravity of her offending.
“I agree with the council that the circumstances are simply that the defendant was in the car park with the Rottweiler being held by her 13-year-old son, and that any person could have exited the clinic and without provocation been attacked by Chopper.”
“I also agree with the council that there can be no expectation that the dog would behave in a different way in similar circumstances in the future.”
The council did not seek a fine or costs associated with the prosecution, only reparation for the victim.
Judge Cameron said the proposed reparation schedule amounted to more than $100,000 — including $60,000 for lost business revenue, $18,000 for extra vet staff, and $20,000 for legal costs and social media monitoring.
However, the judge said the claims for business expenses were “not appropriate reparation claims” in this type of case.
Shortly before the end of the hearing, a woman in the public gallery wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Save Chopper” had to be ejected by court security after she yelled abuse at Judge Cameron.
Sandra Conchie is a senior journalist at the Bay of Plenty Times and Rotorua Daily Post who has been a journalist for 24 years. She mainly covers police, court and other justice stories, as well as general news. She has been a Canon Media Awards regional/community reporter of the year.