A vet badly mauled by a rottweiler that faces being put down has suffered an “onslaught” of death threats, hate mail and harassment - including suggestions she should be the one to die, not the dog.
Tauranga vet Liza Schneider says she still gets shooting pains in her arm - 20 months after the rottweiler called Chopper attacked her.
The Tauranga Holistic Vets founder and co-owner suffered a broken ulna, deep puncture wounds, and muscle and nerve damage in the attack in her clinic’s carpark in October 2021. She had surgery to remove the plate and screws from her arm in late April and was on light duties at work for weeks.
Tauranga City Council won a High Court appeal against an earlier court decision to dismiss the charge against Chopper’s owner, Helen Fraser, of owning a dog that caused injury.
Fraser was due to be sentenced in Tauranga District Court last week but Judge David Cameron reserved his decision after hearing Schneider read her victim impact statement, and from counsel. Fraser will be sentenced in August.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail or a $20,000 fine and the court must order the destruction of the dog unless exceptional circumstances can be proven.
Schneider, ahead of last week’s hearing, told the Bay of Plenty Times the impact of her injuries paled in comparison to the “enormity of contending with the onslaught” of death threats, hate mail and harassment from the members of a “community of hate”.
Most of the threats and hateful comments were made via social media, including some suggesting “the vet should die, not the dog”.
She said she had also been the victim of online sexual harassment.
Some of the onslaught was from people who had “jumped on the bandwagon of hate” without knowing the full facts of what happened on October 14, 2021.
Schneider said the hateful, hurtful and derogatory comments were “heartbreaking”.
“Being a vet is so rewarding. We love what we do, looking after wonderful people and lovely animals.
“But when some people not only don’t value what you do, they go out of their way to cultivate a community of hate against you based on lies, it takes a huge emotional toll. It’s heartbreaking.
“You could easily get beaten to the ground but because of what we’ve been through and the lovely, kind people who have come out of the woodwork to support us, it has given us the strength and resilience to stand up and say no, this is not okay.
“It would be horrifying if this were to happen to someone else.”
Schneider said she and business partner Sue Mackey were so concerned about the nature of the threats, they had increased their security measures and reported incidents to police.
“I am so lucky to have so many wonderful people around to support me and what we do, but other vets don’t necessarily have the same support.
Mackey, the other co-owner and manager at Tauranga Holistic Vets, said, “Enough is enough”.
“Quite frankly, I think the disgusting way Liza has been treated and our profession has been treated is just ridiculous. And we have got to stand up and say no, this is not acceptable.
Mackey said social media platforms should not allow people to publish lies and “all this rubbish” with “pretty much no boundaries and protections for the community’'.
“Speaking out is the first step for us in pushing for change by saying it’s not okay to just say what you like. We’ve been working with NetSafe to try to get these comments taken down from social media platforms.
”We also send most of the death threats and personal grudges thrown at us to the police.”
Schneider and Mackey said despite all the hurtful and discriminatory backlash, their clinic had “never been busier” and they had “never been stronger” and would continue to build up their “community of kindness” around them.
“We don’t accept that this is merely part of the community we work with, and urged other businesses to not accept bullying and threats either.”
Schneider said they were working with their lawyer on potential defamation suits.
“This is awful and nobody should have to walk this road, especially veterinary professionals, who go the extra mile to look after their patients and people.”
In a written statement, New Zealand Veterinary Associations chief executive Kevin Bryant said he encouraged all dog owners to learn how to properly control and socialise their pets.
Bryant said the appeal decision provided “greater clarity” for vets and dog owners about the role of being a responsible dog owner.
“Vets provide care for difficult dogs every day in their work, but they are not responsible for managing the behaviour of reactive dogs.
“No matter how well trained a vet is, reactive dogs can be unpredictable and do serious damage, so it is vital that owners understand their obligations in controlling their dogs in public places and do everything they can to prevent attacks. Socialisation with other animals and humans is part of this.
“This case has not only caused considerable distress for the person that was attacked and her team but the veterinary profession as a whole.”
Bryant said he would not go into details but a serious threat had been made against the association which had been dealt with by the police.
Police looked into the initial report made by Schneider in late 2021 and also had made further inquiries, a spokeswoman said.
“However, unfortunately, it was not possible for the police to officially confirm who was behind the Facebook account or the threats, so there was little more police could do to pursue the matter. The complainant was advised of this.
“She was also advised to call 111 if at any point there was an immediate threat to her physical safety.
“Police encourage anyone who is the victim of online threats to let us know, so we can make inquiries. If there is an immediate threat to your safety, please call 111.”
A NetSafe spokesman said the charitable organisation was not able to comment on specific cases for privacy reasons.
However, NetSafe’s website encourages people to use their free online safety help service if they become a victim of extremely offensive, abusive and harassing content by calling 0508 638 723 or email email@example.com Or click on Report it online.
Ordeal like a ‘bad dream’
Chopper’s owner Helen Fraser declined to comment on the case ahead of last week’s court hearing but her son Ryan Tarawhiti-Brown shared insights into the toll on the family fighting to try and save their beloved pet.
In a written reply, Tarawhiti-Brown, who lives in Australia, said the ordeal was like “a bad dream that we haven’t been able to wake up from”.
His mother and Chopper had “suffered tremendously” - including the dog spending 271 days at the Tauranga Pound.
Chopper was seized in October 2021 and released on July 12 last year.
“My mum has dealt with this stress for far too long.
“The reality of Chopper being taken from her, the criminal conviction hanging over her head and the thought that Chopper can again be taken and killed is something she has to process every morning she wakes up.
“My whole life I had never seen my mum cry but when she called me telling me what had happened and how heartbroken she was that has made me want to fight for her and Chopper.
“Chopper has been in our lives since a young pup over three-and-half-years ago. He was my brother’s birthday present and came into our lives when our old dog Jake was getting to his last legs of life.
“Our dogs are as important to us as the rest of our family. We cannot imagine a world without Chopper in it … And I wish no other family ever goes through what we have been through ...”
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.