AU: Despite harsh Court ruling, Monash in another battle against an alleged “pit bull”

Despite a recent Supreme Court ruling that slammed the Victorian government’s pit bull law involving  the cities of Darebin and Monash, the city of Monash is embroiled in a new and potentially costly fight  over an alleged unregistered pit bull terrier.  The 1 year-old dog named Kerser was identified by council officers as a pit bull.  Under Victorian law, the dog must be destroyed, but the owner disputed the finding and appealed to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).

Last week the VCAT tribunal heard testimony that officers seized Kerser in December when they were called by a man complaining that two dogs had broken into his backyard from a neighboring property.  This incident happened one week after the Monash council learned it had lost a similar case where the Supreme Court overturned a VCAT ruling that a dog fit the pit bull standard.

During last week’s hearing, three Monash animal management officers testified that Kerser was a restricted breed.  This determination was made by visual identification, as well as measurements by tape measure of the dogs head, eyes, cheeks and neck.  Interestingly enough, the tape measurements indicated that Kerser was not a pit bull, but the animal management officer simply stated  that the dog can have “flaws,” and the measurements don’t necessarily mean the dog is not a “pit bull.”

It appears like me, Kerser’s owner, Jada Applebee, sees great potential for appeal based on holes in just the one animal management officer’s testimony alone, and she has stated she is prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court. 

We learned in December that the Supreme Court of Victoria dealt a major blow to the Baillieu State Government of Victoria’s campaign to, among other things, exterminate pit bull-type dogs in Australia. The Court overturned a decision by the VCAT which upheld a ruling that two dogs, deemed to be American pit bull terriers by the councils of Darebin and Monash, complied with the legal definition of a restricted breed and should be put down. The Court ruled that VCAT made an error of law in ruling the dogs were American pit bulls, said Justice Stephen Kaye, who ruled the physical characteristics of a dog must have a closer association with government guidelines for dangerous breeds.

At that time, Monash Mayor Drieberg urged the state government to amend the controversial legislation as the result of Supreme Court decision, which had ”raised the bar very high”.  Mayor Drieberg was also quoted as saying:

The government brought in these laws with the best of intentions, but the laws are not working. We’re keen to see the state government refine the laws to address the issues that are coming up.

The Supreme Court’s ruling highlighted the difficulties in identifying dogs believed to be pit bull terriers, and undermines the laws introduced in September 2011 that required dangerous dog to be registered, microchipped, spayed/neutered, and muzzled when in public. Councils were also given the power to destroy dogs whose owners failed to comply. The law automatically deems as “dangerous,” the American Pit Bull Terrier, Fila Brasileiro, Japanese Tosa, Dogo Argentino and Presa Canarios.

As a result of the Court’s ruling, the Monash council was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in legal fees and pound costs, a move which was expected to discourage other legal challenges by local governments. Nevertheless, Monash finds itself in the very same legal challenge, seemingly undeterred by the Court’s ruling.

We had hoped that the Court’s ruling would serve as a wake up call to all governmental bodies that breed specific laws are arbitrary, unreasonable, and vague and, in that respect, leave them (more specifically, leave their tax paying citizens) wide open to costly legal actions, as well as more vulnerable to the truly dangerous dogs in the community that don’t happen to meet the biased criteria to be judged as such.  As it so happens, the first new challenge comes from a city that was directly involved in that appeal, and was fined a considerable amount of tax payer dollars for actions their officers are still taking.

The case is continuing and will include a physical inspection of the dog at the RSPCA Center in Burwood next month.  We stand behind Ms. Applebee in taking the Monash council to task, and we wish her the best of luck and a speedy outcome so that she and Kerser can be reunited quickly.

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