Earlier this year, I shared with you news about a one-year-old dog named Kerser who was identified as a “pit bull” by council officers of the town of Monash. If you recall, this designation came despite a December Supreme Court ruling that slammed the process by which the Victorian government identifies pit bulls. The Court ruled that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) made an error of law in ruling that two dogs were American pit bulls. In addition, the judge ruled that the physical characteristics of a dog must have a closer association with government guidelines for dangerous breeds. The Supreme Court’s ruling highlighted the difficulties in identifying dogs believed to be American pit bull terriers, and was considered to be a blow to the laws introduced in September 2011 that require “pit bulls” to be registered, microchipped, spayed/neutered, and muzzled when in public
At Kerser’s hearing in February, 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. During the two-day 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 dog’s head, eyes, cheeks and neck (the tribunal’s actual findings in this regard are included below).
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.”
We have now learned that VCAT has upheld the declaration by the Monash Council that Kerser is a “pit bull.” In the tribunal decision handed down last week, VCAT Deputy President Heather Lambrick rejected testimony by Lynne Harwood, the expert witness of Kerser’s owner. Ms. Harwood, an international dog judge, argued that the council’s animal officers had erred in their measurements of Kerser.
But Deputy President Lambrick found that Kerser’s head, muzzle, skull, body and eyes matched the pit bull standard as outlined under Victoria’s restricted breed laws. (i.e., the very same outline that was harshly criticized by the Supreme Court in December.)
Specifically, Ms. Lambrick stated:
“The overall impression of Kerser is one of compliance. He may not be a perfect example of a pit bull. However, such a dog probably does not exist … Even in the areas where he does not meet the standard to a substantial degree, he meets the standard to some degree and importantly in the areas of musculature and strength.”
Just four months after the town of Monash was ordered to pay more than $100,000 in legal fees and pound costs in a similar case involving a dog misidentified by her town officers, Monash Mayor Micaela Drieberg stated she is aware of the “heavy responsibilities when it comes to identifying pit bull dogs,” and that the declaration is made only if they are sure the dog is a member of a restricted breed.
Kerser’s owner, Jade Applebee, is considering her options and is awaiting legal advice. She has until next month to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. We will continue to keep you updated on this situation.
RULING FROM VCAT
HEAD: “I was satisfied that from every angle the shape of Kerser’s head was that of a blunt wedge and compliant in this respect with the standard.”
MUZZLE: “Although Ms Harwood gave evidence that the muzzle was not broad and deep because the skull was too long for this to be the case, I did not agree with her observations.”
EYES: “I found the eyes to be round. I did not agree with Ms Harwood’s evidence that the eyes were of “oriental appearance”.
NECK: “I disagreed with the observations of Ms Harwood that Kerser has a thick short neck. I found the neck to be of moderate length with significant strength.”
BODY: “My observations of Kerser were of a powerfully built dog with a deep chest of moderate width. I disagreed with the evidence given by Ms Harwood that he was long in leg and slight in body.”
CONCLUSION: “I am satisfied that Kerser readily meets the description of a pit bull in the standard … He may not be a perfect example of a pit bull. However such a dog probably does not exist.”