Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Ginger and the many shades of truth

When the news broke about Ginger's recent battles in court a couple of weeks ago, I didn't write about it immediately partly because I was too busy with other stuff but also because I had a feeling that something was missing from the story - namely, the other side.

Well, the other side spoke out over the weekend. From The Star article Dog owner laments the day she met Ginger:

"(Ginger) broke the leash the minute she saw us and ran toward us. She slammed into me. Buddy had stood up and they were sniffing each other and both tails were wagging. I figured they'd have a nice little chase," she said. "I looked down at my feet not knowing the world was going to collapse in the next five seconds."

Blood soaked the mud as Ginger tore into Buddy's neck, said MacDonald. She smashed her coffee mug against the dog's jowl, but the biting continued.

Buddy survived the incident.

But when he died last spring, MacDonald couldn't help but feel cheated. "I think he went too soon ... he never came back fully from the injury."

MacDonald said she never saw a muzzle on Ginger, a legal requirement for pit bulls in Ontario.

When Philip Huggins was brought to court the first time, Justice of the Peace, Kevin Madigan, sided with MacDonald's account and called for the death of Ginger under the Dog Owner's Liability Act.

Huggins decided to fight that decision and took his case for another round through the courts, this time with Justice Mary Hogan.

From the Star article, Death row dog learns fate today, this is Huggins' account of the dogfight:

"My mother [Bernadette Razac] took her [Ginger] out for a 6 a.m. walk in the park," said owner Philip Huggins, 28, a truck driver for a graphics firm. "Ginger (a 69-pound dog) was muzzled and leashed. Another dog (Buddy, a 45-pound dog) ran over to her and started sniffing her. The dog bit, and went and tore (Ginger's) left ear, then ripped off her muzzle." Ginger bit the dog back, then bit its owner, court documents show.

... which is, of course, a clear contradiction to MacDonald's account. The court under Justice Mary Hogan agreed with Huggins' version of events:

She also found the justice of the peace erred in his judgment in several instances, "the most significant example in his finding that the dog Buddy was leashed and the dog Ginger was not. Clearly the evidence was the exact opposite."

I wish I knew what the evidence was because someone's either lying or in a grand hallucinatory state of confusion or denial.

Looking at the court records for both decisions doesn't help either.

In the first decision, where Ginger was found guilty of being off leash and instigating the attack, the Justice of the Peace, Kevin Madigan, admits that the evidence provided by the person walking Ginger, Bernadette Razac, and the person walking Buddy, Jody MacDonald, are contradictory and difficult to confirm or deny. In the end, he decides to believe MacDonald and not Razac for what seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary reasoning.

In my opinion, the main problem with Ms. Razac’s testimony was that it seemed very scripted and rehearsed.

So apparently, if Razac had been a more believable actor, Ginger might be free right now. Never mind innocent until proven guilty, it's all about acting natural. Who knew?

When answering a question about how Ginger’s muzzle came off, Bernadette Razac made the implausible claim that Buddy had actually pulled the muzzle off with his paws during the fight. Quite frankly, I find this very difficult to believe and I don’t believe it. It is unlikely that an older, smaller dog like Buddy would have the dexterity for such an intricate maneuver during a rather vicious dog –fight.

This guy obviously doesn't know muzzles. Everything breaks, everything eventually falls apart, especially under stress. I've had the plastic clips of two dog collars break on me while walking the dogs at TAS even without the added benefit of another dog's paw. It's also entirely possible that the muzzle was not secured tightly enough to not slip off during a dog fight. That would still put the blame on Ginger's owner but it wouldn't be an intentional oversight.

Further, as I mentioned above, the photographic evidence certainly suggested that Ginger was more likely than Buddy to have started this fight. The scenario attested by Jody MacDonald was consistent with what one would predict after viewing the photographs of the two dogs. The scenario attested by Bernadette Razac was not.

This I really don't understand. Unless the photographs were taken of the dog fight (and they weren't) what would they prove one way or another with regard to which dog started the fight? Is Madigan basing his opinion here on the fact that Ginger looks like a Pit Bull and Buddy does not? Or that Ginger is a few pounds heavier than Buddy? Hey, how many of you have ever seen a Chihuahua go after a Great Dane? I have, almost every week. Crazy Chi around the corner going beserkers after anything else on four legs. My Dane just ignores it but in Madigan's court, would the Dane be deemed the instigator simply based on the relative sizes and breeds?

In my opinion, Madigan's judgment seems biased and unfounded.

Apparently, in the appeal, Justice Mary Hogan felt the same way as she overturned the verdict by Madigan. I can't get my hands on the exact reasoning she gave for overturning his decision so I don't know if it was based on new, hard evidence or she just went through the same arguments I just did.

Here's the thing, though. Unless there is actually hard evidence to prove events went one way or the other, if I had to choose whose testimony I would believe, I'd have to toss a coin.

Neither Madigan nor Hogan, in my opinion, provide solid enough arguments to prove things one way or the other. In Madigan's case, I disagree with the reasoning behind his judgment but that doesn't mean the judgment itself is incorrect. Ginger may very well have been off leash and unmuzzled and started the fight but Madigan's reasoning to support that claim doesn't do it for me.

And as for Justice Hogan, she may very well believe that it was Buddy who started the fight but unless I see solid evidence, there's no reason for me to trust in her judgment either.

And I'm kind of suspecting there is no hard evidence especially given lawyer Ruby's somewhat, uh, legalesque response to MacDonald's assertion that Ginger started the fight:

"The judge (in 2007) had it sorted out, but he did so erroneously according to the appeal court. No one's in a position to now say this version [MacDonald's version] is true."

Huh? Isn't that kind of like saying because no one can't disprove the existence of Santa Claus, Santa Claus must exist?

In the end, I don't know which dog started the fight. I don't know, but that doesn't matter because, in my opinion, regardless of which dog started the fight, or which dog was or wasn't leashed, or which dog was dog friendly or wasn't, neither dog should be put under penalty of death for what happened. Whatever events took place, it was the fault of one or both of the owners. Their dogs should not have to pay for their owners' mistakes.

Dogs fight. If a proclivity for fighting were the only criteria necessary for destroying an animal, there would be a lot fewer humans left on the planet. Most dogs I know have problems with some other dogs. Just like people, they don't always get along with one another. There are loads of reasons.

Sometimes it's an older dog who doesn't like nuisance puppies, sometimes it's a dog who's had a bad experience in the past with a particular breed, sometime it's a big dog who thinks a little dog might be a rodent, sometimes it's a little dog who doesn't like big dogs because it's been stepped on one too many times, sometimes it's just plain nastiness.

But, in all the non-BSL identified dogs (ie. non-Pit Bull type dogs), DOLA accepts the fact that dogs don't always get along and says, look, if your dog gets into a fight, we'll still give it a chance. You may have to muzzle it and keep it on a leash and possibly take some extra precautions but we realize that the value of a dog is not completely erased by the fact that it got into a fight with another dog.

With Pit Bull type dogs, however, no such allowances are given by DOLA. Pit Bulls don't get a chance. They get killed.

By all accounts, Ginger is a sweet dog with people. The photos and videos in the online newspaper reports certainly seem to suggest that. Did she attack Buddy that night nearly four years ago because Razac did not adequately have her under control? Possibly. Did she cause Buddy harm? Yes. And if Razac is found to have been negligent in properly controlling Ginger, resulting in injury to Buddy, then she should have to compensate Buddy's owner for vet bills at least (she should also do the decent thing and apologize and clear Buddy's name if only for the sake of Buddy's owner, MacDonald). Regardless, Ginger, should not have to pay the ultimate price because of her owner's lack of caution.

If the events had been reversed, if it was indeed Buddy who was at fault, there would be no discussion of the death penalty. At worst it might be, "Next time muzzle and leash your dog".

Ginger's fate will be argued in court again later in the year. If she loses that battle, then she dies and what good does that do? If the thinking is that at least Ginger won't be alive to attack another dog, well, that would only happen if Huggins is an irresponsible owner and if he is, there's nothing to stop him from just going out and getting another muscle dog - or any dog for that matter. If the thinking is purely legalistic, that Ginger is a Pit Bull and according to the law, she must be killed for biting regardless of cause, then that's absurd, as Justice Hogan would say, and just means more blood on the hands of the people who created and still support this ridiculous law - not that they would care.

(Continued here.)


Lynda said...

Hi Fred!
Did you see this article?

Fred said...

No, but I'll go check it out. Thanks.

borderjack said...

Hi Fred,
I have Justice Hogan's Court of Appeal decision, if you'd like it.
It should be on CanLII by now, but if you don't have it, email me at borderjack@sympatico.ca and I'll be happy to send it to you.

Fred said...

Yeah, I think I read that one (http://www.canlii.org/en/on/oncj/doc/2009/2009oncj155/2009oncj155.html) and while it describes her decision and her interpretation of the DOLA, it doesn't really go into what evidence she was presented with to make her side with Ginger and Huggins as opposed to Buddy and MacDonald.

However, in that document there is a reference to some ruling she made in Dec. 15/08 which may hold the secret of her decision making process but I can't find it online. Some friends more familiar with the legal system are trying to find it but can't seem to track it down either.

If you can find that referenced document, please let me know.

Candice said...

I attended and assisted in the first hearing for Philip and Ginger and had first-hand knowledge of what transpired in the appeal of the decision handed down by Justice Madigan.

Your interpretation of the matter is commendable. I congratulate you on a balanced and insightful analysis of a difficult case.

I do have a copy of the first part of Madam Justice Hogan's decision rendered in December 08 if would like a copy.

Fred said...

Hi Candice, I've actually managed to get a copy of Justice Hogan's Dec 08 decision but not the trial transcript for the first trial with J of P Madigan, so if you've got that document, I wouldn't mind seeing it.

Candice said...

I can't help with the transpcript. Sorry! The transcript is now in the hands of Clayton Ruby, as I am certain you know. I can say that the "he said, she said" aspect of the case was beyond interesting.

After nearly four years of assisting in cases like this, I have learned a great deal about people and conflict.

I just completed an intense course in mediation and conflict resolution which included a focus on effective listening skills ... something which more people should learn and practice.

As for Philip and Ginger, I am pleased that this case is getting the publicity and support of the public in general. It is an excellent case that is already a winner and the outcome will have a direct impact on so many more than Philip and Ginger.

Again, good job!