A shaggy dog trial
- Lawrence Gibbons
- Monday, 20 August 2012
A year ago Oscar, a black and tan dog who had been saved from the pound at eight weeks of age, was left in a back lane off Oxford Street, while his previous registered owner bought wine at a bottle shop across the road. What happened next is the matter of a legal dispute involving Animal Rights advocate Dixie Coulton, the City of Sydney and presiding magistrate Pat O’Shane.
According to Oscar’s previous owner, Oscar was tied up on a window grate in a lane along with the dog’s adopted brother, while he purchased a bottle of vintaged grapes. When he returned, he was confronted by a man claiming that Oscar had bitten him. The alleged victim demanded and received identification and did not seek medical attention — but instead reported the purported incident to the nearby Surry Hills Police.
Two months later just before Christmas, the City of Sydney issued a Dangerous Dog Declaration against Oscar. The legal notice stated: “On Tuesday Sept 6 about 6:45pm. A male dog by the name “Oscar” on a window grill by its owner at the time [stet]. This was at the corner of Arnold Place and Crown Street, Darlinghurst. The dog attacked a male person while he walked past the dog. The attack was unprovoked and left him with puncture wounds and torn clothing.”
In mid-November, six weeks before the City issued a Dangerous Dog Declaration against Oscar, several witnesses observed the alleged dog bite victim as he approached Oscar in a leash free park next door to the Surry Hills Police Station. On multiple occasions he taunted and teased Oscar, who was unleashed, barked and ran away.
Five days before Christmas, Ms Coulton lodged an appeal against Oscar’s Dangerous Dog conviction fearing the City might condemn Oscar to life imprisonment. While the City of Sydney claims to support a “no kill policy”, the City’s solicitor told Ms Coulton the City was seeking to have Oscar returned to the pound with a Dangerous Dog conviction. Dixie Coulton, who is standing for Lord Mayor in the upcoming local council elections, asked the City’s solicitor, “Who would rescue an eight year old dangerous dog from the pound?” Ms Coulton believes the City would effectively condemn Oscar to death if left unchallenged.
Currently eight years old, Oscar was rescued from the local pound when he was just a little pup. Desexed and micro chipped, Oscar attended dog obedience classes in Centennial Park when he was a puppy and several years ago took intermediate obedience classes at a City of Sydney held class, from which he received a graduate diploma from a certified canine instructor.
Six months after Oscar was first issued with Dangerous Dog papers, the dog’s trial finally commenced before Magistrate O’Shane in early June. In the lead up to the trial, the City reluctantly released limited information regarding the charges against Oscar. Many records were withheld, blacked out or conveniently misplaced despite Freedom of Information requests and complaints to the Ombudsman’s office. Much of day one’s proceedings centred around who should argue their case first. The City held that Ms Coulton needed to prove the canine’s innocence before the bureaucracy ever proved Oscar’s guilt; despite the fact the most of the City’s evidence had been withheld. After an extensive legal dog fight, Magistrate O’Shane sided with Ms Coulton. While both sides argued, eight well paid City rangers sat idly by in the court house, prepared to tell Magistrate Pat O’Shane that they had processed paperwork involving Oscar.
On Oscar’s second day in court the alleged bite victim appeared in the dock. During the intervening month, the City claimed the alleged victim had returned to New Zealand and would need to be interrogated via an international video link, incurring untold legal costs. In court, the alleged victim mysteriously appeared and claimed Oscar had not been tied up at the corner of Arnold Place and Crown as had been stated in the City’s Dangerous Dog Declaration, but had instead been left untied a block away at the corner of Arnold Place and Riley. After intense questioning from Ms Coulton, the City reluctantly produced notes from the original interview between the Council ranger and the alleged victim, who had initially claimed the incident had occurred in a third location at the corner of Crown and Little Oxford Street. Subsequent notes had been altered by a Council ranger who could not explain the discrepancies. Talk about a shaggy dog story.
Court observers are outraged by the resources the City has spent persecuting Oscar and believe there are multiple grounds for appeal in the case already. Oscar’s third hearing date is scheduled for late October.
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