Victim in B.C. case of dog on death row claims he was threatened by animal’s supporter

A man bitten by a dog that the City of Victoria is now seeking to destroy says a friend of the animal’s original owner threatened to break his legs during a random weekend encounter.

Paul Fenje Jr. told a provincial court judge Monday that before spotting Richard Bonora across a street Sunday, he hadn’t seen the Victoria man since his Dogo-Argentino Rottweiler cross — Bronx — attacked him last March.

Fenje claimed a woman standing with Bonora in the city’s downtown went out of her way to confront him.

“This female companion crossed the street and came up to me and said ‘You’re being mean to dogs.’ She mentioned the court and if I didn’t leave immediately she would break my legs,” Fenje testified.

“And I was stunned by that.”

Judge will decide if dog is dangerous

Fenje was the first witness to take the stand at a hearing to determine if Bronx should be euthanized.  

The dog has been in custody since biting Fenje on March 6 outside the Mustard Seed Church and food bank.

The City of Victoria has applied to destroy Bronx the dog after a series of biting incidents. (Lisa Warden)

Judge Adrian Brooks has to decide if Bronx is a dangerous dog, and if he is likely to injure or kill a person in the future if he is not destroyed.

Relations between Bronx’s defenders and the city have been described as “acrimonious” in previous hearings.

In a bid to save the dog, Bonora has signed ownership of Bronx over to Ken Griffiths, a Vancouver Island dog behaviourist known as the Comox Valley Dog Whisperer.

The judge expressed some bewilderment at the fact Bonora remains a respondent in the legal proceedings, because the upshot is that both his representative and Griffiths have the right to question witnesses in a case that’s already been flagged as unnecessarily complex.

Brooks said that — despite the emotions involved — Bronx is viewed as a piece of property in the eyes of the law.

“It’s a piece of property and if you transfer it a person owns it, and so once they own it, you are applying for the destruction of that person’s property, not anybody else’s, not former owners,” Brooks told city lawyer David Giroday.

‘An emotional and difficult process’

In his opening statement, Giroday acknowledged the passions the case has stirred.

“This is evidently an emotional and difficult process for all parties involved. No one in these proceedings takes pleasure in having an animal’s life in their hands,” Giroday said.

“Unfortunately in these circumstances, given the multiple dog attack incidents involving Bronx, and the escalation from attacks on dogs to attack on a person, we are left addressing these circumstances in court here today. Ultimately, the foremost concern here is public safety.”

Ken Griffiths, known as the Comox Valley Dog Whisperer, has agreed to adopt Bronx in the hopes of securing the dog’s release. (Ken Griffiths/Facebook)

According to the city, the attack on Fenje was the final straw in a series of incidents that started in August 2018, when Bronx killed a small black poodle with a single bite.

Fenje claimed he was walking out of the church and food bank after having breakfast when Bronx lunged at him unprovoked, and “physically insulted the integrity of my skin.”

He said the attack left him shaken.

“It has induced me to become, I believe, much more vigilant than previously, both to people and dogs,” he said.

Fenje said the next time he saw Bonora was Sunday, standing with the woman who he claimed went on to threaten him.

He claimed Bonora came over on his bicycle a few minutes later, glared at him “threateningly” and said: “Get out of my face.”

‘He’s too much of a safety concern’

The second witness to take the stand was an animal control officer who has investigated more than a dozen incidents involving Bronx, including the first fatal attack and the final assault on Fenje.

Chris McAllister said Bronx was declared dangerous after killing the poodle, and Bonora was required to keep him leashed and muzzled at all times in public.

But he said he frequently encountered both dog and owner in violation of the rules. Bonora was issued a warning letter after one incident in November 2019.

McAllister said the purpose was “to caution him that any further non-compliance and any incident of aggression that involves his dog is most certainly going to result in exactly what we’re here for — the seizure of the dog and application for a destruction order.”

Under cross-examination, McAllister said he was not an animal behaviourist, but said he was qualified to give a lay person’s view of Bronx’s propensity for unprovoked attacks.

He said the dog has been compliant for most of his incarceration but said Bronx had lashed out on two occasions in August, jumping on another animal control officer during a walk without provocation.

McAllister said he is “quite fond” of Bronx and his personality, but said it’s “like a switch goes off” and he attacks without rhyme or reason.

“I believe he’s too much of a safety concern,” he testified.

“I think he is extremely likely to attack and it does not require any form of provocation to get him to attack. And it’s not every person or every dog or whatnot. I don’t see a pattern to it other than the inconsistency and surprise of when he attacks and to me that is extremely alarming.”

Arguments over the application to have the animal destroyed are likely to drag well beyond the one day originally scheduled with a total of 11 witnesses expected to testify.

The day’s proceedings ended with Brooks ordering the duelling parties to attend a pre-trial conference on Sept. 28 in order to streamline the process by agreeing on witnesses, the length they’ll be on the stand and the time both sides will need for their final submissions.

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