There is no free bite - at least for wolf-dog hybrids in British Columbia, where a judge has declared them to be inherently dangerous wild animals and found the owners of one of them strictly liable for the harm it caused in attacking a woman.
It's believed to be the first case of its kind in Canada, according to Kamloops lawyer Rachel Lammers, who represented the victim, Marjorie McLean.
Ms. Lammers said that generally speaking, the owners of dogs not known to be dangerous can take advantage of the so-called one free-bite rule and escape strict liability without proof of negligence.
In B.C. and some other jurisdictions, domestic animals such as dogs "get the benefit of [the]doubt," Ms. Lammers said.
But if your pet happens to be a non-domestic or normally wild animal such as a tiger or a bear and it hurts someone, the one free-bite rule does not apply, she added.
In this case, Judge Stephen R. Harrison ruled that wolf-dog hybrids as a class "are not harmless by nature but are animals ferae naturae" (of a wild nature) and he awarded general damages of $7,500 to Ms. McLean, who was bitten on both thighs by Harley, a Malamute-wolf cross of previously good character.
The Provincial Court judge said as a result of his ruling, it follows that strict liability will attach to any damage caused by Harley without requiring any proof that he had a propensity to attack people and that his owners or keepers should have known of it.
Harley's owners, Ryan and Tanya Thompson must also pay Ms. McLean $1,355.47 for lost wages and $249.99 in special damages and a hearing on charges and expenses arising from the trial is pending.
Judge Harrison commented that the injuries left Ms. McLean, now in her 60s, in a great deal of pain that persisted for a considerable period of time after the attack in the summer of 2006 at the home of Ryan's parents in the B.C. Interior, where Harley and his owners were visiting.
She required surgery and she suffered nightmares and flashbacks, developed a lasting anxiety about dogs, particularly large ones, and eventually met the diagnostic criteria of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to her family doctor.
In the liability portion of the trial, Ms. Lammers called as a witness an expert in canine behaviour who gave evidence by video link from Los Angeles.
He said wolf-dog hybrids are unpredictable and therefore dangerous, and they are not domesticated animals.
There was also evidence that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will not put wolf-dog hybrids up for adoption and if such animals are surrendered to shelters they will be euthanized.
Terry Norman, who sells the hybrids for $900 a pup, told The Globe he disagreed with the court decision.
"The question is not with the dogs but with the education of the dog owners," he said. "Some people should not be parents as well as some people should not be pet owners."
His classified ad in a Victoria newspaper offers "unique, intelligent puppies," and states that mom is a timber wolf and dad a "pure Siberian. When only the best will do."
He said he tells his customers that taking on such an animal is "a 15-plus-year commitment [lifespan]and that all family members need to know what's expected and required of them to raise a healthy, happy pet. Even judges make bad decisions sometimes."
Kelowna breeder Keyhan Modaressi called the judgment "outrageous." He believes the incident happened because Harley's space was violated and "he was feeling threatened."
Ms. Lammers, the lawyer, said that at least in B.C., "I think it's a precedent-setting [ruling] There's no other case like it in Canada where the owner of such a hybrid has been found strictly liable for the damage it causes."
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