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An Etobicoke man will appear in court next week on charges that his three pit bulls killed a woman's dog last year.

"I miss him so much," Zelda Carruthers, 62, said of her dog Simba. "He was like my child. He was really my only companion."

Her neighbour Mike Matuszewski, 19, has been charged under the Dog Owner's Liability Act with three separate offences for each of his pit bulls, including failing to keep a pit bull muzzled and leashed in a public place.

The dogs are in the custody of Toronto Animal Control. The court hearing will take place on Tuesday.

Dog owners can be fined up to $10,000 or be jailed for up to six months if they are found to be violating any part of the act, explained Wendy Raike, a supervisor with Animal Control.

"In this case, because of the number of charges, the accused could be made to pay as much as $90,000 and/or face 18 months in jail," Ms. Raike said.

"That isn't likely to happen, but it's up to the courts."

Ms. Carruthers is pursuing a lawsuit against Mr. Matuszewski and his family. Her lawyer, Brian Goldfinger, is seeking $1-million in damages for his client. He claims Ms. Carruthers has been unable to work or function normally since the alleged attack.

"This was her therapy dog. He meant so much to her," Mr. Goldfinger said.

A statement of claim prepared by Mr. Goldfinger says that on May 27, 2007, Ms. Carruthers was walking her American Eskimo dog near her apartment complex in Etobicoke.

As they came around a high hedge of bushes, they encountered the three pit bulls owned by Mr. Matuszewski. According to the statement, the dogs were not muzzled or leashed.

The three pit bulls then "launched a vicious and unprovoked attack on Ms. Carruthers and Simba, causing them ... injuries, ultimately resulting in Simba's death," the document says.

Ms. Carruthers was treated in hospital for minor injuries. Her dog was rushed to an emergency animal clinic in Oakville, where vets were forced to euthanize it.

Mr. Matuszewski moved out of the Lincoln Tower apartments on the West Mall last December and was unavailable for comment.

Pit bulls have been banned in Ontario since November, 2005. However, dogs that were in the province before the ban may be kept, provided the owner has them sterilized. They must be leashed and muzzled at all times when in public.

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