Firstly, John McDonald watched as his pet Shih Tzu cross was savaged by a bull mastiff. Then, faced with uncertain abdominal surgery, a leg amputation and a potential $14,000 veterinary bill, the pensioner and his wife Yvonne had to make the agonizing decision to put Buttons down.
Now, they want the city to toughen its dog bylaw, and will be heading to Pitt Meadows council on Tuesday.
The couple was out for a walk and stopped at the outdoor patio at McDonalds on Harris Road. Yvonne went inside to order. John waited outside, where the mastiff attacked.
“It turned around and saw Buttons, and just dashed at him,” said John.
The small dog struck a submissive pose, rolling onto his back, and the mastiff “just clamped his jaws on his stomach,” said John.
The mastiff was big and strong enough that at one point five people were trying to make him release his bite, and get him under control.
Buttons was not the typical companion dog. He enjoyed a bit of celebrity. He had put in thousands of service hours as a companion dog at Ridge Meadows Hospital, local seniors homes, and in Pitt Meadows library literacy programs.
John explained that his dog was considered library staff. The kids in the program would get him to do his tricks – rolling over, crawling and dancing on his hind legs. Then they would sit and read stories to the dog, more motivated to open a book.
John got the idea of making Buttons a therapy dog after he visited with an Alzheimer’s patient. He was a playful pup, about seven months old, at the time.
“The man started laughing, and his wife said it was the first time he’d laughed like that in eight or 10 years.”
The loss of their dog hit the McDonalds hard.
“It was a real hard decision,” he said of euthanizing Buttons.
Yvonne said $14,000 would be about a year’s income for seniors on a fixed income, and they could not compel the mastiff owner to pay it.
Their veterinary bill ended up at $1,200, and the McDonalds were told by the bull mastiff’s owner will cover it. The mastiff owners had called the veterinary clinic to contact the couple.
Yvonne is critical of the fact that a known aggressive dog has killed her pet, and believes it should be put down.
There is a Facebook page called Justice For Buttons. She will be part of a delegation to city council on Tuesday. There will be a rally at Spirit Square Park at 6:30 p.m., and they will walk in to city hall.
“I am so mad. I was hurt, but now I’m mad,” she said. “What happens if this dog bites a person?”
Now, the likely answer is that it would be destroyed.
Pitt Meadows CAO Kim Grout explained that the bylaws department received an earlier complaint, several months ago, about the mastiff acting aggressively toward another dog. It was not deemed a dangerous dog under the bylaw at that time. However, the bylaws officer suggested that the owner muzzle the dog in public.
She was complying with that request, said Grout. When the mastiff’s owner went into the restaurant on Monday, she tied the dog to a fence. An acquaintance untied the animal and removed its muzzle so that it could get a drink of water, the city was told. That is when the attack occurred.
The city said that version of events has been confirmed by a number of witnesses.
Now that the dog has a “dangerous” designation, the owner must comply with a number of restrictions, including having it muzzled in public, not allowing it to run loose on its property, having a dangerous dog sign posted and other measures.
According to city spokesperson Lorna Jones, “seizure of dogs is only provided for if the owner of a dangerous dog is in contravention of the written notice or a justice, by warrant, under the community charter, authorizes an animal control officer to enter and search the place and to seize the dog.
“Destruction of a dog that has been seized and impounded can only occur if the dog is unclaimed, with the consent of the dog owner, or pursuant to a court order after an application is made to the provincial court.”
Because this dog had not previously been deemed “dangerous,” it will not be ordered destroyed under the bylaw.
Pitt Meadows Mayor John Becker said it is a “terrible situation,” and agreed with the notion that dog owners “should absolutely be responsible for the damage their dogs do.”
However, he said council should not make a reactionary decision to change a bylaw that was recently rewritten, otherwise “the pendulum swings too far the other way.”