Lin­wood dog own­ers win ap­peal to muz­zle or­der

Town­ship coun­cil over­turns or­der, but puts con­di­tions on the de­ci­sion in light of neigh­bours’ con­cerns

The Woolwich Observer - - NEWS - FAISAL ALI

IT WAS AN UN­EASY start to the new term for Welles­ley coun­cil­lors Tues­day night, as the re­turn­ing politi­cians opened their in­au­gu­ral ses­sion me­di­at­ing a con­tentious ar­gu­ment be­tween neigh­bours.

Lin­wood res­i­dents Mark and Cobi Ste­cho ap­peared at coun­cil to re­quest a re­ver­sal of an ear­lier de­ci­sion by town­ship by­law en­force­ment re­quir­ing their dog, a male boxer named Doug, to be muz­zled out­doors.

The Ste­chos ar­gued their dog was an ex­citable but harm­less fam­ily pet, while neigh­bour Carey Soehner, who’s ini­tial com­plaint sparked the in­ter­ven­tion, claimed the an­i­mal to be a dan­ger­ous nui­sance.

Soehner ap­peared as a del­e­ga­tion as well to re­quest that the or­der, is­sued on Septem­ber 27, be up­held and en­forced by the town­ship.

Af­ter hear­ing both sides of the story, coun­cil­lors voted in a 3-2 de­ci­sion to lift the or­der, in­stead re­quir­ing that the pet be su­per­vised when out­doors. Fail­ure to fol­low the rul­ing would re­in­state the muz­zle or­der.

“As a par­ent and a pet owner, it is my re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure the safety of my chil­dren and pets,” said Soehner. “Due to the in­ci­dents which have oc­curred with Mr. Ste­cho’s boxer, I can­not en­sure that either of th­ese re­spon­si­bil­i­ties can be fol­lowed through.”

Soehner ar­gued that the boxer had twice es­caped from the Ste­chos’ prop­erty into her back­yard. On one of th­ese oc­ca­sions, Soehner said Doug had at­tacked her own dog, Max, bit­ing him.

The method of es­cape was con­tested by the neigh­bours, with Soehner say­ing she had wit­nessed Doug dig­ging un­der the Ste­chos’ fenc­ing through a gap cre­ated by a slop­ing gra­di­ent. The Ste­chos in turn claimed the dog had got­ten out due to a mal­func­tion with their gate, which had been dam­aged

in a storm; the Ste­chos added they had fixed the gate as soon as they de­tected the prob­lem and were cer­tain Doug couldn’t es­cape again.

“The sec­ond in­ci­dent in my back­yard, my oneyear-old son was in the boxer’s line of at­tack,” said Soehner. “It is ev­i­dent that the boxer is able to dig out of his fenced yard, and be­cause of this and his ag­gres­sive na­ture, he is a dan­ger to my fam­ily and my pets.”

Soehner also ac­cused Doug of once grab­bing her foot from un­der­neath the fence while she was work­ing on her gar­den, “which I was able to re­lease by stick­ing a shovel un­der­neath the fence to­wards his face.”

The Ste­chos, how­ever, said their dog was not a vi­cious an­i­mal, but play­ful and friendly, and said the ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the town­ship’s by­law en­force­ment of­fi­cer had been in­suf­fi­cient.

“To say that Doug ag­gres­sively at­tacked and bit some­one or an­other an­i­mal is a fab­ri­ca­tion for­mu­lated by some­one who clearly doesn’t like us or our pet boxer,” said Mark Ste­cho. “There has never been any proof of the complaints or re­ports made about Doug. We feel that re­ports were fab­ri­cated purely out of spite and the muz­zle or­der was based on spec­u­la­tion and hearsay.”

Though coun­cil­lors voted to over­turn the muz­zle or­der, the de­ci­sion was far from unan­i­mous. Carl Sch­midt and Peter van der Maas sup­ported main­tain­ing the muz­zle or­der, while fel­low coun­cil­lors Shel­ley Wag­ner and Herb Ne­her sought an­other so­lu­tion.

A re­view of video footage pro­vided by Soehner of Doug did lit­tle to set­tle the an­swer, with some coun­cil­lors feel­ing the dog was dis­play­ing signs of ag­gres­sion, and the oth­ers sug­gest­ing the dog was sim­ply ex­cited.

Soehner said the boxer was of­ten left in the Ste­cho yard with­out su­per­vi­sion dur­ing the work­week, prompt­ing Wag­ner to sug­gest fore­go­ing the muz­zle in favour of adult su­per­vi­sion.

“My only con­cern is that if the dogs are out­side dur­ing the work­ing day that no one is there to ob­serve them if they should get out,” said Wag­ner. “And we as pet own­ers have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure, so I would say we should have some type of a con­di­tion that the dogs should not be left to their own de­vices dur­ing the work­ing day when no one is home. Be­cause Doug sounds like a lit­tle bit of a Hou­dini.”

Ne­her agreed, say­ing they could try Wag­ner’s pro­posal for a few months and see how well it worked. Sch­midt, how­ever, re­jected the need to give the sit­u­a­tion more time and voted against the pro­posal.

“I need to say I dis­agree strongly. There’s two in­ci­dents where the dog was on the prop­erty. Even the videos, she’s tak­ing those videos from quite a dis­tance away, and the dog is snarling and jump­ing and act­ing re­ally ag­gres­sive. To me. But what do we have to wait for? Do I want my grand­kids in that next-door yard with that dog? Not a chance.”

Break­ing the tie was Mayor Joe Nowak who, while ex­press­ing con­fi­dence in by­law en­force­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion, none­the­less favoured the com­pro­mise.

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