A play date last May 20 went badly after a pit bull bit a girl on her arm, requiring 14 stitches.
Since then both parents and children have not spoken to one another and charges under the Dangerous Dog Act were laid against Misty McKinnon and her three-year-old pit bull, Diesel.
Nine months later, the case went to court Jan. 29 as Jill and Rob Little, the parents of the girl bitten, wanted to have certain conditions placed on the dog, such as being neutered, using a muzzle when going for a walk and obedience training.
Four children were playing in the backyard of McKinnon’s home and the parents were not present during the attack so there was some confusion over the exact course of events. What is known for certain is Diesel was in the house while the children played in the backyard. Somehow the dog got out and the Littles’ daughter was bitten causing physical damage to her arm.
The Littles’ daughter had played at the McKinnon’s home on other occasions without harm.
Before any other decisions could be made, Crown prosecutor Sandy Weber and McKinnon’s lawyer Art Tralenberg, disagreed over how the door opened and the case went to a hearing.
Children from both families stood before the commissioner and answered questions from lawyers; the parents were allowed to sit with their children while they were questioned.
Commissioner Stafford Gorsalitz heard Weber and Tralenberg question those involved including police. The restraint order suggested by Weber also stated there should be a sign on the home fence warning pedestrians there is a dog in the home. An assessment by a qualified trainer was also requested with respect to having the dog neutered.
McKinnon’s lawyer said there was no question the Littles’ daughter was attacked but he questioned how the door was opened to let the dog out.
Const. Justin Auld was first to take the stand and he was asked to explain what happened when he attended the scene. Auld took statements from the parents and investigated the yard of the home, noting a large fence in the backyard.
After some questions, Auld asked to see Diesel. The dog approached the officer and it “appeared friendly at the time.”
It jumped on him playfully and generally seemed to be in good health, he stated.
Auld contacted animal control to determine what his next step should be but was told since the attack occurred in the resident’s home they had no jurisdiction.
Eventually a charge under the Dangerous Dog Act was laid by police.
The Littles’ daughter then took the stand to explain what she remembered before she was bitten. The eight-year-old girl explained how she was on the back deck of the home playing with her friends. She believed one of McKinnon’s daughters had opened the door and forgot to close it.
It was difficult for both lawyers to get clear answers from the girl as she appeared nervous and had trouble remembering events. She had never before played with the dog.
Tralenberg understood the events to be different and suggested the Littles’ daughter opened the door. Under questioning she became upset and a short recess was given.
Misty McKinnon took the stand to explain only about what she knew happened. At the time McKinnon also ran a day home and would kennel her dog during the day or have it locked up as she felt it was safer to do so. When the Littles’ daughter came to play, McKinnon told her children to put the dog in the home and she brought everyone some water and told them not to go into the home while she was gardening in the front yard.
Once the dog was in the house, the children played in the backyard and McKinnon told them to stay outside. “I said make sure you guys stay outside. Diesel will be in the house and they all said, ‘OK.’”
Sometime later she heard the children yelling and crying and immediately ran through the house to see Diesel running back through the home. She found the children crying and took the Littles’ daughter home. The main reason McKinnon puts the dog away is because “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a dog running around with other kids.”
McKinnon’s oldest daughter then took the stand.
She was also in tears and quite nervous but lawyers were able to get some information from her.
The oldest was playing with her little brother under the deck and could not clearly see how the door was opened but did hear the Littles’ daughter teasing Diesel by saying, “Nananabooboo.”
She believes the girl who was bitten opened the door and that is how Diesel got out but she did not actually see it happen. “I didn’t see her open the door.”
McKinnon’s youngest daughter had to testify as well but she did not remember much from the incident.
Tralenberg then spoke to the commissioner about the events and said it was clear the dog bit the Littles’ daughter but he does not feel the dog should be categorized as dangerous. “I’m sure it was traumatic for everybody.”
McKinnon was careful with Diesel and tried to make the necessary safety steps, the lawyer added. It was an unfortunate event based on the actions of the Littles’ daughter. Tralenberg argued the dog has been around McKinnon’s children for the past three years without any issues.
He also suggested the dog may have been trying to protect its home at the time. “There’s many reasons why dogs bite.”
Weber then spoke to the commissioner and said it is not clear how the door was opened and the allegation the Littles’ daughter teased the dog is also unclear.
“What is consistent is that (the victim) was bit by the dog,” stated Crown prosecutor Weber.
She said there is not enough concrete evidence to prove how the dog escaped from the home but suggested McKinnon already had concerns over Diesel, which is why it was put in the house.
Commissioner Gorsalitz was saddened by the events and hoped the children were still friends as that is most important. His main goal was to determine if the dog should be considered dangerous. He has heard of many instances of pit bulls attacking people and was aware it might be a bias for him as well.
It is an unfortunate the young girl required stitches, Gorsalitz stated.
The commissioner was also unsure of how much weight to give the children’s testimony as it has been nine months and they have spoken with the parents since that time. “I’m not satisfied that the dog is classified as dangerous.”
The Town of Ponoka does not have a dangerous dog bylaw for any particular breed, explained safety coordinator Willie Jones. The fine for a dog attack or bite on a person/animal is $150 and or a court appearance, however no fine was issued.