ACT News

Calls for greater transparency from DAS after victims not informed of animals' release

The mother of a young woman who was attacked by two strange dogs in her own living room has criticised Domestic Animal Services' decision to return the animals to their owner without informing her family. 

Brenda Goldstraw found out on Christmas Day the dogs which killed her chihuahua Jiminy and mauled her daughter Isabelle's hand had been surreptitiously returned to their owner after being declared dangerous. 

The animals allegedly broke into the living room of the Goldstraws' Canberra home through a locked screen door in late November after escaping from their own yard.

But it wasn't DAS who informed her of the developments in the case.

"We had to find out via a third party. I'd even been talking  to DAS the week before, we've tried to keep in contact with them as much as  possible from our side, so ... on January 5 I contacted [them]," Ms Goldstraw said.

It took a few days, but the organisation confirmed to Ms Goldstraw that the animals had indeed been declared dangerous and returned to their owner.

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Her issue doesn't lie in the outcome but rather in the lack of transparency and communication.

"Apparently we're supposed to have been sent documentation regarding the decision but we haven't received any of that to date," Ms Goldstraw said.

 She said she has been unable to find out if the owner was fined or what conditions the dogs will be held to as she has been told the investigation is ongoing.

"We wanted to let natural justice and the proper process go ahead  without jumping up and down but now that we've gotten to here, we're just quite angry now. 

"I don't want other people's dogs put down but the reality is they broke into our house, killed our dog and  injured our daughter."

DAS registrar Fleur Flanery​ said that under the Domestic Animals Act, the registrar has "no powers to euthanise any dog".

"The reason they would be euthanised would be if the owner can't reach the conditions that are set, or if the magistrate – but not the registrar – deems those dogs to be used as weapons or as dangerous."

Among the conditions placed on the dangerous dogs were that they are muzzled, supervised by an adult and kept in an inescapable closure when unsupervised.

They must wear dangerous-dog collars, always be walked on a leash, and not enter dog parks. Dangerous-dog signs have been put outside the house.

But Ms Flanery admitted that the "standard procedure" of advising all parties of the dogs' release "wasn't followed".

"It's not really an excuse, but I think that the Christmas period was there, the letters were prepared and the dots just weren't joined for them to be distributed," she said.

"The communication slipped through, but the safety checks and balances were made."

She said the owners could choose to appeal the decision.

The same dogs which killed Jiminy are also believed to have jumped into a locked backyard to slaughter Amanda Mitchener's chihuahua Saphie a day earlier.

The aftermath of the attack was witnessed by Ms Mitchener's 12-year-old neighbour.

Ms Mitchener said DAS also failed to contact her about the investigation's outcome.

DAS came under fire multiple times in 2015.

Demi McKay's American staffy, Buddy, was put down in January last year after it was impounded at DAS, one day after staff told its owner it was not there. 

But Renee Dean said the organisation is still operating with impunity.

Her dogs Neo and Midgie were killed in 2014 after her neighbour's dogs allegedly broke through the fence into her yard

She took her case to the  Ombudsman – twice –  after her neighbours were able to overturn the enclosure condition in their dangerous-dog declaration on appeal without DAS informing her.

The second time, the Ombudsman ruled that Ms Dean should have been notified by Territory and Municipal Services that an appeal was under way.

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