A Yellowknife man charged under the territory’s Dog Act says a “freak accident” led to the roadside mauling of his neighbour’s Australian Shepherd Poodle mix last summer — an attack that ultimately resulted in the small dog being put down.
Lawyer Douglas McNiven, who testified in his own defence at trial Wednesday, is accused of allowing a dog to be at large, and allowing a dog to bite a person without provocation — two offences under the NWT Dog Act.
On the afternoon of June 21, 2019, William Chueng was walking his three small dogs, including his eight-year-old Aussiedoodle, Abby, along Finlayson Drive when he says McNiven’s large and “aggressive” “pitbull-like” dog — suddenly and without warning — barreled towards them on the sidewalk.”
“It lunged at my dog and that was it,” said Chueng.
William Chueng’s eight-year-old Aussiedoodle Abby was put down two days after being attacked by lawyer Douglas McNiven’s dog last June. A territorial judge will decide if McNiven is guilty to two offences under the NWT Dog Act in July. Photo courtesy of William Chueng.Within seconds, McNiven’s dog, Aloha, “latched onto” Abby’s belly and wouldn’t let go, he said. McNiven’s daughter, Indiana, testified described Aloha as a lab-mix “mutt.” The dog was rescued from Edmonton, the court heard.
A chaotic minute-and-a-half followed.
McNiven, shouting for Aloha to release the much smaller dog, ran over to the sidewalk, testified Cheung. As blood spilled onto the pavement, Chueng said he and McNiven both tried to pry Aloha’s jaw open, but to no avail.
Bystanders at the scene tried to intervene.
One man repeatedly punched Aloha in the head in an effort to get her to release Chueng’s dog from her grasp, the court heard.
The larger dog relented only after being sprayed with a water bottle, retrieved by McNiven’s daughter, who ran out of their Finlayson Drive home during the attack, said Chueng.
Both Chueng and McNiven went to the hospital for treatment for the cuts on their hands, the court heard.
Taking the stand, McNiven admitted to making a “big mistake” by not putting Aloha in the house prior to the attack, but said he took the proper steps to ensure she was secured in the front yard before the “freak” incident occurred.
“Aloha’s collar broke, hence the accident,” said McNiven. “The collar snapped and they got into it.”
McNiven said Aloha — usually kept in his fenced-off backyard when outside — was tethered to a cork-screw-like ground stake in McNiven’s fenceless front yard, while he loaded his Jeep ahead of a dump run. The tethering was meant to be brief — no longer than 30 seconds, he testified.
Then she broke free, he said.
McNiven said there was “no biting going on.” Rather, the cuts he and Chueng endured occurred during the struggle that involved multiple people trying to pull his dog away from Abby, he said.
McNiven disputed Chueng’s characterization of Aloha as an “aggressive” dog — Chueng testified he had avoided the dog in the past, even going so far as to cross to the other side of the road during walks.
“My dog is not aggressive to people,” testified McNiven. “She’s friendly as can be.”
But under cross-examination by Keith Sulzer, a prosecutor representing the city, McNiven admitted Aloha can be “unpredictable” and aggressive towards some dogs.
McNiven nonetheless continued to describe his dog as loving, and friendly— until he was abruptly cut off by Judge Donovan Molloy.
“She killed the other dog,” said Molloy incredulously.
“Your dog savagely attacked the other dog and ripped a huge whole in it … is that not aggressive?” asked Molloy.
McNiven admitted it was.
“(Aloha) provides a lot of calm for me. She’s huge for me,” said McNiven, who appeared to wipe away tears on the stand.
Tense exchanges between Molloy and McNiven didn’t end there.
Molloy, making no attempts to hide his apparent exasperation with parts of McNiven’s testimony, asked the lawyer if he was “capable of answering a question directly.”
At one point, a noticeably frustrated Molloy tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling.
Following the attack, McNiven said a “very upset, very angry,” Chueng knocked at his door.
Citing emotional trauma, McNiven said Chueng asked him “what I was going to do for him.”
“I thought he was trying to shake me down,” testified McNiven. “I thought he wanted money.”
McNiven said he offered to pay for the vet bills — he later did — while encouraging Chueng not to resort to legal action.
Chueng denied ever asking McNiven for money to “make the matter go away,” as McNiven’s lawyer Jay Bran phrased it. Chueng said he “lost a family member,” and simply wanted to ensure other dogs and dog owners in the area didn’t suffer a similar fate.
Vet breaks into tears
Dr. Michael Hughes, a veterinarian at the Yellowknife Veterinary Clinic, treated Abby shortly after the attack. He testified Wednesday.
Hughes said Chueng’s dog required several stitches to close a large wound on her underbelly. Calling Aloha’s owner an “animal lover,” Hughes said McNiven “felt horrible” about the incident.
Abby was euthanized two days later, the court heard.
Hughes, who said he considers himself a “dear friend” of both McNiven and Chueng, said he has had several conversations with McNiven about Aloha.
Hughes said he suggested McNiven install additional fencing on the property. Hughes said McNiven responded by saying people shouldn’t walk by his house if they don’t want to be attacked.
“I said, ‘that’s (expletive) (expletive) and you know it — as a citizen and as a lawyer,” testified Hughes.
McNiven denied ever making the statement.
“This poor little dog died,” said Hughes, breaking down in tears. “It’s a tragedy.
I’m in the middle of this,” he said.
Judge slams MED’s ‘total lack of investigation’
Apart from a brief discussion with bylaw officers at Stanton Territorial Hospital following the dog attack in June, the court heard the city’s Municipal Enforcement Division did not conduct a formal investigation, nor took photos of the scene of the attack.
“I fault the city for this,” said Molloy.
Molloy suggested the “total lack of investigation,” was negligent on the part of the city.
“If the city is going to have a responsibility for enforcement and to charge people, does it not place some obligation on them (to investigate properly)?” asked Molloy.
During closing submissions Thursday, Bran argued there is no evidence Aloha bit anyone other than the dog. He suggested the injuries sustained by Chueng, bystanders and his client’s hands were the result of them putting their hands in the dog’s mouth during the struggle.
The word “bite” is not defined in the NWT Dog Act. Addressing the charge that his client allowed his dog to be at large, Bran said McNiven took diligent steps to prevent Aloha from running away before the collar snapped and got loose.
“Is he responsible for letting the dog loose? He’s not,” argued Bran.
While Sulzer said McNiven had exercised due diligence in the past with Aloha, he failed to do so on June 21, 2019.
“On this day, he did not take the reasonable precaution he normally does,” said Sulzer.
Under territorial legislation, McNiven’s dog could be ordered to be destroyed, depending on the outcome of the trial.
Molloy will hand down a decision on July 17.