More than a year since they were seized, a Courtenay judge decided Wednesday the two Newfoundland dogs in the centre of an application to destroy them will be separated — for now.
Provincial court Judge R. Sutton ordered in his reasons for judgment the male dog Champ to be returned to his original owner Jacques Manseau in Black Creek.
Sutton also proposed that Chum — which he ruled to be dangerous — be sent back to her breeder in Saskatchewan.
He added because he did not formally issue a destruction order for Chum, he will place a 30-day stay of determination for options so both parties — Jacques Manseau and the Comox Valley Regional District — can come to another agreement, which would have to meet the court's approval.
Last January, the CVRD brought forth an application to destroy the dogs following a complaint of a vicious dog attack.
The dogs were taken by the CVRD on Jan. 26, 2012, and were being held at the Comox Valley SPCA following their seizure, but have resided recently with Comox residents John and Emma White during a temporary release.
Sutton said the case was unusual and difficult because there were no witnesses who saw the incident, which involved a neighbouring Jack Russell terrier.
The two Newfoundlands were accused of attacking the terrier through two shared fences.
"No one saw what happened," explained Sutton to a packed courtroom. "The regional district relies on past and subsequent events that took place."
Sutton reviewed the various witnesses who testified throughout the hearing, and noted he believes Manseau "knows more than he's telling the court."
During his testimony, Manseau told court he believes the Jack Russell's injuries were caused by a kick from a horse, not by being pulled through a fence by the Newfoundlands, as suggested by CVRD lawyer Troy DeSouza.
Sutton said he doesn't find the horse theory "realistic or plausible."
He accepted the evidence of a two-inch piece of fur with flesh attached from the Jack Russell found on the fence as "compelling and acceptable evidence."
He also accepted canine behavior specialist Gary Gibson's testimony that Chum would react more and be the aggressor toward other dogs.
"It's more probable and realistic Chum, not Champ caused the injuries to (the Jack Russell)," Sutton added.
Outside the courtroom, supporters of the dogs had mixed reactions.
"I'm really relieved Champ will be released, but very disappointed — heartbroken— that Chum will not be released," said Sheila Krentz. "But grateful the judge is allowing a 30-day stay so that the lawyers can talk about what would be in the best interest of Chum."
Krentz added she feels, "It would be heartbreaking to split the dogs up; they are a bonded pair."
DeSouza said the judge made a "King Solomon-like decision."
He noted despite an option presented by Manseau's lawyer Eric Chesterley to send the dogs back to their temporary Comox home, it was not a good option to preserve public safety.
"Comox is a very urban area, and these are very big dogs," he added.
DeSouza said he will talk with Chesterley and strive for a solution to present to the judge.
"We are hoping, however, that both dogs stay together and live together ... the best option for public safety is the dogs stay together and go to Saskatchewan," he explained.
Manseau said he believes the judge was trying to make both parties happy in his decision.
"They've been raised together. If you take one away, it'll break their hearts," he said, and added he would like to see his dogs live together, perhaps somewhere warmer than the Prairies such as "the mainland or some place away together like a farm."