Comox Valley judge pondering three options for death row dogs

A Courtenay judge now has three choices for the fate of Newfoundland dogs Chum and Champ.

CHUM AND CHAMP supporters gather outside the Courtenay courthouse.

A last-minute option was presented in court Thursday, giving a Courtenay judge three choices for the fate of two Newfoundland dogs following an application to destroy them brought forth by the Comox Valley Regional District.

Black Creek couple Edith and Jacques Manseau’s two dogs — Chum and Champ — are being held at the Comox Valley SPCA following seizure spurred from a Jan. 5 complaint of a vicious dog attack.

The three-day hearing, which began in March, heard from various witnesses, including neighbours, former tenants and the regional district’s animal control officer.

Although a decision was scheduled for Dec. 6, lawyers met prior to the court appearance.

Troy DeSouza, lawyer for the CVRD explained to provincial court Judge R. Sutton could find the dogs not dangerous and could be returned to Jacques Manseau (his wife Edith Manseau passed away in late October); it could find the dogs dangerous and they be euthanized, or they could be found dangerous and court could provide a conditional order that provides the dogs to continue to live with any requirements the court might add.

DeSouza called Elizabeth Frost of the B.C. Chapter of the Newfoundland Dog Club of Canada to testify, who told court her role is to “make sure the outcome is most appropriate for the dogs.”

Frost said she has been in contact and met with the original Saskachewan-based breeder — Heidi Ball of Prairie Home Kennels — who has offered to take both dogs back and the club would pay for the transfer and associated costs.

Eric Chesterley, lawyer for Jacques Manseau, asked Frost in cross-examination what might happen if the placement didn’t work.

“There’s always an option to bring the dogs back to the club for rescue,” she replied.

Comox resident John White, who kept the dogs at his home with his wife for Jacques during a temporary release prior to surrendering them back to the SPCA Dec. 5, explained to court he would be a suitable alternative to sending the dogs out of province.

“I’ve had them at my property over a month, had them for walks and had visitors brought their kids over. Edith made them into house pets; the worse they can do is lick you to death,” he said.

Derald Lewis, the CVRD’s manager of bylaw compliance, told court he believes the White’s Comox home is not suitable for the long term, and “(is) too small of a property. The garden area is really torn up, and it needs to be a larger area for these two dogs.”

Upon further questioning, he explained in addition to a larger property, he has concerns about White’s age (77).

“Mr. White is of that age where it would be very hard for him to look after two large dogs,” he added.

Outside the courthouse, Martyn Thomas, neighbour and owner of the Jack Russell terrier the CVRD claims was dragged through a wire fence by the dogs, said the best option for the dogs would be to return to their breeder.

“She’s got intimate knowledge of these dogs. She’s got the property there … I think that would be perfect,” he said. “The dogs aren’t on death row anymore I think, which is OK, but they’re not going to be coming back to Constitution Road … or any other road.”

DeSouza said the newest option allows the CVRD to balance public safety with allowing the dogs to live.

“Since the passing of Mrs. Manseau, there’s been a really concerted attempt by the Regional District to find some common ground that the parties can essentially remember what this is all about: public safety and seeing if there’s a possibility of the dogs to be re-homed,” he added.

DeSouza noted while the dogs are currently being held at the SPCA, he will have discussions with counsel on the other side, “and we’ll work out something that we think will be responsible in terms of both protecting the public and allowing a little bit of leeway and freedom for the dogs over the Christmas holidays.”

Surrounded by supporters Thursday, Jacques Manseau said he would like the dogs returned to White.

“They love each other, they’ve spent all their lives together,” he added.

White noted he believes Chum would be used for breeding if returned to Saskatchewan, and that he has sufficient space at his Comox home.

“I found that unfortunate because the kennels at the SPCA were plenty large for nine months and they didn’t consider anything about that. The dogs were suffering muscle loss in their back legs and they were never taken for walks because they didn’t know how to handle them.”

A decision about the dog’s fate will be announced Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. at the courthouse in Courtenay.

photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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