Vancouver man didn’t allow dog to attack toddler, court hears

A B.C. man accused of allowing his dog to attack a toddler has been found not guilty after a judge ruled there was not enough evidence to prove the child had been injured or that the puppy’s owner was responsible.

A recently posted The provincial court judgment describes the 2020 incident in which a Staffordshire terrier mix named Rousey allegedly knocked down and bit a woman’s young son. The dog’s owner has been charged with violating the City of Vancouver’s animal control bylaws.

Kevin Lam met a friend in New Brighton Park, where the couple were playing with their dogs, the court heard. Lam admitted his dog was off-leash, which is not allowed in the park but which Lam testified he was unaware of at the time.

THE DOG

Rousey, at the time, was about two and a half months old and weighed 22 pounds. The pup was described by Lam as a playful and energetic young animal who had never shown aggression at home and “coexisted peacefully and amicably with Mr. Lam’s 86-year-old grandmother and her two little ones, four and six, cousins,” the judgment read.

Judge Zahid Makhdoom said he was never shown pictures of the dog.

“Unlike most other ‘dog cases,’ where photos of dogs are proudly shared by their beloved owners or, dutifully, by the city, I was not shown any photos of Rousey. Although I have many heard of her character and demeanor, her appearance has remained largely a mystery!” he writes in his decision.

However, he noted that Rousey’s breed resembled a pit bull, “a breed that doesn’t enjoy much public affection and trust.” Although the City of Vancouver does not ban these dogs or have any breed-specific regulations, jurisdictions banning pit bulls also ban Staffordshire terriers.

THE INCIDENT

While Lam and his friend played fetch with their off-leash dogs, two mothers with their toddlers were also enjoying an afternoon at the park, the court heard.

Sarah Matthee was with her 14-month-old son Grayson and Stephanie Albrecht had her daughter Elliott, the couple had met to enjoy some socially distanced company and some fresh air amid ongoing COVID-19 restrictions.

“After noticing two young children, the dogs rushed towards them. Both mothers shouted for their owners to put these dogs on a leash,” the court heard.

Matthee said Rousey fell on top of her son, “knocking him down, then ‘attacking’ his face” and later noticed “little teeth marks on his cheek and swelling around his eye”, according to the judge.

Lam and his friend kept their dogs on a leash, but the police were eventually called.

No one was arrested, but an animal control officer showed up, taking statements from Lam and Matthee. That day, after her husband came to meet her at the park, Matthee took Grayson to BC Children’s Hospital.

THE PROOF

Makhdoom said Matthhee’s fear and distress under the circumstances was understandable.

“An exuberant, high-energy, pit bull-like dog knocks an unsteady toddler down and allegedly lash out at that toddler by placing his open mouth in the toddler’s face. Or at least so it seemed to his mother. Such a scenario would probably be terrifying to anyone, let alone this little guy’s mother,” he wrote.

“While loudly pleading with Lam and Isaac to leash their dogs, she reminded them that this was a leashed park. Her fears became real when Grayson fell. She admitted to being very upset, almost hysterical. Grayson was crying inconsolably. Meanwhile, the dogs had also commandeered little Elliott’s doll.”

However, the judge also said there were a number of inconsistencies in Matthee’s testimony and the medical evidence provided did not show any injuries. The BC Children’s Hospital emergency department report, the court heard, recorded “two tiny dots” on the child’s face and no blood or broken skin and described the toddler as smiling and running.

The judge found Lam’s testimony consistent and credible.

THE VERDICT

The judge concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the allegation that the dog attacked the child.

“Given all the evidence I have, I’m leaning to accept that no injury was caused to Grayson. Rousey and her companion (dog) weren’t interested in playing with the kids. They were just playing to the ball…Rousey was more of a strident pursuit of a ball that could have landed close to Grayson,” he said in his ruling, acknowledging there may have been contact between the two. but saying there was a reasonable doubt as to whether this contact could not be characterized as an attack.

“Rousey’s actions and the resulting condition of Grayson show that Rousey was attacked hard to get her ball back and not on Grayson. Little Grayson was there.”

Lam was also charged with failing to register his dog as required by the city. The judge found him guilty of this, saying he only got a license for the dog in October 2020.