Tauranga dog attack: Council appeals judge’s decision

By Contributor

Chopper inflicted serious injuries after biting veterinarian Dr Liza Schneider during an appointment. Photo: LDR / Supplied

By Alisha Evans, Local Democracy Reporter

The life of Tauranga rottweiler Chopper is once again under threat as Tauranga City Council is appealing the judge's ruling on its previous charge.

Chopper was released from the pound in July after the charge against his owner, Helen Fraser, was dismissed by Judge David Cameron.

Fraser was charged by the council with owning a dog causing injury, after Chopper bit veterinarian Dr Liza Schneider during an appointment to discuss the dog's de-sexing in October 2021.

The attack left Schneider, the owner of Holistic Vets, with a fractured ulna, four puncture wounds and nerve and muscle damage which required surgery.

If Fraser had been convicted of the charge, it would have meant the dog was legally required to be put down.

The charge carried a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment or a $20,000 fine.

During the judge alone trial in June, the dispute was whether Fraser was liable for the attack.

In his decision, Judge Cameron said Dr Schneider "was responsible for determining how the situation should be handled".

"She was in a position to take appropriate steps to maintain and exercise control," Judge Cameron said.

"She failed though to take any steps to maintain and exercise control, despite having every opportunity to do so.

"Had she done so, the incident would have been avoided.

"I consider that Dr Schneider put herself in a position where she was vulnerable to attack by a dog who had not been assessed for safety purposes."

Tauranga City Council environmental regulation manager Nigel McGlone said the council filed the appeal because it believed the judge "made an error of law".

"He focused on the conduct of the victim, rather than the legal responsibility of the dog owner to control the dog," McGlone said.

"Council sought advice from Crown Law who agree that it is in the interest of the public to clarify this issue of law, as the outcome will have implications for all dog owners."

Fraser's son Ryan Tarawhiti-Brown said the family was not surprised by the council's appeal because they knew it was always an option.

He described the council's appeal as "wanting to win at all costs" and said there were "better uses" for ratepayers' money than a High Court appeal.

"We told the truth in court and the judge saw that," Tarawhiti-Brown said.

He said his mum was "stressed" because of the appeal and the costs that may be involved, as well as the threat to Chopper's life.

"It's been stressful right from the start, but this is a whole new thing," he said.

"We just want to move on with our lives. We want to know this is all behind us.

"Then we don't have to worry about Chopper being taken away from us and Mum doesn't have to have these fines and a jail sentence hanging above her."

Chopper was in the pound for nine months and unable to leave his kennel. Fraser visited him almost daily during that time, Tarawhiti-Brown said.

Since being home, Chopper has been "perfect" and they have been working with a dog trainer and doing hydrotherapy to help strengthen his back legs.

"It feels like he didn't even leave. He's just fitted in that well," Tarawhiti-Brown said.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air