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Weird but not dangerous, owner insists: Sault dealing with its first dangerous dog appeal in 20 years

Two animals dead after Doncaster Road dogfight on April 23

Sault Ste. Marie's first dangerous dog appeal in 20 years will focus on a fatal attack last month on a small dog named Romeo, by an 80-pound mixed Staffordshire terrier.

But Midas, the Staffy mix, isn't the dangerous dog in this case.

Midas is also dead, put down after the Doncaster Road dogfight by his owner Mike Bryson.

"He was my best friend in the world. I made that decision on my own that I had to do that," Bryson tells SooToday.

The dog that's now being declared dangerous is Stark, 120 barrel-chested pounds of what animal control officers say is also a Staffordshire terrier.

Wrong place, wrong time

Stark is also owned by Bryson, who will argue at a dangerous dog hearing next month that Stark was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and didn't bite anyone that day, neither man nor beast.

And Bryson says the city's also wrong about Stark's breed.

Stark isn't a Staffordshire terrier, Bryson says.

"He's actually 100 per cent purebred American Bully."

That's a companion dog breed introduced in the mid-1990s that so far has not been recognized by the American Kennel Club.

American Bullies are recognized, though, by the for-profit, Kalamazoo-based United Kennel Club and other organizations.

Heart murmur

Bryson says he has the papers to prove Stark's pedigree and only recently stopped breeding Stark after learning the dog has a Grade 3 heart murmur.

Bryson concedes it was his other dog, Midas, that killed Romeo.

"My dogs were outside and the neighbours had their dog outside."

"We don't know how it happened, if their dog roamed into our yard or it our dog roamed into their yard. But long story short, my dog Midas busted through the lattice and killed their small dog."

The two yards belonged to a semi-detached building shared with neighbours.

Both had a raised deck, with a fence dividing the yards.

Bryson says he placed a lattice under the decks to keep the neighbour dogs from crawling underneath.

Fence aggression

He blames the April 23 dogfight on fence aggression.

"Dogs bark on the other side of the fence, the other dog wants to protect his property and protect his people."

Bryson's Staffy mix Midas – who fatally attacked Romeo next door – was like that.

"Midas was the biggest-hearted guy ever," Bryson says.

"He was there for me in some dark times that I went through in my life. I would say that may have saved my life."

Bryson says, after the April 23 attack, he had Midas euthanized without being asked.

'I was going to put Midas down because he took a life'

"I decided that I was going to put Midas down because he took a life. No matter what the reason was.... Even though it's a dog thing, I couldn't have that happening."

As for Stark, Bryson admits that dog also crossed into the neighbour's yard with Midas, but there's no evidence he bit or savaged anyone or anything on April 23. 

"Stark's a character. He's got the weirdest sense of humour going."

"He was really running around the yard just playing."

With his heart condition, Stark couldn't afford the luxury of dogfighting.

"Even the excitement of something like that could cause him to pass out and die," Bryson said.

"Stark is not very excitable. He's very laid back, chill."

"If you have doubts on Stark, I  welcome you to come over and visit him yourself. As the public health officer who came by to make sure our dogs weren't rabid got a big hug from Stark, I am sure you will as well."

Tickets torn up, thrown to ground

Later, Sault Ste. Marie Humane Society showed up and handed Bryson their dangerous dog declaration, plus $1,195 in tickets.

The society handles animal control enforcement for the city.

For Bryson, still grieving the loss of Midas, it was too much.

He threw the tickets to the ground and ordered society representatives off his property.

Then, Bryson had somewhat of a change of heart.

"After that, I reached out to them, apologized, just said the timing wasn't right," he said.

How to get a break on tickets

Bryson visited a justice of the peace and says he was granted a 50 per cent reduction in the amount owing from his tickets.

He also got more time to pay.

He feels Stark's designation as a dangerous dog is unfair and he's working to overturn it.

The rarely convened dangerous dog committee hears appeals from dog owners who've been served with a notice of dangerous dog designation.

The committee's decision on whether to rescind or substitute that determination is final.

Muzzle dilemma

So long as he's deemed dangerous, Stark must wear a muzzle any time he's not inside Bryson's residence.

That poses a problem.

"Since this has happened, Stark has been unable to walk [outdoors] due to the fact he has to be muzzled."

"With the size of his head, no muzzle fits him at any store in Sault Ste. Marie."

"To me, that's a cruel punishment for an organization that's supposed to care about animals."

"Even online with COVID in the world, any orders for muzzles (which we have ordered two already and both don't fit as well) take an extensively long time to arrive."

"What ever happened to you're innocent until proven guilty. Unfortunately in the dog world.... this isn't the case."

The city's dangerous dog committee met on Monday afternoon and adjourned until Wednesday, June 2, when Bryson will be able to make submissions.

Members of our dangerous dog committee:

  • Ward 1 Coun. Sandra Hollingsworth (chair)
  • Ward 4 Coun. Marchy Bruni
  • Ward 4 Coun. Rick Niro
  • Ward 5 Coun. Matthew Scott

Committee members met behind closed doors on Monday to be trained on carrying out their responsibilities.

The following is the procedure used at the Sault's dangerous dog hearings, which can ultimately result in an animals being euthanized:

The dangerous dog committee hears appeals from dog owners who are served with a notice of dangerous dog designation and has the authority to confirm the determination of a dangerous dog or rescind or substitute the determination.

In making the decision the committee may consider whether a dog was acting in self-defense when the alleged act occurred.

A dog may be subject to a notice of dangerous dog designation if, without provocation, it bit or attacked or chased or approached a person or domestic animal in a menacing fashion.

The committee’s decision is final.

1. appointment of chair

2. declaration of pecuniary interest

3. confirmation that parties who have registered to participate are in the meeting

4. clerk to confirm parties present

5. opening statement from the chair as to how the hearing will proceed

6. poundkeeper:

  • presents the notice of dangerous dog designation and a summary of events
  • committee members may question the poundkeeper to clarify any evidence presented
  • the dog owner (applicant) [or representative] may cross-examine the poundkeeper
  • the poundkeeper may call witnesses to provide evidence with respect to the proceeding
  • committee members may ask questions of witnesses called by the poundkeeper after committee members have asked questions of a witness, the applicant (or representative) may cross-examine the witness

7. applicant:

  • presents evidence with respect to the proceeding
  • committee members may question the applicant to clarify any evidence presented
  • the applicant (or representative) may call witnesses to provide evidence
  • committee members may ask questions of the witnesses called by the applicant (or representative)
  • the poundkeeper may ask questions of the applicant or their witnesses

8. recall of poundkeeper. After the presentation by the applicant the poundkeeper shall have an opportunity to respond to any new evidence raised by the applicant

9. review of documentation. Committee members will review and consider any documents regarding the proceeding which are submitted

10. Failure to attend. Where a notice of a hearing has been given to a party and the party does not attend the hearing, the committee may proceed in the absence of the party and the party is not entitled to any further notice

11. Decision:

  • the committee may announce its decision orally or reserve its decision
  • within 14 days of the hearing the committee will forward a written copy of its decision with reasons to the applicant and the poundkeeper
  • it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that the committee has accurate and current contact information necessary to serve the notice of decision.