A Toronto woman has lost her bid to save her seven-year-old German shepherd-Rottweiler mix from being declared a dangerous dog — one year after he badly bit a neighbour who’d been hired to walk him.
“I’m very disappointed,” said Sarah Soobram, after she defended Bruno, her seven-year-old pet, at Tuesday’s hearing.
“But this doesn’t change anything for Bruno. He’s still a good, sweet dog. So I’m not worried.”
The case was heard by the city’s dangerous dog review tribunal — a relatively new entity at city hall. For years, complaints about potentially dangerous animals were heard by a panel of city hall staffers assembled by Toronto Animal Services (TAS).
But a couple of years ago, council decided that private citizens should be the judges in such cases, and formed the tribunal, which is made up entirely of members of the public. It’s first meeting was held in May, 2019.
The case put the tribunal in the unusual position of arguing against TAS — then later agreeing that Bruno does indeed fit the dangerous dog criteria.
The ruling was delivered without reasons, which the tribunal is expected to deliver within 15 days.
It means Bruno is banned from off-leash parks, and must be micro-chipped, trained and muzzled in public. All of these conditions have already been met, Soobram told CBC Toronto.
Bruno is also the subject of a $200,000 civil suit launched against Soobram by Ana Maria Ramos, the woman Bruno bit during an encounter in the entrance to Soobram’s Halsey Avenue apartment in January, 2019.
The attack was “just traumatic,” Ramos said.
“Living in the same building with her makes it harder for me because when I see the dog, the memory of the trauma hits me again.”
Ramos, who lives one floor above Soobram, had come to her neighbour’s apartment that day to take up new duties as Bruno’s part-time walker, the tribunal heard Tuesday.
The dog was barking and agitated, the tribunal was told. But what happened next is the subject of controversy.
Soobram maintains she was struggling with the dog’s leash and winter jacket, and that Ramos was threatening the animal by waving her hand in his face and demanding that he stop barking.
That’s when Bruno attacked in self-defence, Soobram maintained, seriously biting Ramos’s wrist and finger.
That version is in stark contrast to Ramos’s version of events.
She said she merely wagged a finger at Bruno once from about three feet away, and told him to be quiet, at which point he lunged at her. She says she was knocked backward as the dog bit her wrist and finger.
In February of 2019, Toronto Animal Services agreed with Ramos’s story and issued a dangerous dog order against Bruno.
But Soobram appealed that order and last September, after hearing from Terry Green, a former police officer and dog trainer hired by Soobram, the tribunal agreed that Bruno had been acting in self defence, and rescinded the dangerous dog order.
That’s when Toronto Animal Services asked for a review, arguing in a letter to the panel that “these bites are serious. The dog has insufficient bite inhibition and is dangerous and witnesses for both parties agreed that ongoing muzzling, which can only be required by an upheld order to comply, should occur.”
Civil suit is next
At Tuesday’s hearing, the panel for the first time heard from both Bruno’s owner, who suggested money is behind Ramos’s complaint, and from Ramos.
In her civil suit against Soobram, Ramos maintains that in addition to her physical injuries, “she received a severe shock to her system resulting in symptoms consistent with an emotional behavioural disorder.”
According to documents shown to CBC Toronto, the suit claims $200,000 in damages plus court costs.
Ramos maintains that her decision to speak at Tuesday’s hearing had nothing to do with her lawsuit.
She told the tribunal she’s more interested in maintaining public safety.