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Book revisits legal fight to save Okanagan dog from death row

New book examines case behind Peachland canine Diesel being declared ‘a dangerous dog’

On March 11, 2011, a team comprised of two animal control officers and two RCMP members descended on Peachland resident Dave Smith’s home with a warrant to seize his dog, Diesel.

Smith’s subsequent legal fight to keep Diesel from being euthanized and ultimately see him adopted to another home was widely covered in the local media and became a seminal flashpoint in how the authorities deal with dangerous dog complaints.

Kelowna resident and animal advocate Helen Schiele took an interest in Smith’s case at the time.

Last year, the 82-year-old Schiele decided to do what she describes as take a break from writing letters on the environment and animal abuse issues to local newspapers and to write and self-publish a book about the trial after learning of Smith’s death last year.

The end result is her self-published new book, Diesel: Four Days to Kill a Dog “On a Balance of Probabilities”.

Schiele contends her review outlined in the book of the evidence introduced in the provincial and B.C. Supreme Court trials along with the actions of those involved showcases how Smith was mistreated.

While animal control officers responded to numerous complaints against Diesel for aggressive behaviour, Smith contended those complaints were never properly investigated.

Since 2006, neighbours on and near Witt Place in Peachland had complained about Diesel, saying the dog chased cats up trees, attacked other pups and jumped on people.

After losing his case in provincial court, Smith appealed to the BC Supreme Court where the verdict was upheld, but rather than being euthanized he won the argument to have Diesel adopted out to another home, a compromise that spared Diesel from canine death row but left Smith personally devastated.

READ MORE: Judge spares Diesel the dog’s life but refuses to send him back to his owner

While the German shepherd-rottweiler cross had an intimidating presence, Smith argued Diesel was not a dangerous dog, but the courts did not agree.

During the lengthy court process, Diesel remained in the regional district dog pound, confined to a 32-square-foot cage for almost two years as his fate was argued out in the courts.

Diesel was given two 15-minute breaks in an open space daily and was allowed one visit with Smith once a week.

The case cost the regional district nearly $100,000 in legal costs and boarding fees, while Smith represented himself in the court proceedings.

Schiele is convinced that the period in captivity broke the spirit of Diesel, and Smith, who died last year, was a broken man in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s appeal decision.

“Having known him through our common battle to save our dogs from destruction, and having known him after his loss, I think our community owes the man a profound debt of gratitude for sparking community outrage and creating a change in a system that failed miserably,” wrote Karen Stewe, an advocate for amending B.C.’s dangerous dog law in the concluding chapter of Schiele’s book.

Schiele’s book is available at Mosaic Books in downtown Kelowna.

READ MORE: Community plans to rally for Lake Country dog, Shadow

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Helen Schiele

Helen Schiele