On March 10, a dog living just outside Nelson city limits crossed into the city, entered Danka Merunka’s yard on Johnstone Road, and killed her dog.
She recalls hearing a commotion in her back yard and running outside to see her Havanese-Maltese dog Ryder being mauled.
“I tried to grab my dog,” Merunka told the Star. “I knew he was dead but I still didn’t believe it. Then the other dog [threatened] to attack me. I screamed, and my husband ran from the house and the dog was snarling at him, with open mouth, with blood on it.
“My husband threw rocks at it and it ran away. My dog was bleeding all over me.”
Merunka called the police and Nelson’s bylaw officer arrived, declared the attacking dog vicious under the city’s dog control bylaw, and fined the owner $150.
The officer ordered the dog muzzled within city limits. Outside the city, where the dog’s unidentified owner lives, the bylaw doesn’t apply.
“The dog owner was dealt with as best as our officer can under the bylaw,” Nelson’s police chief Paul Burkart told the Star. “The owners of the dog that was killed are unfortunately unhappy with that, but legally, we have done all that we can.”
Burkart said the bylaw officer “believed it to be a pit bull or similar breed.”
Merunka’s yard is almost entirely fenced. She said neither she nor any of her immediate neighbours had previously seen the dog that killed Merunka’s dog.
Nelson’s city boundary extends for a short distance north of the orange bridge, and Merunka’s is one of two houses on Johnstone Road within the city. Merunka said she knows the owner of the attacking dog lives several blocks away, outside the city, but doesn’t know his name.
She thinks the dog should be put down because she says its behaviour toward her and her husband before it ran away constitutes an attack on them. Burkart told the Star if a dog attacks a person he could apply to a court to have it put down, but he doesn’t think this situation qualifies.
“In our judgement this was not an attack on a person,” Burkart said. “Rather it was an attack on a dog. The protective behaviour showed by the dog after did not constitute an attack.”
Merunka reported the incident to the RCMP and received no response. Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey told the Star in an email that the incident happened within the jurisdiction of the Nelson police and therefore the RCMP would not be involved.
Meanwhile, Merunka is grieving the dog she describes as her best friend.
The Nelson bylaw officer contacted Pamela Guille, the Regional District of Central Kootenay’s dog control contractor, alerting her to the incident.
Guille administers the RDCK’s dog control bylaw, which states that all dog owners must keep their dog on a leash while not on the owner’s property, keep the dog confined so it cannot escape while it is on the owner’s property, and ensure the dog does not pursue or harass anyone or kill or injure a domestic animal.
The penalty is a fine of up to $500 per day. Guille didn’t fine the owner, and told the Star by email that she didn’t officially designate it a dangerous dog because it killed Merunka’s dog outside her jurisdiction.
But Guille placed some restrictions on the dog.
She told the owner “the dog should be contained to the property and when on public road and/or property, the dog has to be leashed and under control,” and she “advised the owner that the dog should be muzzled at all times when off the owner’s property.”
For Merunka, this is small consolation.
When her dog was killed she was preparing for cancer surgery within the next few days. Now she’s recovering, without her dog as emotional support, and she’s afraid to go into her yard.
“I am definitely a mess. I am psychologically drained, and every single part of the house and this town reminds me of my dog.”
Merunka said when her five grandchildren visit, she’s afraid to let them out of her house.
“This time my dog, next time somebody’s child.”
Neither Guille nor Burkart would release the attacking dog owner’s name to the Star.