An Edgemont woman is seeking accountability after her beloved mini goldendoodle Lucy was attacked and killed by an off-leash dog, despite the District of North Vancouver receiving complaints about the aggressive dog before the fatal attack.
The incident happened on Aug. 18 when Shirley Friesen and her daughter were walking Lucy on Sunset Boulevard near Bedford Court. Friesen heard someone yell out “Pick up your dog” and she turned to see a dog she believes was a pit bull barreling down on her.
“I don't know if it pushed me over or if I fell but the next thing I know, I was holding onto my dog and the other dog had her in its mouth,” she said.
Eventually, the attacking dog let go and left, but Lucy was bleeding badly. They got her to a North Shore vet but, with multiple punctures and broken ribs, injured lungs, and skin torn from the muscle across much of her back, the vet said Lucy would need emergency surgery with a trauma team in Vancouver, and they best they could do is stabilize her. They sourced a portable oxygen tank and the vet drove them over town.
Lucy survived the four-hour surgery and made it through the night. They were hoping for a full recovery but while on her way to visit Lucy on Aug. 23, Friesen received a call from the vet saying Lucy had gone into cardiac arrest and died.
“She just couldn't survive the trauma,” Friesen said, in tears.
The vet bills came to almost $20,000, which Friesen had to pay out of pocket.
It was then she pursued the matter with the RCMP and the District of North Vancouver’s bylaw officers and learned the dog, and others from the same Edgemont Boulevard property, have a long history of complaints against them.
“We found out that it wasn't the first attack. And that these dogs are running loose, not infrequently. … They talked to the RCMP, they knew who the dog was, they knew who the owner was, they sent me a picture [of the dog],” she said. “The more I talked to them, the more I realized that they actually were not doing anything to keep me safe, to help me in any way. They were actually just trying to cover their own ass.”
At the very least, the community should have been warned, Friesen said, or the dangerous dog should have been removed from the community.
Friesen said she would like to sue the dog’s owner to attempt to recover those costs, but the district will not give her the name of the owner, which will likely require a court order to obtain. Friesen said she has rejected offers for a crowdfunding campaign.
“I can't afford this but I certainly don't want to take anybody else's money. It's not right. The people that are responsible need to pay for this,” she said.
Friesen’s daughter Ruby Violette wrote directly to the mayor to underscore the trauma they now live with.
“I no longer feel safe walking in my own neighbourhood and I am disheartened that [the dog’s] owners have not been held accountable in any way," she wrote. "At the very least, there should be warning signs posted around the house warning passers by of the danger; and at most, any dogs in that household should be seized and taken to a humane shelter,” she wrote. “I am extremely disappointed in the way officials have handled the situation and I urge you to take action immediately rather than waiting for a child to be hurt.”
In a statement, district staff say the investigation into the attack is still ongoing and many of the details remain confidential. Although there was some confusion and conflicting information about which dog was responsible, staff did seize a dog on Aug. 18 that they believe is the right one and the owner will face bylaw enforcement.
“We are aware there are comments of dog bites that may not have been reported to us,” said Carol Walker, DNV's chief bylaw officer. “Officers had conducted a thorough canvass in the neighbourhood for witnesses, obtained many statements and reviewed all related district records. This is a painful time for the owners and we continue to support them.”
In some cases, dogs deemed “aggressive” by the district can be released with a special licence that comes with a series of strict conditions, including mandatory muzzling anytime the dog is off their owners’ property and $1-million in liability insurance coverage for the owner.
As of Monday, the seized dog’s owners had not yet come forward to claim it, but they had been made aware of the bylaw requirements, according to the district. If the dog is deemed abandoned or surrendered to the district, they may seek a court order to have it destroyed, the statement said.
Beyond the issues about the dogs, the district has received many other public safety complaints about the property where it was living. On the site is a 1951 four-plex designed by West Coast Modern master Fred Hollingsworth, although it has fallen into terrible disrepair. Last summer, district council was asked to consider a heritage revitalization agreement from a developer that would have seen the four-plex restored and given permanent heritage protection in exchange for permission to build up to 33 rowhouses on the property. Council, however, showed little interest.
Meanwhile, Friesen and her family are left to mourn Lucy, who she described as never losing her puppyish disposition, despite being 10 years old.
“She was everything to us,” Friesen said, crediting Lucy with getting them through the hardest days of the pandemic. “There was just always that joy in the house with her here and now that she's not, it's just... it's unbearable.”