Trevor is a dangerous dog: veterinarian

By Vince Fedoroff on September 22, 2009 at 2:20 pm

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Photo by Vince Fedoroff

Trevor, the German shepherd-Rottweiler who has become the poster pet for animal lovers in the Yukon and beyond, is a dangerous dog and always will be, according to the behaviour specialist hired to assess him.

Veterinarian Dr. Shelley Breadner was hired jointly by the City of Whitehorse and the Humane SocietyYukon to assess the possibility of rehabilitating the dog.

Breadner came to the territory following a Yukon Supreme Court hearing between the humane society and the city over whether the dog should be put down because he bit at least two people.

Trevor came to the city after the second and most severe bite, when the people who had adopted him from the humane society took him to the city pound rather than returning him to the shelter.

They said they thought the shelter would likely try to adopt the dog out again and might not tell the new owners about his history of aggression.

At the close of the hearing, Justice Randall Wong ordered the parties to hire a behaviour specialist who would decide whether the dog could be rehabilitated and, if so, create a rehabilitation plan. The humane society would then be in charge of implementing the plan.

If the vet found the dog could not be reformed from his biting ways, the city would be responsible for putting him down under the provisions of the Animal Control Bylaw, the judge ordered.

Although Breadner’s report is not positive, it does not clearly answer the question either way.

“I would deem Trevor to be a dangerous dog,” Breadner wrote.

He perceives conflict where there is none, his interest in humans is purely “investigative” and never friendly, he does not respond to his name and will obey commands only when there is a food reward offered, she found.

He eats quickly and with intensity, although he does not respond aggressively if the food dish is taken away.

He has poor social skills, she said, and does not display signs of canine friendliness such as tail-wagging, eye contact or “dog smiles.”

During the one-day assessment, Trevor gave the vet two “level two” bites, bites which did not break the skin.

One occurred when the vet touched Trevor’s shoulder, after trying to get his attention first by calling his name then by tugging gently on his leash.

The second came when she stroked first his ear, then his cheek – attempting to make eye contact all the while – then touched his lip.

The final, and most ironic, act of aggression came toward the end of the assessment.

Mike Grieco, one of the people who has vigorously advocated for Trevor through near-weekly letters to the Star, arrived at the animal shelter to visit the dog.

Trevor ignored his patron as Grieco greeted the humans in the room but when Grieco went to pat the dog, Trevor became confrontational.

He took an aggressive body posture and curled his lips back to expose his teeth, Breadner reported. When Grieco backed away, the dog lunged at him, but was held back by the dog handler.

This was the most extreme and troubling act of aggression, Breadner said, largely because it was directed toward a person whom Trevor was familiar with and was completely unprovoked.

“These behaviours are a lifetime condition,” Breadner said. “If he perceives a conflict, he will react aggressively…. He must be under 100-per-cent control at all times.”

She went on to outline the conditions Trevor must exist under if he is to live.

Breadner said the dog must always be on a short leash with a muzzle when in public.

Wherever he lives must have a fenced yard, and the dog can only be in that yard with his owner; otherwise, he must be inside at all times.

He cannot be allowed off the leash around children or other dogs. As far as training him goes, the vet said to avoid “dog-whisperer type” methods as they will only aggravate his condition.

As city lawyer Lori Lavoie pointed out, nowhere in the report does Breadner say there is a chance of rehabilitating the dog.

“Dr. Breadner has concluded that her response is in the negative,” she said. “The steps she lays out are not about training but about public safety.”

Speaking on behalf of the humane society, Rachel Westfall objected to Breadner’s report. She said it doesn’t focus on any of the positive aspects of Trevor’s attitude, such as sniffing and licking people’s hands.

The vet said that is not necessarily friendly behaviour, especially when it is not accompanied with tail wagging. Licking, she said, is a way of investigating and asserting dominance.

The report was presented to Justice Ronald Veale yesterday.

Though he agreed with Lavoie that the doctor’s assessment was clearly negative, he said it did not definitively answer the question posed by the first court order.

Rather than try to divine her meaning, the city and the humane society should simply call Breadner and ask for the answer in front of the court, the judge concluded.

Veale extended Trevor’s stay of execution until Breadner can appear before the court, via telephone or teleconference.