Last month I lost my best friend.
For the last nine years Oscar and I lived in a back lane in Darlinghurst together with his brother Felix, another rescue pup. When Oscar was just eight weeks old I brought him home from the pound. Felix followed a few months later. Six years ago the Odd Couple famously attended the Lord Mayor’s Christmas party dressed as reindeer where they were the belles of the ball.
Earlier this year, Oscar wound up in the gossip section of the Sydney Morning Herald and his mug shot appeared in the Daily Telegraph after the controversial magistrate Pat O’Shane refused to overturn a City of Sydney declaration that he was “a dangerous dog.” The year-long trial against Oscar was mounted back in 2011 after a peculiar individual approached and taunted the two dogs while they were tied up opposite a bottle shop and their former step father was off buying grog.
Oscar was defended in court by the high profile barrister and former Deputy Lord Mayor, Dixie Coulton, who thought there were a number of grounds for appeal against O’Shane’s decision (including the fact that Council gave different locations for an alleged back lane biting incident; withheld evidence and did not allow me to call a single witness after a year-long trial).
Rather than launch a costly Supreme Court appeal, I instead applied to the City of Sydney seeking a review of its then-year-old dangerous dog declaration. In February (at Council’s request) I obtained a costly professional behavioural assessment of Oscar, which was prepared by Dr Kersti Seskel, Australia’s leading animal behaviourist, who categorically found Oscar was not a dangerous dog and did not pose a risk to the community.
In August Council ignored Dr Seskel’s report, instead recommending that Oscar still be considered dangerous. At a Council committee meeting City Councillors unanimously rejected an alternative report which had been prepared by Dr Robert Holmes, a Melbourne based behaviourist, who staggeringly claimed he could assess Oscar without ever coming face to face with him. Councillors demanded that a new behaviourist be obtained.
Three days before he died, the City flew yet another animal behaviourist up from Melbourne to assess Oscar. At council’s request I opened my house to Dr Gabrielle Carter, who spent three hours assessing Oscar as he lay calmly next to her on our family sofa. After asking me a barrage of questions about my family dog, she conducted a physical exam, slapping Oscar directly on his arthritic hip with such force that he fell down onto his belly in considerable pain. Dr Carter knew he had arthritis before she struck him.
The following Sunday night I rushed Oscar to the Sydney University Animal Hospital where the attending vet told me he was suffering from internal bleeding. X-rays revealed he had a ruptured cancerous spleen and that the cancer had moved into his lungs. He was dying and was in considerable pain. That night I held Oscar as he was euthanized and died in my arms. According to the vet, a sudden fall could have ruptured the swollen spleen.
In her report to council, Dr Carter found Oscar did not display any signs of anxiety, arousal or aggression. Unconvinced, last week, council once again listed the matter of Oscar the now dead dog in its committee papers. Despite the fact that no incidents involving Oscar had occurred in the two years since he was taunted in a back lane, the government bureaucrats were now proposing to retroactively declare Oscar as a “menacing dog” under new laws just enacted by the state government last month (explaining why council took a year to review Oscar’s appeal to council). As a “menacing dog” Oscar would still be muzzled and never allowed to romp with his brother Felix, if he were alive to worry about it.
On Monday 2 December, I addressed the City of Sydney Council committee meeting in response to their proposal to declare my dead dog “menacing,” saying, “Any politician or bureaucrat who seriously believes that muzzling a dog and keeping him on a lead at all times is humane should walk around wearing such a muzzle in public. Many ratepayers would approve. Laws controlling dangerous and menacing dogs were established to ensure that people do not breed, raise or keep vicious canines. They were not created to respond to petty squabbles between precious inner city dog owners or to protect crazy people who approach and provoke tethered dogs in back lanes. Council should only ever impose control orders, curtail civil liberties and threaten serious penalties in the most extreme circumstances.”
Talk about being hounded to death. Over the last year, the Lord Mayor’s own chief of staff, James Zanotto, has been seen outside my house on several occasions. Concerned that a political operative might be patrolling my house (instead of City rangers), I wrote to council seeking clarification several times. No one has ever denied that Mr Zanotto was checking to see if I was complying with orders placed against me and Oscar.
In mid August I told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I, for one, will not be muzzled.” Several weeks later Lord Mayor Clover Moore threatened to sue me personally for defamation. On 5 September, I published a report that a development application for a deck in Surry Hills might have been rejected because the applicant objected to a bike lane outside his house. Concerns that the office of the Lord Mayor might be used to pursue perceived political enemies are not mollified when the Lord Mayor’s chief of staff is seen to be actively patrolling the house of a local newspaper publisher. Needless to say I have not been invited to this year’s Town Hall Christmas party.
Lawrence Gibbons is the publisher of this newspaper