By Janine du Plessis
The state has decided not to prosecute the owner of two dogs that severely mauled a gardener in Hartbeespoort until further investigations can take place.
Dampie Tladi, a 60-year-old gardener from Cosmos informal settlement, is recovering in intensive care at George Mukhari Hospital following the attack on Tuesday morning.
He has been working for the Steyn family for eight years. On Tuesday, he apparently got to work early and suffered an epileptic fit as he entered the premises.
The owner claims that the two Staffordshire bull terriers got a fright and attacked Tladi. He sustained damage to his eye, nose and lips and was bitten on his upper arm.
Riette Steyn was arrested on Wednesday on charges of keeping a vicious animal in a residential area.
However, after a meeting between her attorney, the police and a prosecutor at the Brits Magistrate's Court, it was decided Steyn would not be prosecuted until Tladi had recovered enough to give an affidavit.
Steyn, a breeder for 20 years, has four dogs on her property in Schoemansville.
The dogs are given turns to run around the property while the others are kept in their cages.
Three-year-old Judy and Macho attacked Tladi.
Johan van Greunen, Steyn's attorney, explained that there was no case at the moment. "There is no evidence to suggest that the aggression was out of the ordinary.
"(Tladi) has been working for them (the family) for eight years and this is the first incident in all that time. We are very shocked about the incident," he said.
He said no decision about the future of the dogs had been taken yet.
"The SPCA will decide about that. They will send someone out to look at the animals. I do not think anything will happen to them."
Tladi is in a terrible state at George Mukhari Hospital and will need extensive surgery to his face.
A spokesperson for the hospital, Nolo Bashe, said he was taking heavy pain medication and was very sleepy. "He cannot speak and has tubes assisting his breathing. He has severe injuries to his face. One eye is badly damaged, as well as the nose and lips. Part of his scalp was also bitten. His upper right arm has quite a number of bites.
"They are trying to stabilise him and relieve some of the pain. His blood pressure is being monitored. Once they have done that they can begin looking at surgery, but it will not happen right away," said Bashe.
She said they could not allow the media to see him as they had not found any next of kin and Tladi could not give consent himself.
On Wednesday morning Steyn was organising an official media statement and an animal behaviourist to test her dogs when the Hartbeespoort police arrived to take her to the station and then to the Magistrate's Court.
"(Tladi) has cared for these animals and they knew and loved him. He stays on the property when we go on holiday. He is on medication for his epilepsy, but he does not take it.
"I think it was because he came in earlier than usual at 6.30am and had a fit as he entered, which frightened the dogs. We were in the house and did not hear anything.
"He has had four fits before. The dogs normally bark at him because it is a terrible sight. He makes noises and foam comes out his mouth and this makes them nervous. I then lock the dogs up and call an ambulance," said Steyn.
She said her son had noticed something at the bottom of the garden and went to see what it was. Tladi's face was covered in blood and her son rushed to call the police and Netcare.
"We think the dogs stopped attacking when he stopped shaking because they were calm when we found him.
"I could not take it. I could not watch as the paramedics worked on him," said Steyn.
She said Tladi was an old man who could no longer work. "We gave him odd jobs around the house and gave him food and clothes. We looked after him. We worried about him," she said.
She said although she was relieved about the charges being dropped for now, she was worried about Tladi in hospital. "I keep phoning to find out how he is doing," said Steyn.
North West police spokesperson Constable Bontle Bophoko said police were still investigating.