A file picture of a pit bull. The Supreme Court of Appeal has confirmed owners are responsible if their dogs attack an innocent passerby.
A file picture of a pit bull. The Supreme Court of Appeal has confirmed owners are responsible if their dogs attack an innocent passerby.

Court shows its bite in dog mauling case

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Sep 15, 2020

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PET OWNERS, especially those with ferocious guard dogs that could harm innocent passers-by, have to take responsibility for their animals’ behaviour.

This was the message of five justices of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), who turned down the appeal of a man whose three mixed-breed pit bulls mauled a man so badly that he lost his arm.

The Eastern Cape High Court had previously ordered that the owner of the dogs was liable for the damages suffered by the man but, unhappy with this verdict, the dog owner turned to the Supreme Court.

Justice Malcolm Wallis, who wrote the judgment, said: “People are entitled to walk our streets without having to fear being attacked by dogs. Where such attacks occur, they should in most circumstances be able to look to the owner of the dog for recompense.”

The owner of the three dogs, Christiaan van Meyeren, claimed that someone tried to break into his home while he and his wife were not there and that the dogs had attacked the intruder.

Gerald Cloete, the man who was mauled by the dogs, said he had been walking past Van Meyeren’s house, minding his own business, pulling a trolley in which he collected refuse.

He denied having provoked the dogs in any way.

He told the court that he was pulled to the ground by the dogs which savaged him to such an extent that the neighbours who came to help thought he was dead.

The dogs were finally chased away when the police arrived at the scene and fired shots in their direction.

Cloete’s left arm had to be amputated due to the severity of his injuries.

Van Meyeren painted a different picture of his dogs, Mischka, Zeus and Coco.

He said they were house pets that slept on his son’s bed and were not vicious dogs. He could not explain how they got out of his property, as the gate was locked with two padlocks.

He claimed that someone had broken the locks in an attempt to break in.

The appeal judges, however, frowned upon this explanation.

Judge Wallis commented that many people in South Africa choose to own animals for companionship and protection. “That is their choice but responsibilities follow … animals can cause harm to people and property …”

The owner must be held liable for the harm. People cannot hide behind the high crime rate as an excuse if their dogs mauled an innocent person, he said.

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