Central Elgin council affirmed the Potentially Dangerous Dog Designation on Monday for “Moose,” a 145-pound Dane-Mastiff. The dog is accused of “bulldozing” Dennis Prance across a Port Stanley street as he tried to protect his 22-pound Cockapoo from the larger dog’s attack.
Two dogs and two people were involved in the incident: Murphy the cockapoo, owned and being walked by Mr. Prance; and Moose the Dane-Mastiff, owned by Erica Cheeseman and being walked by her mother.
“I was walking my dog (Murphy) home on the sidewalk,” said Mr. Prance, describing the December 2, 2022 incident. The Lincoln’s Cove resident was speaking at council’s dangerous dog hearing on Jan. 10, 2023. “We veered off onto the grass so that (Murphy) could do his business, and out of nowhere comes this big dog, Moose.
“He barked and he jumped on my dog (and Murphy) squealed louder than I have heard anyone squeal before. So, I jumped on (Moose) and pulled him back and jumped on my dog to cover it.
“Then the big dog came at me and I was trying to hold it back and it was bulldozing me across the street,” Mr. Prance continued. “After that, I was screaming profanities at (Erica’s) mother (who was walking Moose before he escaped her grasp), telling her to get control of the dog.
“Finally, at that point, she did (recover control of Moose) and then I told them to just go home, get lost, I don’t want to see that dog. I was in shock,” said Mr. Prance. “I didn’t know what was happening. You know, when you’ve got a (145-pound) dog on you, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Bylaw No. 0456 now requires Moose’s owner, Erica Cheeseman, to obtain and maintain $1-million in public liability insurance to cover any damage or injury the dog may cause. Moose must also be confined and secured when on home turf and muzzled when he leaves the Cheeseman property. Erica is the widow of Nick Cheeseman, who was killed last July when a sport utility vehicle collided with him while riding his motorcycle in Central Elgin.
“It’s been a very traumatic time for our entire family, my sister-in-law (Erica) and for Moose as well,” said Ryan Cheeseman, speaking on behalf of the family. He pointed out that Moose was muzzled at the time of the alleged attack. Moose is currently receiving “supplemental obedience training” and his trainer provided a letter stating “how he has shown zero aggressive behavior.” He also also suggested Mr. Prance’s admitted verbal abuse of Erica’s mother may have influenced Moose’s behaviour, and he accused Mr. Prance of allowing Murphy to stroll off leash in the local park.
“The largest take-away that I have … is that a conversation probably would have been greatly appreciated rather than my sister-in-law finding something taped to her door that was completely offensive and egregious,” added Mr. Cheeseman. “Had they come and reached out to Erica, Erica would have contacted them immediately and had that conversation.
“At this juncture, all we have is hearsay and an embellished story from the complainant,” Mr. Cheeseman continued. “We struggle to understand how one person’s take on an instance could lead to this, especially when this is anything but a dangerous dog.”
Mr. Prance’s wife Carla Nooren said the incident continues to haunt their household. She said she had to help Dennis and Murphy “get through that trauma – it was trauma.”
We have been very supportive as neighbors,” she continued. “We helped put that fence up for Moose. Our friend dug all the holes for the posts for that fence to help Moose and help Erica have a backyard where it’s safe. If it wasn’t for our neighbour – who warned Erica ‘you better put a muzzle on that dog’ weeks prior – I don’t know what would have happened.
“We don’t want anything to happen to Moose,” said Lauren. “We worry little kids walk their dogs in the neighborhood. People’s mothers, like Erica’s, walk their dogs. We were just concerned if we didn’t say something and something happened, it would be on us. We were just making sure that we were responsible neighbors.”
Councillors wrestled with the issue. Cr. Morgaine Halpin proposed rescinding Canine Control Officer Curtis Gremonprez’s “potentially dangerous” designation of Moose. But that motion lost on a 3-3 tied voted. Then Cr. Michelle Graham’s motion to affirm the designation also lost on a 3-3 draw.
“Any time I see a dog with a muzzle and weighs 140 pounds and can take out a grown man, that’s a dangerous dog, not potentially, that’s a dangerous dog in my mind,” said Ward 3 Councillor Norman Watson. He asked whether Moose’s designation could be revisited in the future. “It’s not like we’re going to put him down right now, we’re just labelling him. Right now, I feel that he is dangerous.”
However, Central Elgin Chief Administrative Officer and Clerk Paul Shipway said “there are legal reasons why you wouldn’t remove (the designation) afterward. This hearing is to present an opportunity to present mitigating factors. That’s council’s role, to consider if there were mitigating factors.”
Mr. Shipway said mitigating factors “could excuse aggression” such as: if a dog acted in defense of a person being attacked; if its pups were threatened; if another domesticated animal trespassed on its territory; if it was being teased, provoked, or tormented. “That’s verbatim from the bylaw,” he added.
“It seems as though the Cheesemans have taken as many measures as they reasonably can to manage their dog,” said Cr. Halpin. “Meanwhile, Murphy is a dog familiar to him because the owners did already know that name (Moose) and they are saying there have been other instances of aggression there. I don’t think we can rule out that Moose was feeling provoked. For now, we need to look at whether Moose seems more dangerous that the average large dog and whether Moose’s family is taking equal or less care than the average family to manage his behavior.”
Cr. David Connors said, “Typically, dogs have to be taught and if they’re not taught and they’re not schooled properly, they’ll behave like wild animals.
“I hope that the training is going to continue so that Moose gets the proper training and becomes obedient,” he added. “I have had dogs all my life. I kind of know what I’m talking about. I think the dog need to get some training and if that happens, there shouldn’t be a reason to designate him a potentially dangerous dog.”
The chairperson of the dangerous dog hearing, Deputy Mayor Todd Noble, was entertaining a motion to defer the matter to council’s Jan. 25 meeting, when Mayor Andrew Sloan joined the session. “Thank you very much. I’ve looked at the information. If the clerk wants to call the vote, I’d be glad to participate.” In the end, Mayor Sloan voted in favor of affirming the potentially dangerous dog designation.