An animal lover who was sold an ‘American bulldog’ puppy two years ago by a cowboy breeder burst into tears after she was ordered to have it destroyed when police revealed it to be a banned pit bull terrier.
Sophie Vallance, 22, was arrested and charged for being in possession of a banned breed of dog after her pet dog Sharker was impounded for escaping from her home.
Although Sharker, three, has no history of aggression and has not bitten or attacked anybody, a police animal expert concluded it was a ‘danger to public safety’ after the dog growled at him whilst he was examining it in kennels.
At Sefton Magistrates’ Court, Miss Vallance of Norris Green, Liverpool, pleaded with magistrates to spare Sharker and provided an expert report which emphasised the dog had not attempted to nip or bite – but she burst into tears when told the animal would be put to sleep.
She was also fined £54, and ordered to pay £1,500 towards the Merseyside Police kennel costs plus £662 in prosecution costs
Animal lover Sophie Vallance (left), 22, who was sold an ‘American bulldog’ puppy Sharker (right) two years ago by a cowboy breeder burst into tears after she was ordered to have it destroyed after police revealed it to be a banned pit bull terrier
Shaker shortly after Miss Vallance acquired him around three years ago
Sharker has been housed at police kennels since the incident nine months ago at a cost of £3,348.
After the ruling Miss Vallance said she will appeal the destruction order and added: ‘Sharker is not aggressive one bit. He is still a baby and only a puppy and is just playful. How would the magistrates feel if they had their dog seized off them and taken away to kennels away from his family.
‘Then there is all these strangers going in to examine Sharker and back him into a corner. Of course, he’s going to be scared. I’d be scared if it was me.’
She added: ‘On the day of the incident Sharker was literally outside the front door and just barking and wagging his tail. He was not doing nothing wrong. He was excited, he wanted to play. By the time the police came out to the address he was back inside.
‘The first police that came out said he was great and they didn’t feel the need to take the dog away and the dog could stay at his home. Then the dog police came out about an hour later and said he’s got characteristics of a pit bull so they took him.
‘Other professionals that were dealing with him were giving good reports about Sharker saying he wasn’t showing any signs of aggression. In fact they said Sharker was depressed in the kennels and the best thing was for him to be home with his owners.
‘Then in court it’s been presented as a completely different story. I was not expecting it at all. I thought it was going to be the end of it all today and I was going to get my dog back and it was nothing like that. It’s stupid and it’s ridiculous.’
Sophie Vallance (centre) looking tearful outside court with stepmother Lisa Quarton (left), and father Craig Vallance (right)
Although Sharker (pictured), three, has no history of aggression and has not bitten or attacked anybody, a police animal expert concluded it was a ‘danger to public safety’ after the dog growled at him whilst he was examining it in kennels
Earlier prosecutor Robert Earl, said: ‘At 2.30pm on June 15, 2023, officers were called to attend to the area of Monksdown Primary School, Norris Green in response to a 999 report of a large dog running in the street. The caller said it was “off its head”.
‘Upon arrival the officer located the dog nearby at the property of the defendant’s stepfather who had calmed it down and had taken it into the family home. The dog was in the front room and barking but was showing no aggression and was relatively friendly.
‘The police officer identified the dog initially as an XL bully but it is in fact a Pit Bull. An assessment was later carried out by a specialist who identified the dog as having characteristics of a Pit Bull and therefore classed as a banned breed.
‘In terms of the dog itself there is no suggestion that it attacked anybody or was aggressive to anybody. It was just running around. But it is a banned breed and the starting point is that it is destroyed.’
Stuart Davidson, Merseyside Police Dog Legislation Officer, told the hearing: ‘The dog was displaying nervous aggressive behaviour. It was nervy when I approached it and it backed off and growled. The dog has a fight or flight mode. If the dog is pushed into a corner it only has a couple of options open to it. It stays as it is or nips to get away.’
He said he did not approach the dog any further to avoid a possible ‘incident’ and said he considered the dog as ‘dangerous’.
During a second assessment carried out with vet Mr Davidson added: ‘The dog was transported to a neutral area for the assessment to take place mainly for security reasons but also to have a neutral environment so the dog should be displaying natural behaviours.
‘The dog was slow to trust and stood well back within the transport, showing the dog was nervous. It took 10 to 15 minutes to accept the presence of the persons during the examination. It was basically stopped prior to any incident being caused.’
After the ruling Miss Vallance said she will appeal the destruction order, saying: ‘Sharker is not aggressive one bit. He is still a baby and only a puppy and is just playful’
The vet’s report said: ‘The dog was slow to trust, standing well back in the transport van with its ears back. It accepted the lead with some reluctance but behaved well on the lead.’
Miss Vallance’s lawyer Keith Webster urged JPs to pass ‘contingency destruction order’ which would allow Sharker to be placed on a Government exemption list with strict conditions the dog is muzzled and kept on a lead in public.
He said: ‘She got the dog two years ago via a private sale and it was sold to her as an American bulldog. On the day in question the dog broke free of the house because the front door was open and the dog which normally resides at the back of the house broke free.
‘It got out of the house but was at large for no longer than two minutes. It is right to say the address at the time was opposite the school but t occurred at a time when there was no pick up or drop-off of the children.
‘The dog came to the attention of police because someone rang the police to say there was a dog running around barking but Miss Vallance’s stepfather calmed the dog and it came in immediately.
‘This is a dog with no record as indeed is Miss Vallance who is therefore a person who is deemed to be a fit and proper to look after a dog. The dog was chipped after being purchased, was lead trained and was beginning its program in muzzle training.
‘It has not actually done anything to anybody. It has barked and shown aggression through reluctance but not attempted to nip anybody. I fear that you are about to destroy a dog that has not shown such an act.’
But in ordering Sharker to be destroyed, JP Bernice Balmer said: ‘We are going by the only expert we have heard who has done an assessment of the dog. It was categorically stated that the dog was considered a danger to public safety and therefore we make a destruction order on Sharkey.’