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'Does not get any more serious': Fine and pet prohibition in fatal Calgary dog attack

CALGARY — A man has been fined and prohibited from owning a pet for 15 years after his dogs attacked and killed an 86-year-old neighbour in Calgary.
Denis Bagaric leaves court following a sentencing hearing in Calgary on Monday, May 6, 2024. Bagaric earlier pleaded guilty to two bylaw charges after an elderly woman was mauled to death by his dog. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

CALGARY — A man has been fined and prohibited from owning a pet for 15 years after his dogs attacked and killed an 86-year-old neighbour in Calgary.

Betty Ann Williams was mauled in an alley on June 5, 2022, after Denis Bagaric’s three pit bulls escaped his fenced and gated backyard.

Bagaric earlier pleaded guilty to two city bylaw charges: an animal attacking a person causing severe injury and animals running at large.

"I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that all three dogs were involved in the attack. All three surrounded Ms. Williams before her plea for help, which made her escaping the situation all the more difficult," provincial court Justice Gord Wong said Monday.

"It just does not get any more serious."

Bagaric and his lawyer argued that only one of the three American Staffordshire dogs was involved in the attack.

The judge pointed to testimony from neighbour Nicola Opsal, who went to investigate when she heard dogs growling in the alley.

"She saw the three dogs over a body. She said the dogs were attacking the person's head. She said they were gnawing on the head," Wong said.

"There were significant injuries to the head and neck of Ms. Williams. The dogs were apprehended."

Wong imposed $18,000 in fines and victim surcharge.

"I have no information on how the dogs escaped the backyard. I have no information as to how the dogs would normally be secured. These are clearly powerful animals that need to be under control at all times," the judge said.

One of the dogs has been euthanized and the fate of the others is before a different court.

"To take no steps to euthanize all three immediately is irresponsible. (Bagaric) put his own wishes over the safety of the community," Wong said.

The judge also granted a request from the Crown to ban Bagaric from owning a pet for 15 years.

"Defence counsel suggests the accused is a responsible pet owner. I disagree with that characterization," Wong said.

"Quite frankly, I would have entertained a prohibition for a longer term if that had been asked for."

Bargaric and his lawyers left the courthouse as they were asked for comment.

"My lawyers said I can't talk," Bagaric said as he walked quickly down the street. "It's a really sad situation."

An independent review was conducted into the attack because it took 30 minutes for paramedics to respond to treat Williams.

The Health Quality Council of Alberta report said the initial 911 call was incorrectly coded to indicate the attack was not life-threatening, leading to the response time becoming twice as long as it should have been.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2024.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press