A man’s heart-felt apology, delivered from the dock at his sentencing, helped to keep him out of prison as the owner of a “menacing” dog that savaged a 10-year-old boy.
“I want to apologise to the family for what my dog has done,” said 29-year-old Tairawhiti Robinson. “I’m very sorry. I don’t know what else to say, eh?”
“I am very sorry to the boy for what my dog has done to him. I hope you fellas accept this apology from me,” he said after hearing the victim impact statements.
“Thank you, Your Honour,” he said to Christchurch District Court Judge Stephen O’Driscoll and the sentencing then went ahead.
Robinson was wiping his eyes as the judge described the details of the October 15, 2015, attack in Wainoni, by his family pet, Kale.
Robinson had admitted a charge of being the owner of a dog that caused serious injury, after initially denying the charge. He pleaded guilty last year and was remanded for sentence.
Prosecutor Heather McKenzie the judge was entitled to take into account the seriousness of the injury to the boy – now aged 13 – in setting the sentence. The injury was having ongoing effects on the victim and his family.
Defence counsel Bridget Ayrey said a community work sentence was appropriate. Robinson made no attempt to minimise the effects on the child and his family.
After the tan and white American pitbull terrier cross had been classified as menacing in a notice from the city council, he had mitigated the risk on his own property by raising the height of the fence.
On the day of the attack, he could only think that a side garage door had been left open, and the dog had made its way out through the garage.
The dog had been a family pet which had never shown aggression, but when it had been found after the attack it had immediately been surrendered to be euthanised.
She said Robinson had genuine remorse and had no intention of owning another dog in the near future. He was willing to pay as best he could for the victim’s family’s financial costs, and to repay his debt to the community through community work.
Judge O’Driscoll said the dog had been classified as menacing and Robinson had a clear obligation to ensure it was under control at all times and not in a position to attack anyone.
The boy had been playing at a relative’s home in the same street as Robinson and had climbed on top of a fence before the dog attacked, biting him on the right thigh. The boy needed two surgeries, with over 100 stitches, and the scarring would remain for the rest of his life.
The boy’s mother said she had noticed a change in his behaviour. He was conscious of the scar, which was understandable. It had been a traumatic, stressful, and upsetting time for the whole family.
Judge O’Driscoll described the victim as “a brave young man”.
He said that because Robinson had shown empathy and remorse, had been co-operative with the authorities, consented to the euthanising of the dog, and had offered to pay reparation, a prison term was not needed.
But he had to consider imprisonment to deter other dog owners, to ensure they were more rigorous in their supervision and control of their animals.
The interests of the victim could be met by a sentence of community work and reparation orders, he said. He imposed 275 hours of community work, and emotional harm reparations totalling $5000 to the boy and his family, as well as reimbursement of treatment expenses of $529.
He hoped that Robinson would begin the reparations payments to the family as soon as he got a job.