By Tina Comeau
A Yarmouth man who was not at home at the time one of his dogs attacked a Yarmouth woman last year will not be allowed to own or be in the possession of dogs for one year.
The ban is part of a 12-month probation order handed to Gary Joseph Woods on May 28 after he pleaded guilty to one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm stemming from a March 2011 dog attack. Woods has also been sentenced to serve an intermittent 90-day jail sentence on weekends.
Woods entered his guilty plea on what was to have been the first day of a three-day trial in Supreme Court. He was charged a couple of months after his dog Zeke attacked and seriously injured Yarmouth resident Noella McIntosh.
The dog was shot and killed by RCMP officers who arrived on the scene to help McIntosh.
At the time the charge was laid, the RCMP said the charge pertained to whether reasonable steps were taken to secure the dog that was involved in the incident.
On March 26, 2011, at approximately 4:30 p.m., the Yarmouth town RCMP responded to a 911 call of a person being attacked by a dog at 94 Main St.
“RCMP members attended the scene and witnessed a pitbull dog attacking the victim, Noella McIntosh’s face and neck,” said Crown attorney Josie McKinney, in reading the facts of the case during the sentencing. “Members fought with the dog to get it away from the victim. The dog remained aggressive towards members and was shot and killed by the police.”
In a statement, McIntosh said she had gone to Woods’ residence to get beer, something Woods had allowed her to do in the past. The Crown said she was permitted to enter on this date without having to notify Woods in advance.
“Noella McIntosh stated that she knocked on the door and when she opened the door to call out for Gary, the two pitbulls immediately attacked her,” said McKinney. “Gary Woods’ owned two pitbulls, their names were Zeke and Zena . . . On this particular date, Gary Woods had left the two dogs in the basement unkenneled, with the doors to the basement unlocked.”
There was a sign on the bottom basement door that said knock before coming in, noted the Crown. McKinney said while Woods never intended for his dogs to attack McIntosh, it would have been reasonable for him to expect that people would attend his home when he wasn’t there.
“He acknowledges that he should have kenneled the dogs, or locked the dogs or put up a sign advising people of the dogs, or some combination of that,” said McKinney.
The defence said it agreed with the facts that were read by the Crown.
While two dogs initially attacked McIntosh, only one dog continued to attack her outside the residence. McIntosh suffered extensive injuries that disfigured her face. She had significant tissue loss, deep injuries to her left leg, multiple puncture wounds and complications requiring a feeding tube to be inserted into her stomach. She also required over 900 stitches to close the open wounds.
McIntosh had been subpoenaed as a Crown witness for the trial but she was not present at the courthouse that morning. When asked by the judge if McIntosh was aware of the guilty plea, the Crown said her office had not been able to reach McIntosh and that she didn’t know what McIntosh’s interest was in the case at that point.
McKinney said McIntosh had been offered the opportunity during the court process to file a victim impact statement but she had not.
In a May 2011 interview with the Vanguard, at that time McIntosh had told this newspaper that she just wanted Woods to say he was sorry for what had happened to her.
As part of his 12-month probation order, Woods has been ordered by the court not to have any direct or indirect contact with McIntosh.
Although Woods has a criminal record, it is quite dated, with the most recent conviction about a decade ago for causing a disturbance.
Woods’ lawyer Matthew Fraser called what happened last year a terrible set of circumstances. He told the court his client is remorseful and that he regrets not having been there that day to handle his dogs.
“It wasn’t intentionally, as the Crown has pointed out,” said Fraser.
Supreme Court Justice Kevin Coady agreed.
“I am satisfied he would not have wanted this to happen,” Justice Coady said.
Woods’ intermittent sentence will begin each week at 6 p.m. on Friday, commencing June 1, and he will be released on Monday mornings. This will continue until his sentence is served.
When he is not in jail, he will be bound by a probation order.
Later in the day a hearing was held as the Crown was seeking permanent forfeiture of another dog owned by Woods. That application was denied in lieu of another option. (Read story here.)
Last year this court case had attracted a lot of community interest and outcry. Many people from the community attended Woods’ court appearances. People voiced concerns at town council meetings and held a community march. But in court on May 28, aside from the Crown witnesses that were in the courtroom, no one from the community showed up to watch the proceedings.
Asked for comment after his sentencing, Woods told this newspaper that justice is not fair. He said he has been mistreated many times by the law. Asked why, then, that he pleaded guilty as opposed to having his case heard at trial, Woods said, “It’s called getting it over with, I guess.”
“It’s unfortunate that it happened, I can’t change the facts,” he added, saying he has told McIntosh he was sorry.
“I’m not . . . a savage,” he said. He also referred to himself as a animal lover.
Woods said he has been threatened and harassed since the incident and has had his property damaged. He complained that he has been made out to be a villain.
“I had my dog for 10 years, not once had he bit anybody off the leash or on the leash,” said Woods.
But a Yarmouth man was bitten quite severely by his dog several years ago. Asked about that, Woods said that is because the man entered his home uninvited when the dog was inside.