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Dog owners descend on court as defense tries to blame vet for rottweiler attack

The defense for a Tauranga woman whose rottweiler attacked a veterinarian, leaving her with horrific arm injuries, is attempting to place the blame for the incident on the vet.

Helen Fraser is appearing in the Tauranga District Court for a judge-alone trial on a charge of owning a dog that caused a serious injury to a person.

Her dog, Chopper, bit the vet, Dr Liza Schneider​, on the arm when he was taken to her clinic, Holistic Vets, to be neutered on October 14, 2021.

The incident happened as Schneider greeted Fraser in the car park, while Fraser’s young son was holding Chopper on a lead.

Schneider was left with a fracture to her right arm as well as tendon, muscle and nerve damage. She had to have a plate inserted in her arm de ella and it was five months before she could return to full work duties. She still suffers pain and has permanent scarring.

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“I still can’t pick up some animals because of the pain associated with that,” she told the court.

Dog owners from around Tauranga and the North Island descended on the court prior to the hearing, many wearing “Free Chopper” t-shirts and holding signs.

Judge David Cameron barred many of them from entering the court, because he didn’t want witnesses to feel “intimidated”.

Chopper has been held at the Tauranga Pound since the attack, in conditions that Fraser and her supporters say are cruel and inhumane.

The charge that Fraser faces under the Dog Control Act is a strict liability offense which means her only defense is an absence of fault.

Natalie Picton, from Pukekohe, traveled to Tauranga to support Chopper.

Alan Gibson/Stuff

Natalie Picton, from Pukekohe, traveled to Tauranga to support Chopper.

The Tauranga City Council prosecutor, Nathan Speir, told the court that means the defense must prove Fraser took all reasonable steps to prevent the attack and there was “quite literally nothing else she could have done”.

Giving evidence, Schneider, a vet of 22 years originally from South Africa, said her staff had been advised that Chopper could be aggressive towards other animals and so Fraser had been asked to keep the animal in her car on arrival.

Schneider said she would assess Chopper’s demeanor and sedate him if necessary before taking him inside.

When she came outside, Schneider said, she was surprised to see Chopper outside the car, being held on a lead by Fraser’s young son.

Nina McGillicuddy at the Tauranga Court with her bulldogs.

Alan Gibson/Stuff

Nina McGillicuddy at the Tauranga Court with her bulldogs.

The vet said she walked towards Fraser to greet her, and when she was about 2m away from Chopper, he suddenly lunged at her and latched on to her arm. She managed to wriggle free after about 10 seconds and go inside.

She did not believe she had gotten too close to Chopper. “It would have been a safe space for most dogs,” she said.

Schneider said staff were told that Chopper was “lovely towards humans” and weren’t told that he could be anxious.

She said in the “vast majority” of cases a dog that was about to attack would show signs, such as growing or retreating, but “this dog did nothing, he just stood there”.

Fraser’s lawyer, James Carter, asked Schneider why, when she saw the scene in front of her, she didn’t ask Fraser to put the dog back in the car, or ask Fraser to come to her.

Schneider said she was concerned that Chopper might attack another patient animal as he was being led to the clinic, so she wanted to help escort him.

Helen Fraser has come to terms with the fact that Chopper might not ever come home, but she's battling for improved conditions at the pound.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Helen Fraser has come to terms with the fact that Chopper might not ever come home, but she’s battling for improved conditions at the pound.

Carter said there were “clearly” other options Schneider could have taken, rather than walking to within 2m of the dog.

Schneider disagreed.

“I was lunged at and there was nothing more I could do.”

She confirmed that her clinic had a “hazards register” that included advice on how to deal with potentially aggressive animals. All new staff were inducted as part of health and safety training.

“Safety is high on our list of priorities.”

The trial continues.

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