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'AK. Nädal': Who will be held accountable for Põltsamaa dog attack?

Dog. Illustrative photo.
Dog. Illustrative photo. Source: ERR

A little over a week ago, a young woman in Jõgeva County was attacked and severely injured by her neighbor's dogs. Both the police and Põltsamaa Municipality had been previously aware of problems with the dogs running loose and had even spoken repeatedly with their owner. ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera. Nädal" strove to find out who will be held accountable for the attack.

Even a week later, it's still difficult for Airi Sinimets, the owner of Välja Farm in Tammiku — a village located roughly between Põltsamaa and Jõgeva — to talk about the attack. Her 26-year-old daughter Sandra went out for a walk the night of November 12 when it happened.

"She saw right here on this field that the neighbor's dogs were loose," Sinimets explained. "And since we've had quite a lot of communication from [Põltsamaa Municipality] that we always have to document when these dogs are loose, and we've tried to take as many photos and videos as possible to prove that these dogs aren't in fact contained, then Sandra came here and started filming these dogs."

The victim's mother acknowledged that the dogs in question hadn't attacked a human prior to last Saturday's incident. "They have attacked our small dog twice, but this time they attacked a human," she added.

Sandra's partner called an ambulance and the police, and she was taken to Tartu, where she underwent operation.

"She'll heal, but all of this will take a very long time," Sinimets said.

Dogcatchers transported the attacking dog to an animal shelter, and both of the neighbor's dogs were euthanized on Monday. Police launched a criminal investigation into the negligent causing of serious health damage to the victim. Among other things, the owner of the dogs must be identified.

"Aktuaalne kaamera" attempted to get in touch with the owner of the neighboring farm, but they claimed they didn't know who the dogs belonged to and refused to provide any comment whatsoever.

According to Airi Sinimets, their conflict with their neighbor has been ongoing for years. It all began with the rental of some farmland, and then the neighbor's dog attacked her dog. Sinimets had repeatedly written to the police as well as a municipal supervision specialist already about the neighbor's loose Tibetan mastiff and German shepherd, who in turn had spoken with the dog owner on three separate occasions.

"We've been told that there's no misdemeanor procedure as no monetary damages have been caused," she said.

Tartu Police Department chief Andrus Reimaa said that they have not had to fend off a direct threat there, meaning that not a single dog attack has taken place there.

"And at that point it's set out in the Republic of Estonia that it's the local government who handles those problems," he highlighted.

Nonetheless, Reimaa didn't agree that the long arm of law enforcement falls short when it comes to problematic stray dogs; rather, he said it all depends on specific situations.

"We've become relatively tolerant as a society, and where do you draw the line on a stray dog, and are they a threat?" the police department chief continued. "Our duty as police officers is to fend off direct threats, and prevention on top of that as well. When it comes to pets, the preventive side at the moment is still that it's the direct responsibility of the local government to intervene."

Dog must be on enclosed property

Sandra's mother believes that the dog owner should be held accountable for what happened, but also blames the municipal supervision specialist who had maintained on site that the dogs posed an abstract risk, as the neighbor's dogs were always contained at the time.

Põltsamaa Municipality's supervision specialist Kaja Keskküla is currently on study leave, leaving the municipal mayor to comment in her stead.

"If those dogs were indeed on their own property at the time [of the attack], then legally speaking, there isn't actually anything the local government can do," Põltsamaa Municipal Mayor Karro Külanurm said. "Could something more have been done? True, perhaps, I don't know, voluntarily go check on a few animals once again."

Asked whether municipal leaders even have any authority to call dog owners to order, Külanurm replied that they actually don't.

"If these aren't stray dogs, then our options are limited," the municipal mayor claimed.

In light of the November 12 dog attack, whether some laws should be changed needs to be discussed further, said Minister of Rural Affairs Urmas Kruuse (Reform).

"If we look at various animal welfare laws and the Veterinary Act, they very clearly define that a dog must be on enclosed property, the owner must be held accountable for this, and how dogs must be in public spaces," Kruuse said. "Experts have said that dog training skills are on the decline in some respects."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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