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Ontario councillor reports a dog attack. Now animal advocates are


For several weeks after being attacked by a dog while campaigning in this year’s municipal election, St. Catharines city councillor Joe Kushner says he felt support and sympathy from members of the community.

Recently, more than two months after the incident, Kushner says he’s received an onslaught of emails – and some phone calls – accusing him of corruption and of trying to have the dog put down.

“Until [recently], I was getting a lot of people who were concerned with my welfare,” said Kushner, who says he was bitten three times after a large dog jumped on him while he was door-knocking in early October.

“People were coming up to me on the street expressing sympathies, and also telling me about their experiences with dogs biting them.”

Suddenly, things shifted.

One day in late November he began receiving what would end up to be more than 100 emails from people upset that the dog, Rocky, was being held by the Lincoln County Humane Society (LCHS), after the dog was ordered to be removed from the owners. A court hearing was coming up that could determine the dog’s fate, and someone connected with the dog’s owner had created a Change.org petition that was gaining traction. 

The humane society says Rocky, who is a large-size American Alsatian, has bitten several other people in the past and is an “aggressive” dog. Those participating in the petition campaign disagree.

A headshot of a man in a suit.
St. Catharines councillor Joe Kushner says did not see the dog before it jumped on him. (City of St. Catharines)

“Today I’ve had three telephone calls: two were obscene, one was by a lady at 1 o’clock in the morning,” Kushner told CBC Hamilton, one day in late November. “They used very vulgar language, saying that I am a fragile old man, that type of thing. [They said I am] a disgrace to being a city councillor.”

‘My shoulder still gives me pain,’ says councillor

Kushner says he was canvassing on Strada Boulevard with his two adult daughters Oct. 2 when a large dog lunged at him and knocked him on his back. He says he tried to kick the dog away while the dog bit him in the ankle and thigh, and that the dog’s owner eventually pulled the dog away. 

“I must have been in shock because I handed him one of my election brochures,” Kushner told CBC Hamilton. 

He says he sustained three bites and a shoulder injury from the fall. After seeking medical attention, he says he received a tetanus shot and antibiotics.

Three photos of dog bites on a leg
Joe Kushner says the dog bit him three times in different parts of his leg. (Supplied by Lincoln County Humane Society)

“My leg has healed extremely well but my shoulder still gives me pain,” he said.

The dog’s owners, Mark and Alba Kotyk, declined to comment, directing CBC to speak with paralegal David Marynuik, who did not respond to CBC’s inquiries. 

However, in emails between Mark and Diane Hines, the petition’s creator, Mark alleges Kushner has “omitted a lot, exaggerated a lot and downright lied about what happened” in past media reports.

Hines shared the emails with CBC.

According to his account in the emails, Mark says Kushner fell on his back in front of his house that day, “well out of the reach of Rocky.” 

Kushner says he gave a statement to the police after the attack. While Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) Const. Barry Ravenek wouldn’t identify people involved, he did confirm to CBC Hamilton that officers were called to the area just before noon that day for an animal complaint. 

“The individual sustained minor injuries,” said Ravenek in an email. “The dog was determined to have been in the front yard at the time and was tethered and confined to the property. No arrests or charges have been laid by the NRPS. The investigation has been turned over to the Lincoln County Humane Society.”

Dog’s past victims include 11-year-old girl, says humane society

Kevin Strooband, executive director of the LCHS, says the agency’s records show Rocky has bitten two other people in the past, and that the dog’s supporters reference a fourth attack he was previously unaware of in the online petition.

One of the victims LCHS has a record of was an 11-year-old girl from the neighbourhood, who was chased down by an off-leash Rocky in 2019, pushed down and bitten on the back of her leg, above the knee. The girl required stitches, according to the statement her mother made to the humane society.

White skin with a very gnarly dog bite
The humane society says a girl attacked by the same dog required stitches for bites on the back of her leg above the knee. (Supplied by the Lincoln County Humane Society)

Strooband says as a result, the dog’s owner was convicted of allowing a dog to run at large and charged a fine.

Local police say they turned over Kushner’s case to the LCHS, after he called police to report the incident.

Strooband then ordered that Rocky be held by the humane society and the organization launched legal proceedings through the Dog Owners’ Liability Act in order to determine Rocky’s fate. Possibilities include an order to euthanize the dog or his return with stipulations for the owners.

 He says a Justice of the Peace has ordered the organization to hold the dog until further directed by the courts. 

“The LCHS had no authority to release the dog, until further directed by a Justice of the Peace,” Strooband says, a fact the many people emailing the organization asking it to set Rocky free appear unaware of, he added. “This is completely out of our hands.”

Animal welfare group says dog has mobility issues

Hines’ online petition, titled “Please Help Save Rocky’s Life!” has been signed more than 16,000 times as of Thursday. Hines, who runs a hospice for old and sick animals, shared emails with CBC that show Rocky’s owners came to her for help in getting word out about the situation.

A newer petition related to the case, titled “Do not allow Rocky to be killed – he’s innocent” created by an Ontario group called Reform Advocates for Animal Welfare has received more than 7,000 signatures. It describes Rocky as “a sweet, elderly, 10-year-old dog who suffers from hypothyroidism and has mobility issues.” That petition claims Rocky knocked the councillor down but didn’t hurt him.

Hines says that while she wasn’t there and didn’t see what happened, she feels certain that Kushner and Strooband are colluding to have the dog put down.

“This is an extreme abuse of power,” she told CBC Hamilton, though she didn’t offer any evidence of such abuse. 

Kushner says many of the comments he has received by email allege he is using his council position to pressure the court in an effort to put the dog down.

He says he not been involved with the case since filing the police report. “I don’t have that influence and I don’t try to have that influence,” he said.

Rocky’s case comes to court next on Thursday. Strooband says a deal could be made outside of court that could allow for the dog’s release, or the court could set a date for a hearing, which “would be almost certainly in the new year.” 

He adds that despite the furor, he has no regrets about ordering the dog to be removed from its owners.

“It’s a danger to the community,” he said. “If it bit somebody else, there would be 13,000 signatures calling for my head.”



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