Court says owner of pit bulls that bit cyclist must pay damages

A brown pit bull. Picture: File

A brown pit bull. Picture: File

Published Sep 29, 2023


Pretoria - The owner of two pit bull dogs which bit a passing cyclist will have to own up and pay damages, the High Court sitting in Bloemfontein ordered.

Bongani Tshabalala turned to court following his nightmare ordeal shortly before midnight on August 21, 2021. He was travelling home at the time after work in Bethlehem.

It is not disputed that the incident occurred, but the owner of the dogs, Thabo Moekoena, denied that it was his dogs that bit the plaintiff, as his property is fenced in, and his dogs cannot escape from the property.

Tshabalala testified that he saw two dogs in front of a house. As he passed them, they chased after him and attacked him.

He fell from his bicycle and managed to get hold of the collar of the brown dog depicted in a picture which he handed to court. However, he could not fend off the attack and suffered injuries to his lower left leg and calf, right arm, right ear, and right foot.

The attack was stopped when members of the public intervened and chased the dogs away.

He was taken to hospital, where he remained for 12 days.

After his release from hospital, Tshabalala approached the community to try to determine whose dogs had bitten him. They informed him that the SPCA took one of the dogs into its care after the attack.

Tshabalala was then assisted by an employee of the SPCA, who helped him to identify the owner of the dog. The worker also took pictures of the dog, which were handed to court.

Tshabalala identified the one dog that attacked him from the photo taken – a brown dog with a leather collar with metal studs. The picture of the other dog which had attacked him was obtained from Facebook by the plaintiff.

The SPCA worker, a Mr Motloung, said he knew the owner of the dogs as he had assisted him eight days before the incident to take one of the dogs to the vet to be neutered.

He was requested to assist, as the defendant could not manage the dog by himself.

He had to use a catching pole, as the dog was aggressive.

The dog shown in Exhibit A was identified by Motloung, as the dog he took to the vet and the dog he rescued after the attack.

Motloung testified that the dog wore the same brown leather collar with metal studs as shown in the picture, when he took it to the vet.

He said the defendant also had another pit bull at his property when he assisted with the brown dog.

After the biting incident, the defendant called him and requested his assistance to look for both dogs, as they escaped from his premises.

Motloung testified that the defendant told him that somebody left the gate open and that both his dogs escaped.

He meanwhile received a call from the community to assist with the rescue of a dog. The community wanted to kill the dog because it attacked a person the previous evening.

On his arrival, he took the dog to the local shelter. He identified the dog he took into his care, as the dog in the picture handed to court. He said he could not find the other dog.

The defendant testified that the distance between his home and the place where the attack occurred is five kilometres. He further testified that his male dog was neutered eight days prior to the incident and that the dog would not have been able to walk the distance to the place where the attack occurred.

He also disputed that the dogs in the pictures presented in evidence were his dogs. According to him, he used choke chains on his dogs and not studded collars.

He denied that it was his dog that was rescued by Mr Motloung.

Acting Judge AP Berry said this was a case where the attack did not occur on the premises of the owner, thus it presented difficulties in proving ownership of the dogs.

But the judge accepted the evidence of Motloung linking the brown dog with the defendant as owner of the dog.

“The probabilities of the plaintiff being attacked by a brown dog and the identified dog being rescued by Mr Motloung the next morning outweigh the denial of ownership of the dog by the defendant,” the judge said.

He concluded that Moekoena was liable for the damages Tshabalala could prove he had suffered.

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