Judge spares homeless "pitbull-type terrier" from destruction after it bit two passers-by

Newcastle Crown Court.
Newcastle Crown Court.

A judge saved a homeless man's pet dog from destruction after it bit passers-by who tried to stroke it during two city centre attacks.

Lawrence Ritchie was allowed to keep the "pitbull-type terrier" called Bud after it caused a bite wound to an 18-year-old man's face as he petted it in a doorway at Grainger Street, in Newcastle, on June 17 last year.

Just 13 days later, the animal, which was also described as having a Stafforshire Bull Terrier appearance, caused seven puncture wounds to a 25-year-old woman's arm when she tried to stroke it at the Bigg Market area of the city.

Newcastle Crown Court heard both victims had asked permission from the 50-year-old owner before they tried to pet the dog.

Ritchie, who lives in a tent with his pregnant girlfriend, pleaded guilty to two charges of having a dog that was dangerously out of control and caused injury.

A judge could have ordered immediate destruction of Bud but Richie's "companion" was saved on the grounds that it is rehoused, muzzled and kept on a lead in public.

Prosecutor Kevin Wardlaw told the court the first attack was on June 17 last year when the victim was out socialising with friends and spotted Ritchie sitting in a doorway with Bud.

Mr Wardlaw told the court: "He asked if he could stroke the dog or pet the dog and the defendant said he could.

"He began to stroke the dog on the back, five to six times, with no incident. However, as he was to crouch closer, the dog jumped up and bit him on the forehead."

The court heard the victim needed stitches to the bite wound just above his eyebrow.

He has been left scarred for life, said he is now "wary" of dogs and had not expected to be bitten when he was "trying to be kind".

Ritchie was spoken to by the police after the attack but was allowed to keep the dog.

Mr Wardlaw said the second attack happened at the Bigg Market in the city just 13 days later.

Again, the victim asked if she could stroke the dog and Ritchie said she could.

Mr Wardlaw said: "The dog jumped up and bit her on the arm. There was a total of seven puncture wounds."

The victim was sutured and bandaged after the attack and said she was left "shaken and upset" as well as being concerned in case the dog bit anyone else, particularly a child.

Judge Amanda Rippon could have ordered the dog's destruction at the sentencing hearing.

But, after receiving a report from a dog behaviour expert, the judge said the animal could be saved and made a contingent destruction order that will not be imposed if the pet is rehoused, muzzled and kept on a lead in public.

The judge said Bud was not a "bad dog" and would not pose a danger to the public if those measures were in place.

But the judge told Ritchie: "I do not consider you a fit an proper person to have a dog.

"There are no premises at the moment for you to keep a dog and there is no financial situation, you have no money.

"I am told you have a partner who is pregnant and you hope to find accommodation to move into with her and the baby.

"That simply causes me more concern. I do not think Bud is a dos who should be around a small baby."

Judge Rippon banned Ritchie from keeping a dog for ten years and sentenced him to a 10 month prison term, suspended for 18 months with programme requirements.

The judge said it was "incomprehensible" that Ritchie was able to keep the dog after the first "wicked bite".

Richie held his head in his hands in the dog when he was told he would not be able to keep his pet.

Judge Rippon told him: "I understand he was a companion, part of your family. You need to understand, I am doing this for him."

Graeme Cook, defending, said Ritchie had been sick with concern about the dog and hopes to find accommodation in future.