The battle for Butch: council blows $100K on pit-bull dog fight

Ballarat City Council has spent more than $100,000 in a drawn-out legal battle over the custody of a pet dog.

Butch, the pit bull terrier, was finally returned to his owners on the weekend, more than 10 months after he was seized by council officers.

In an out-of-court settlement late last week, David and Megan Thurston, from the suburb of Canadian, won the right to keep their beloved red nose American pit bull terrier.

They had not seen their dog for 305 days, as it was detained at an RSPCA shelter in Mornington.

He returned home on Saturday, with strict guidelines imposed on his owners.

In a brief statement, Mrs Thurston said the couple were overwhelmed by the support they received from the public.

“We are very happy to have Butch home and want to thank all our family and friends for their support,” she said.

“Thank you to the public who have looked out for us during the long 10 months and 24 days.”

City of Ballarat mayor Mark Harris said it was unfortunate that the process had taken so long, but said the council did not have any other options.

He said the council had the responsibility of upholding a state government law and that council officers acted appropriately in originally seizing the dog.

Butch was seized in October last year, just hours after it became statewide law for restricted breed dogs to be registered with councils.

He was unregistered at the time.

“They (officers) did exactly what they should have done in acting out the letter of the law. If we had the time again, we would do it exactly the same,” Cr Harris said.

“We couldn’t pursue it in any other way. People wouldn’t have wanted authorities like us to have too much leeway if we are in charge of prosecuting state government law.”

Details of the VCAT hearing and subsequent out-of-court settlement remain confidential, but the council’s chief executive officer Anthony Schinck confirmed that the 10-month process had cost council “in excess of $100,000”.

He said if the out-of-court settlement had not been reached, the case would most likely had gone as far as the Supreme Court.

“From both party’s point of view, there was an enormous amount of work that went into this. In terms of being able to get to a resolution, it was something that council was not able to do of its own accord,” he said.

“It’s the law, we had no other option but to adhere to the law, and part of council’s many responsibilities is that we are the caretaker of a lot of different legislation.”

Pit Bull Association president Colin Muir said it was a great result and thanked the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel for their assistance.

- The Ballarat Courier

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