'A most horrible death': Dogs in fatal attack on elderly woman ordered euthanized

CALGARY — A Calgary judge has ordered two dogs be destroyed for their part in the "most horrible death" of an elderly woman two years ago.

"These dogs should not be returned to the community because they are a high risk and a danger to the public," Justice Bruce Fraser ruled Thursday.

"The only option is to direct they be destroyed."

The dogs' owner, Denis Bagaric, appeared visibly upset at the judge's decision.

The ruling was made in the case of Betty Ann Williams.

The 86-year-old was mauled to death on June 5, 2022, after three dogs escaped a fenced and gated backyard and attacked her while she was gardening in a back alley.

There were three American Staffordshire terriers involved in the attack that left Williams with fatal injuries to her neck, throat and head.

The dog identified as the main attacker has already been destroyed, but the City of Calgary sought to have the remaining two euthanized as well.

Bagaric asked that the dogs instead be adopted out and given behaviour modification.

His lawyer had argued the two should be spared because there was no proof they were involved.

Fraser disagreed.

"The photos demonstrate horrific injuries to Miss Williams all over her body that led to her death, particularly to her head, jaw, neck and face. Her lip and one ear had been ripped off. She was covered in blood," Fraser said.

"Miss Williams died a most horrible death."

Court heard that the woman’s wounds were grievous: multiple cuts and bruises to her head and neck; the vertebrae just below her skull fractured, as was the bone under her jaw; injuries to her jugular vein branches and carotid artery; bruises on her legs and cuts on her arms.

A witness told the court she saw the three dogs surrounding a person and were growling and snapping their jaws at Williams as she lay on the ground. But the witness conceded she didn't actually see the dogs biting Williams.

Fraser deemed the discrepancy of little consequence.

"Based on this evidence I draw the inference that all three dogs were attacking Miss Williams and participated in causing her horrific injuries," Fraser said.

"I cannot determine which dog caused which injuries Miss Williams suffered. It is enough that all participated. These dogs have demonstrated they are dangerous."

Bagaric has already been fined $18,000 and prohibited from pet ownership for 15 years. He pleaded guilty earlier to two city bylaw charges: an animal attacking a person causing severe injury, and animals running at large.

The judge in that case said he was satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that all three dogs were involved in the attack.

The case sparked a separate independent review because it took 30 minutes for paramedics to respond to treat Williams.

The Health Quality Council of Alberta concluded the initial emergency call was incorrectly coded to indicate the attack was not life-threatening, leading to the response time becoming twice as long as it should have been.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 13, 2024.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press