Phil Astone has decided to speak out after it was revealed council officers covered up the cause of death of his dog at the Serpentine Jarrahdale pound.
Phil was left heartbroken when an overnight impounding of his six-month-old American pit bull terrier, Paci, led to the pup’s untimely death on January 31 last year.
The Karrakup local said he had gone to collect a new canine boarder at the gate of his property when Paci and his older mate, Zeus, snuck through the fence onto his neighbour’s property.
Both dogs were allegedly picked up by the shire ranger for ‘harassing’ livestock. But Phil, who trains dogs for a living, disputes this claim.
He called the pound around 4.30pm to check if his dogs had been found, and was told they were there, but he’d have to wait until the morning to collect them.
When Phil arrived shortly after the facility opened the next morning, he was informed that his dog, Paci, was “deceased”.
When Phil asked the ranger how that had happened, he was told the pup had been bitten by a snake.
“I just knew something wasn’t right. I go through snake avoidance training with all of my dogs,” he said.
There was a puncture wound above Paci’s paw on the inside of his front leg. Phil said a vet confirmed his suspicions that a snake bite didn’t seem likely.
“I noticed the wire on the top of the door of the kennel had been bent. I think Paci tried to escape and caught himself on the wire and couldn’t get down again,” Phil said.
“I can understand a mistake being made – but just come clean. Own it and have some sympathy.”
Phil said he was devastated and took Paci back to his property to give him a proper send-off.
“He was robbed. He was gonna be a great dog,” he said in tears.
After recovering from the shock, Phil refused to accept the outcome and pressured the council for information.
An independent investigation was launched after a meeting with the shire’s CEO Paul Martin.
In December last year, the shire wrote to Phil with its findings from the investigation.
“The available information indicates the most likely cause of death to Paci was directly linked to his paw being jammed in the door of the kennel,” Mr Martin said.
“The damaged door had previously been assessed and risks identified, however this actual scenario had not been assessed.”
He went on to say that there was no evidence that a snake bite was the cause, and no other staff members present at the time believed that to be the cause.
In a ‘Teams’ meeting between council officers on February 1 the ranger had commented: “I feel bad that I couldn’t tell him how the dog was found, and cause.”
Mr Martin said the ranger had “breached the SoSJ Employee Code of Conduct”.
“I apologise for how this incident has been handled and for any anguish this incident has caused,” he said.
Phil was paid a small compensation fee and consented to sign a confidentiality agreement.
When asked why he was contravening the gag order by speaking with The Examiner, Phil said he had two reasons.
“I know you’re not supposed to be vengeful – but I want people to be held accountable,” he said.
“But mostly, I want to make sure this never happens to another dog. I don’t want Paci’s death to be in vain, I want it to mean something.”
Examiner Newspapers contacted the shire for comment about the matter and asked if any improvements had been made to the amenity of the pound.
“The shire deeply regrets and apologises for the sad circumstance of the dog Paci’s death while being held in the shire’s pound facility on Watkins Road in January 2022,” they said.
“Immediate improvements were carried out to the pound facility following the incident; however, the shire understands the need for more adequate pound facilities.
“Construction of a new pound suited to accommodate a variety of animals (including dogs, cats, horses and livestock) has been identified as a major priority in the Shire’s new Draft Council Plan.
“Council also received a draft Master Plan identifying land on Lampiter Drive in Mardella as a potential site for the new pound at its meeting in August 2023.”