Saturday 24 August 2019

'Loving and caring' grandmother attacked by her son's dogs died of 'massive' injuries, inquest hears

WARNING: This article contains details some readers may find distressing

Victim Teresa McDonagh
Victim Teresa McDonagh
Teresa McDonagh died after being attacked by her son's dogs

Lorna Siggins

THREE dogs which killed a Co Galway woman outside her son’s home two years ago were not on the restricted dog breeds list, an inquest has heard.

The three Presa Canario guard dogs – resembling a mastiff-type breed – had been allowed to run free on the home of Martin and Sheryl McDonagh, the coroner’s court in Galway heard on Thursday.

Teresa McDonagh (64) died of "massive" injuries when she was attacked after she called to her son’s home to visit her grandchildren in June, 2017.

Her injuries were so severe that gardai and medical personnel who had attended the scene were traumatised, Galway West coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin noted.

Teresa McDonagh died after being attacked by her son's dogs
Teresa McDonagh died after being attacked by her son's dogs

Sheryl told the inquest how she found her mother-in-law, Teresa, lying in a laneway close to her house at Knockarasser, near Moycullen, on the afternoon of June 4 2017.

She had returned home with three of her four children and noticed blood on the paws of the two adult dogs, Benson and Sacha, and on the pup, Angel, and put the animals in the shed.

She had raised the alarm after finding her mother-in-law face down, and phoned her husband who was on his way to Adare, Co Limerick. She also administered cardio-pulmonary resuscitation until an ambulance arrived.

During questions, Sheryl confirmed that she and her husband, Martin, had previously had a Rottweiler and an Alsatian dog.

The dogs were "never chained", she said.

"I realise now they were dangerous," she said.

Martin said he had paid €500 for two Presa Canario pups which he saw advertised on the Done Deal website, and had owned the dogs for eight years. The male and female animals had "cropped" ears when he bought them, he said.

Martin said he had bought this type of dog as there had been a number of break-ins in the area.

He said breeding of the two adult dogs was "incidental", but he had sold between 20 and 25 pups, for sums ranging between €100 and €250.

Mr McDonagh said he was aware that the postman was "afraid" of the dogs, and had moved his postbox down the lane for this reason.

"If anyone thought the animals were capable of killing somebody, they should have told me and the dogs would have been shot," Mr McDonagh said.

Postman Barry Haddock told the inquest of several incidents in 2015 – two years before Theresa's death – where his van tyres were punctured by the dogs.

He described how the van would shake as the dogs attacked the tyres.

On one occasion, one of the dogs jumped over the wall and punctured a tyre while he was talking to Martin about a previous incident.

"In 25 years working with An Post, I’ve never seen dogs as vicious as these," Mr Haddock said in his statement.

Martin's brother Gerry McDonagh told the inquest that he had taken his father Eddie to hospital in Galway due to a fall on the day of the incident.

He said his father had once warned there would be "trouble" with the dogs.

Gerry said that he was always nervous of the dogs and "you wouldn’t land a helicopter in the yard".

Mr Brendan Hynes told the inquest he had received a phone call from Martin on the afternoon of June 4, 2017, asking him to go to his house and shoot his dogs as they had attacked his mother.

Mr Hynes holds a gun license and culls badgers for the Department of Agriculture.

Galway county veterinary officer Rita Gately said she had found no complaints recorded in relation to the dogs.

The two adult dogs weighed 46 kg and 43 kg, and had no mandatory microchips when examined in post mortem, while the pup had a microchip but was not registered.

Ms Gately told Dr McLoughlin that this breed of dog was not on the restricted dog breed list.

This "Molosser-type" breed was rare, originated on the Canary Islands to round up cattle, and was "possibly" used in dog fighting historically and as a guard dog, she explained.

Ms Gately said the Department of Rural and Community Development was conducting a review of the legislation on control of dogs, and she is part of a working group which is preparing a submission.

Consultant pathologist Dr Brigit Tietz said that Mrs McDonagh had sustained severe trauma to her lower legs and fractures and multiple lacerations to her arms and trunk.

She gave cause of death as hemorrhagic shock due to massive injuries to both lower legs.

Mrs Rosaleen Heffernan (nee McDonagh) described her mother as a "a loving mother, wife, auntie", who was "very stylish, loved to bake" and to make pancakes for her grandchildren.

The jury recorded a verdict of misadventure, and endorsed four recommendations made by coroner Dr Mc Loughlin.

The coroner recommended that this breed be added to the list of dangerous or restricted dog breeds; that such dogs should be restrained at all times and muzzled; that a special dog license with special training should be introduced for owners of such breeds; and that Galway county council should make a submission to the current Government review of control of dogs legislation.

In a statement read by solicitor Mike Ward after the hearing, Christy, Gerry and Eamonn McDonagh, Rosaleen and Flan Heffernan and Rebecca King said they were "devastated" by the tragic loss of their mother, and wished to support the recommendations of the coroner.

"Teresa McDonagh’s children and grandchildren have been robbed" of her "generous love and affection", and what made her death "all the more tragic" was that she was calling to visit her grandchildren, the statement said.

"The family would hope that the law would be changed so that the owners of vicious and dangerous dogs would be obliged to restrain them and maintain them in enclosures where they would be prevented from causing injury or death to any person," the statement said.

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