A woman from Crowborough whose arm had to be amputated after she was attacked by a dog she fostered from the RSPCA is taking High Court legal action against the charity.
Lawyers acting for Joanna Harris, 49, have said the American bulldog had to be Tasered by police three times to free her arm from its jaw in September 2021.
They argue the RSPCA knew the dog, called Kiwi, was aggressive.
While in her home in Crowborough, East Sussex, the dog latched on to her arm moments after she had managed to release his jaw from her own pet dog, Bo.
Legal papers submitted to the High Court by Irwin Mitchell argue that the dog had previously shown physical aggression towards RSPCA staff resulting in minor injuries.
Joanna was unable to release Kiwi’s grip from her left arm. She went into the garden and asked a neighbour to call the police and an ambulance. The dog then started to pull and shake on her arm and attempted to bite her neck. When police arrived around 20 minutes later, Kiwi was still latched on to Joanna. Officers had to tried to release the dog but when that didn’t work, they had to Taser him three times to subdue him.
Joanna was taken to hospital. Her left bicep was exposed, she was unable to mobilise her arm, and blood supply to her arm was lost. Joanna had to have her left arm amputated. She also suffered injuries to her right arm, hand and leg.
Kiwi was later put down.
Joanna has now spoken for the first time about the effect the incident has had.
It’s almost difficult to put into words what happened to me and the impact it’s had. I’ve always loved and grown up around dogs and really wanted to give a dog a home and a new life.
What happened that day and how I was attacked in my own home is something that will stay with me forever. It was absolutely terrifying. Even when the police arrived Kiwi didn’t want to let go. The pain I was in was excruciating and I knew I was in a bad way.
However, nothing prepared me for the news that I had to have my arm amputated. At that moment my life changed. I lost a lot of confidence and independence. I became a lot more reliant on friends and family, even for things such as getting dressed and food shopping, things many people take for granted.
I try and remain as positive as I can and want to focus of my recovery, but I feel I deserve answers to the concerns I have.Joanna Harris
Following the incident in September 2021, Joanna instructed expert serious injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to help her access the specialist support, rehabilitation and therapies she requires.
An RSPCA spokesperson said:
This was a distressing incident and our thoughts go out to Ms Harris. We assess the health and behavioural needs of animals before rehoming and where necessary, we provide a full behavioural plan. Our branches and centres are available to support them or take an animal back into our care if the new owner does not feel happy or safe. We cannot say any more at this time because of ongoing legal proceedings, which the RSPCA is defending.RSPCA
Chani Dhaliwal, serious injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell representing Joanna, said:
Joanna has faced an incredibly difficult time coming to terms with the physical and psychological impact of the incident which has changed her life forever. Her case vividly highlights the devastating effect such incidents can have on people.
Understandably she has a number of concerns about what happened and whether more could have been done to prevent her horrific injuries.
While nothing can make up for what she’s been through we’re determined to support Joanna to provide her with not only the answers she deserves but also the specialist support and therapies she requires to regain more of her independence.Chani Dhaliwa
In court documents Irwin Mitchell argue that the RSPCA is liable under the Animals Act. The alleged breaches include that the RSPCA should have known the aggressive nature of the dog given the behaviour it had previously shown. It is alleged that the RSPCA allowed Kiwi to be fostered when it was unsafe to do so.
It is also alleged that the RSPCA failed to remove Kiwi from Joanna’s house when she reported that he tried to bite her on 26th August 2021 – a week before the incident on 3rd September in which Joanna was injured.
Joanna, had to take a substantial time off from her job as a product owner lead in the financial service industry. She’s reliant on her partner, neighbours and family to help care for her.