By Kirra Grimes

A SMALL Shih Tzu and its elderly owners were attacked by a dog in Inverloch earlier this month.

The attack did not happen within the cordoned-off Inverloch Farmers Market – despite social media posts claiming the contrary – but on a footpath outside the event, on a day Inverloch was “packed” with locals and visitors celebrating the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

The victims, who did not wish to be named, were a husband and wife couple.

They were on their way to a Regional Farmers Markets event at The Glade at around midday on Saturday, September 19, when the attack happened.

A dog “of dingo appearance” slipped its collar and muzzle and came at the couple and their dog at pace on a footpath leading from The Esplanade, the husband said.

“My wife has seen the dog from the corner of her eye and has bent down to pickup our dog,” he wrote in his statement to police.

“The dog has knocked my wife to the ground and grabbed our dog by the throat.

“The offending dog has also bitten my wife on the lower left leg…

“I have jumped on the offending dog and punched like a madman. This did not work so I gouged its eyes and let it go.”

The Shih Tzu has since received stitches and the couple are recovering from their injuries, with the offending dog owner offering to pay over $800 in vet bills.

Early reports claimed the female owner had initially given the victims false contact details, but the husband said she’d since been in touch, sending flowers as well as the offer of financial help.


Safety measures in check

Inverloch Farmers Market organisers have no plans to change their dogs policy following reports of the “horrifying” attack.

Melissa Burge of Regional Farmers Markets said they hadn’t had any issues with allowing well-behaved dogs on leashes into the market in the last 12 years.

One of several market managers in attendance on the day, Melissa said she was deeply distressed to hear about the attack but didn’t believe there was anything market organisers could’ve done to prevent it.

“It didn’t happen at the market and the issue’s not to do with the market; it’s to do with the amount of people walking their dogs in Inverloch on a very busy weekend,” she said.

“It was like a holiday crowd, because it was a sunny day and it was the first time people were allowed out in groups for a long time – that was the difference.”

Some community members have raised questions over the market’s handling of the large numbers of people and dogs in attendance, particularly in light of COVID-19 risks.

But Melissa was confident they had all the right things in place for a safe event, including free hand sanitiser and facemasks, separate entry and exit points, and one-way foot traffic – all of which were logged for council and checked by police prior to the event.

“This was our first market back since March, so we were very cognisant of being COVID-safe; we had very strong measures in place, and we kept it small, with only 24 stallholders, so we had plenty of space,” she said.

All stallholders, their children, and anyone else planning to be on site for an extended period were temperature checked and asked to sign a “health disclosure” upon arrival, however, public health regulations did not require the recording of names, contact details, or temperature readings of market attendees, as it was an open air event.

“We’ve been so safe and careful,” Melissa said.

“We could’ve brought the market back earlier in the year, but we chose to wait; and it just so happens that on the day we ran it, Inverloch was packed because restrictions were off,” Melissa said.

“It’s an awful, horrendous thing to happen to the family and we have the utmost care and concern for them and hope there is some justice,” she said.


Investigation ongoing

One of the victims’ daughters has publicly called for the offending dog to be euthanised, however her parents are happy to leave the decision in the hands of the authorities.

“Everyone’s going to have an opinion, but the council has taken up the case and said they’d check it out; we haven’t had any real other involvement after that,” the husband said.

While he questioned whether a farmers market was a suitable environment to bring dogs into, especially large dogs, he did not believe market organisers should take responsibility for the attack, saying responsibility lay with “individual dog owners”.

Melissa said dogs would continue to be allowed at Regional Farmers Markets’ Inverloch market.

“The only time we don’t allow dogs is at our Churchill Island markets, because it’s part of the Nature Parks, but we’ve never had an issue at Inverloch,” she said.

“A lot of people do bring their dogs, on leashes, but we would remove them if there was anything untoward or they weren’t under control – and we’ve never had an issue like that in 20 years of running markets around Victoria.”

Bass Coast Shire Council confirmed last week it was aware of the incident and had worked with Victoria Police to identify the owner of the offending dog, who was cooperating in the ongoing investigation