All Cory Chartrand wants for Christmas is to have his beloved best friend home with him.
A fundraising campaign to help the former homeless man get his dog home in time for the holiday season appears to have tugged at the heartstrings of the community.
And had it not been for the seven court appearances and 100 hours of pro-bono legal services provided by local paralegal Brian Morris, the muscular mix-breed dog with a round face would most certainly have been destroyed.
Within two weeks, the GoFundMe appeal that seeks to raise $6,354 to spring Pipper from the Georgina Animal Shelter where he has been quarantined since October 2018 is just $1,545 shy of that goal.
Pipper (pronounced pai-pr) landed in the pound after he bit a passerby on the street that required stitches. Newmarket’s bylaw department became involved, and the case escalated to the courts, where the prosecutor sought a destruction order against the dog.
“At the beginning, bylaw was under the impression that they couldn’t release the dog back to Cory because he was homeless,” said Morris, who runs Lighthouse Legal Services in Aurora. “But the nice thing is, Cory was able to secure housing, employment, and has done really well in the past 12 months. The only thing that was missing in his life was his pet.”
Morris heard about Chartrand’s plight from staff at Newmarket’s seasonal homeless shelter, Inn from the Cold. As a supporter of the shelter for the past five years, Morris has participated in fundraisers for the facility such as J & B’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Party at Market Brewery and the Coldest Night of the Year event in Newmarket.
“I got to know the people there, and many of them are in tough situations,” he said. “We try to do a lot for the shelter because they need donations to keep their operations in place.”
Chartrand declined to speak with media, and instead gave his permission to Morris to speak on his behalf.
The outpouring of support so far from the public has been overwhelming, Morris said.
“It’s been difficult and a hard case to take on for the last 13 months,” he said. “I’m usually a traffic-ticket defence guy, so I was out of my wheelhouse. But I took it on because I didn’t want the dog destroyed, there’s always other options, and I don’t think destruction is usually the right thing when there’s so much that can be done before that.”
From the outset, Morris petitioned for a conditional release for the dog.
In his closing arguments, Morris told the court:
“Pipper is more than just a pet, more than just an animal. Pipper is Mr. Chartrand’s family. When Mr. Chartrand was homeless, it was just the two of them trying to survive.
“Mr. Chartrand always did his best to provide for Pipper, even though he had very little means to support himself. (He) would even spend his last dollar on Pipper before looking after himself.
“Needless to stay, they have both been through a lot together and have survived, even though the odds were against them.
“Mr. Chartrand has struggled in the past, but it’s very heartening to hear that he has made so many positive strides in his life. He currently works, and has now secured housing. But even though he has secured housing, it does not feel like home without his closest companion.
“Pipper provides emotional support in Mr. Chartrand’s life, support which can be critical to those that find themselves in vulnerable life situations, which Mr. Chartrand has had to experience and cope with. So, in a sense, Pipper’s companionship acts a medical/therapeutic support for Mr. Chartrand.”
After one month of deliberation, the justice presiding over the case on Nov. 21, 2019, decided to release Pipper back into the care of Chartrand with what Morris calls a number of tough but fair conditions.
Those conditions include: full payment of housing fees to the Georgina Animal Shelter in the amount of $6,180; Pipper must be muzzled when in public, neutered, and microchipped; and Chartrand must secure obedience training for Pipper within 12 months of release.
“The court was extremely fair with their decision and Cory was happy to oblige, and he realizes that he has to do his part to ensure there is not another (biting) incident,” said Morris.
Morris said it’s not known what triggered the dog to bite but, thankfully, the injury wasn’t life-threatening and the person made a full recovery.
“The decision strikes a balance between public safety and giving the dog and the owner another shot,” Morris said.
“It was nice to help someone who doesn’t have the resources, and everybody involved in the case gave it the appropriate consideration, it wasn’t dealt with lightly,” he said.
“Everything’s there (in the decision) that needs to be there to protect the public and, at the same time, the dog’s well-being is going to be catered to much better now since Cory’s situation has improved,” Morris said. “And that was the initial problem because Cory’s situation wasn’t great, and that was a concern.
"How can somebody look after their pet if they are having trouble looking after their situation? I think he’s proven that he can do better and he is doing better. That was heartening to see all the positive steps that have happened and continues to improve.”
A relative of Chartrand will act as beneficiary of the GoFundMe donations and when the fundraising goal has been met, Morris will accompany them to pick up Pipper from Georgina.
Chartrand is responsible for reporting that the court's conditions are met to the Town of Newmarket bylaw department.