How broadcaster Glen Oglaza labradoodles Cookie and Shadow were freed
Cookie and Shadow are FINALLY free: Broadcaster Glen Oglaza’s beloved labradoodles bound into his arms – after 293-day ‘Kafkaesque nightmare’ that saw them unjustly locked up when another beast mauled their dog walker to death in Surrey woodland
When a police dog-handler opened their cages yesterday, the two labradoodles sprang into their owner’s outstretched arms like prisoners released after a long stretch inside.
That is a fitting analogy — because Cookie and her adoptive younger sister, Shadow, had languished in custody for ten long months, wrongly accused of a horrific killing.
Since their owner, retired TV news reporter Glen Oglaza, lives in South Croydon and the incident occurred in a secluded wood near the borough, we might even call them the Croydon Two.
The dogs were ‘arrested’, last January, on suspicion of participating in one of the year’s most harrowing attacks, which saw dog-walker Natasha Johnston, 28, savaged to death after losing control of the eight pets she was exercising.
Before being seized, Cookie, then aged five, had been followed everywhere by Shadow, a five-month-old puppy — a closeness that gave the younger dog her name.
But Surrey Police kept them in separate kennels, only allowing them to meet when exercising. They refused to tell Mr Oglaza and his family where they were being kept and denied them visiting rights.
When a police dog-handler opened their cages yesterday, the two labradoodles sprang into their owner’s outstretched arms like prisoners released after a long stretch inside. Pictured: Glen Oglaza being reunited with his two dogs Cookie and Shadow
Since their owner, retired TV news reporter Glen Oglaza, lives in South Croydon and the incident occurred in a secluded wood near the borough, we might even call them the Croydon Two
The dogs were ‘arrested’, last January, on suspicion of participating in one of the year’s most harrowing attacks, which saw dog-walker Natasha Johnston, 28, (pictured) savaged to death after losing control of the eight pets she was exercising
Though it soon became clear that Natasha had been killed by her own pet pit bull terrier, the force argued that Cookie and Shadow were among the pack that had behaved aggressively towards her and sought a court order that would have meant they could never again roam freely without a leash.
READ MORE: Five dogs are still in private kennels away from their owners six months after professional walker, 28, was mauled to death while out with them
Refusing to see his dogs branded as dangerous and lose the right to run unfettered, Mr Oglaza fought the civil case — taking a bank loan to cover his £17,000 legal costs.
On Monday, at Staines magistrates court, the veteran Sky and ITN newsman won his long battle.
After a dog behaviour expert described Cookie and Shadow as ‘gorgeous, lovable’, well-trained animals who would have fled the frenzied attack on Natasha rather joining in, district judge Julie Cooper rejected the police application for the behaviour order.
Judge Cooper said Natasha had died following a ‘unique’ and ‘horrendous set of circumstances’, and there was no evidence the two labradoodles may have taken part.
During his distinguished career, Mr Oglaza covered distressing global events with apparent dispassion, but as the judge delivered her ruling, he turned to his 25-year-old daughter and said: ‘I think I might cry.’
His feelings were evident again yesterday as I watched his dogs being returned to him outside Caterham police station.
Though they had been separated for 293 days, he felt sure their affection for him would remain undimmed, and so it proved.
Refusing to see his dogs branded as dangerous and lose the right to run unfettered, Mr Oglaza fought the civil case — taking a bank loan to cover his £17,000 legal costs. Pictured: Glen Oglaza at Staines magistrates on November 6
Surrey Police kept the dogs in separate kennels, only allowing them to meet when exercising. They refused to tell Mr Oglaza and his family where they were being kept and denied them visiting rights
‘I’m very happy, very emotional and so relieved,’ he managed to tell me, as Cookie and Shadow fussed rapturously around him. ‘As you can see, they are beyond excited.’
Yet this is not the final chapter in this grim story. For Mr Oglaza intends to complain over the ‘appalling’ Surrey Police investigation into Natasha’s death, and the ‘Kafka-esque nightmare’ to which, he claims, he and his distressed family were subjected.
‘It was inexplicable. Shadow still had her milk teeth when this happened. She couldn’t have caused serious harm to anyone, even if she’d wanted to,’ he told me. ‘It was clear from the outset which dog was to blame.
‘With a high-profile case such as this, you’d have thought the police would have gone out of their way to hold a thorough investigation. I can only think they had never dealt with anything like it before.’
His scathing criticism is backed by Helen Howell, the dog behavouralist (and former Metropolitan Police detective) who assessed his dogs’ characters, and their response to frightening and chaotic situations like those which they encountered during the attack.
In a devastating report presented to the judge, Ms Howell said that, given the rise in fatal dog attacks, it was essential to investigate them ‘thoroughly and professionally’. Surrey’s probe had fallen short of the ‘appropriate standard’.
She cited their apparent failure to take DNA swabs from Natasha and the eight dogs, or enlist an orthodontic specialist to match her wounds against moulds of their teeth: measures that might have quickly identified the culprit.
In court, she also questioned the competence to assess dog behaviour of the only known outside expert brought in by Surrey Police — Alison Robson, an experienced London vet who recommended that Cookie, Shadow, and three of the other dogs walked by Natasha, should be placed under the order.
In a devastating report presented to the judge, Ms Howell said that, given the rise in fatal dog attacks, it was essential to investigate them ‘thoroughly and professionally’. Surrey’s probe had fallen short of the ‘appropriate standard’
Dr Robson formed her opinion after reading the statements of witnesses (none of whom was present when the fatal bites were inflicted) who reported seeing four dogs tugging at Natasha’s arm or sleeve as she lay on the ground.
READ MORE: Pictured: XL Bully which mauled dog walker in Sunderland to death ‘while he was trying to protect his pup from the crazed animal’ – as police arrest ‘owner’ amid murder probe
However, Mr Oglaza’s solicitor claimed there was no proof Cookie and Shadow were among the four. And if they were, Ms Howell said, they were more likely to have been trying to pull her away from the aggressive pit bull.
Ms Howell also claimed in court that Dr Robson had made errors when measuring the dogs’ size, weight and the length of their teeth. The vet denied this. Last night, Surrey Police said they respected the judge’s decision not to place Cookie and Shadow under a control order. Their Professional Standards Department would be ‘proactively engaging’ with Mr Oglaza to discuss his concerns. They added: ‘Public safety will always be our priority.’
Mr Oglaza, 68, now a media consultant, lived near Natasha and met her when she was walking dogs in a park. Her empathy with the pets impressed him and, as he is often away on business, he entrusted her with his two.
By last January she was taking them to nearby woods five times a week. She developed such a close bond with the pair that the idea they might have turned on her is unthinkable, he says.
A few days before she was killed, he noticed she had a bandaged arm. Natasha told him she had sprained her wrist, but he later learned she had been bitten by the pit bull, Stan, whom she had taken in because his owners couldn’t handle him.
Having already bitten one of their children, he would otherwise have been put down.
From the moment he saw the enormous brown fighting dog, Mr Oglaza thought he looked menacing, but Natasha reassured him that ‘he’s a big softy, really’. That day, when she was late returning Cookie and Shadow, he contacted a neighbour whose dogs Natasha also walked (a pair of dachshunds quickly exonerated by the police) and heard of her fate.
On Monday, at Staines magistrates court, the veteran Sky and ITN newsman won his long battle
He claims his mistreatment by Surrey Police started that evening, when he was denied any information about his dogs. By continually raising and dashing his hopes that his pets would be freed, they exacerbated his family’s stress.
On several occasions, he says, he offered to comply with the terms of the order if they agreed to free his dogs, as if they were on bail, but the compromise was rejected.
Even when a court ruled, in September, that they should be released because they had been detained under the wrong Act, he claims, the police would not send them home, and the judge said he had no power to compel them.
‘I’m afraid all this has made me lose my faith in the police,’ says the reporter sadly. ‘If they won’t uphold the law, who will?’
Last night, though, it was a time to be thankful.
After enjoying their first romp for 293 days, Cookie and her faithful Shadow were chomping on their favourite chewy treat.
For the Croydon Two, the long ordeal is finally over.
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