Dog fight

Dave Smith, who died last week in a motorhome parked in a West Kelowna shopping centre, is shown here playing with his dog Diesel in 2013. Smith battled for more than two years to save the life of his dog, who had been declared dangerous and was seized by the regional district.

A Kelowna-area man who lost an emotional fight to keep his dog, but nevertheless changed the way seized animals are handled, has died.

Dave Smith was 68.

He has been identified as the man whose body was found last week in a recreational vehicle parked outside a West Kelowna furniture store. In an obituary, Smith's family says he died of natural causes.

"To those wishing to remember Dave in some way, please consider a memorial donation to an agency related to his love of dogs," the family writes in the obituary.

Smith was at the centre of a highly-publicized and drawn-out effort to prevent his dog Diesel, a German Shepherd-Rottweiler cross, from being euthanized as a dangerous animal when it was seized by the Central Okanagan Regional District dog control service in 2011.

The animal was held in the regional pound for more than two years, with the regional district racking up expenses of more than $100,000 in its effort to have the dog put down.

A lower court ordered the dog destroyed but Smith appealed to the B.C. Supreme Court in 2013. The court spared Diesel's life, but ruled it could not be returned to Smith because he was not a responsible owner.

The court granted Smith a final hour with Diesel, but to avoid it becoming a "public display", he was told not to bring along any friends, or his many supporters. Diesel was then adopted out to an undisclosed new owner.

Smith's champions saw him as a victim of an out-of-control and vindictive dog control service. For its part, the regional district said they were just trying to protect the public from an animal whose owner could not properly control him.

Between 2006 and the time of Diesel's seizure by the regional district, the animal was the subject of 10 complaints for such things as chasing cats, fighting other dogs, and scaring children.

In sparing Diesel's life, B.C. Supreme Court Judge Geoff Barrow wrote: "While I am satisfied that Diesel is dangerous. . . and while he may be beyond corrective training, he is not so dangerous as to be beyond the ability of a responsible owner to control."

Commenting on the decision, Smith said at the time: "It's good news, it's bad news. Diesel lives but he will not be allowed to come back with me."

Despite being assailed by Smith's supporters, both for the considerable expense involved in Diesel's two year incarceration and its determination to see the animal not returned to Smith, the regional district styled the judge's decision as a victory.

"This judgement is absolutely in line with what we requested, and we stand united with all those people in our community who wanted a new life for Diesel," then-regional district administrator Paul Macklem said.

After the furore of the case subsided, the regional district in 2014 changed its dog impoundment policies. Essentially, the changes allow owners of dogs deemed to be dangerous to get their animals returned within a few weeks so long as they're willing to make modifications in how the dogs are housed and cared-for.

Also, owners of dogs deemed to be dangerous pay a much higher licensing fee.

Helen Schiele, who became acquainted with Smith during the height of the Diesel saga, said she was saddened to hear of his passing.

"What he went through with the regional district was just so cruel," Schiele said. "I really think it broke his heart. But at least his legacy, you could say, are some changes that maybe means nobody else will ever have to go through what he went through."