Let’s say you live in Miami, Tampa or any other Florida city. In the middle of the night, someone breaks into your home with the intent to rob and kill you.
And let’s say that before you even wake up, your dog hears the intruder. Doing what most dogs would do to protect their homes and loved ones, your dog bites the intruder hard, tearing his skin. The intruder runs off. Thanks to your dog, you will live to see another day.
So, does your hero get some kind of recognition for saving your life and property? Nope.
Per current Florida law, if a dog who has not been labeled as “dangerous” bites someone deeply enough to require stitches or reconstructive surgery — even if that someone is a murderous intruder inside your home — the dog must be euthanized.
This law does not, however, apply to dogs that have already been labeled as “dangerous.” In those cases, pet parents are allowed to defend their dogs.
That’s right — the state that was first to enact a controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, which protects humans who defend themselves against real or perceived threats, does not extend that protection to most dogs.
According to Florida’s “Damage by Dogs” statute, a non-dangerous dog who bites a person without provocation is to be “immediately confiscated by an animal control authority, placed in quarantine, if necessary, for the proper length of time, or impounded and held for 10 business days after the owner is given written notification, and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner.”
Effort to Change Unfair Law
I think the Damage by Dogs law is unfair and ridiculous, and so does Rep. Greg Steube, who introduced a bill (HB91) that would save the lives of dogs who bite only to protect themselves or their family members, or bite someone who is trespassing.
“Most people don’t realize that the statute is so black and white,” Steube told 10 News. “If a dog does this damage and it causes this type of injury they have to be euthanized. I thought it was absurd when I read the law.”
If passed, the new law would allow all pet parents due process, giving them the opportunity to explain the circumstances of a biting incident. A hearing officer would then decide whether the dog should be euthanized.
The House Civil Justice Subcommittee passed the bill unanimously last month. A second hearing is scheduled for today, and the bill will need a third hearing before it reaches the House floor. Steube told 10 News he hopes the bill makes its way to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk by January.
Support Grows for Padi, Victim of the Damage by Dogs Law
One potential victim of the current law is Padi, a 4-year-old Black Lab mix from Brandenton.
In self defense, Padi bit off part of a 4-year-old boy’s ear when the child lunged at the dog, who was hiding under a desk in the office of his dog dad, veterinarian Paul Gartenberg.
Padi, who’d been rescued from an abusive situation, often stayed under the desk in his “safe spot,” Dr. Gartenberg told the Associated Press.
“This dog was purely acting defensively,” he said. “I can’t think of a dog that wouldn’t have reacted the way Padi did.”
Even so, Manatee County Animal Services took Padi and determined he would have to euthanized under the Damage by Dogs law. The decision was upheld by a county hearing officer.
Padi’s case sparked global outrage. The Free Padi Facebook community currently has more than 25,700 members.
At a packed circuit court hearing today that could determine Padi’s fate, attorneys for Dr. Gartenberg as well as Manatee County agreed the law is unconstitutional, partly because it doesn’t give pet parents due process to defend their rights.
Judge Andrew Owens is expected to issue a written decision in two weeks at the earliest.
If he decides the law is unconstitutional, Padi’s case will be dropped and the dog can stay with Dr. Gartenberg. But if the judge rules it to be constitutional, Dr. Gartenberg can either return to the hearing officer process or appeal the ruling to the Second District Court of Appeal.
Dr. Gartenberg told the Brandenton Herald he felt optimistic after this afternoon’s hearing.
“It seems like reasonable people making reasonable decisions,” he said.