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Palm Coast Council Claims It Cannot Exile Rather Than Kill Dangerous Dog Cooper. Many Others Disagree.

| June 12, 2018

Cooper, a 6-year-old hound, has twice been designated dangerous--in Port Orange and in Palm Coast. It faces death if a circuit court doesn't reverse the ruling. He's seen today as he was at the Flagler Humane Society, which has held him since Feb. 27. (Flagler Humane Society)

Cooper, a 6-year-old hound according to , has twice been designated dangerous–in Port Orange and in Palm Coast. It faces death if a circuit court doesn’t reverse the ruling. He’s seen today as he was at the Flagler Humane Society, which has held him since Feb. 27. (Flagler Humane Society)

The emails started pouring into Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland’s city account on June 8. By today, there’d been dozens, all calling for her not to allow the killing of Cooper, a dog of about 40-some pounds that bit a man in the face, hand and leg on Feb. 24 at the dog owner’s house in Palm Coast.


The dog’s owner was not disputing that Cooper should be removed from Palm Coast, but she’d found a rescue ranch on the west coast of the state where the dog could be safely exiled.

The city on March 6 informed Dottye Benton that Cooper would be killed in 10 days because the dog had already been declared dangerous when it was in Port Orange just weeks before. Benton requested an appeal before a special magistrate, who on April 18 upheld the city’s decision—again citing the Port Orange case as an aggravating circumstance. Before the hearing, the city refused the arrangement that would have sent Cooper to the rescue ranch. Benton appealed the magistrate’s decision to circuit court and started an email campaign featuring Holland’s image and email address on a poster.

“Please don’t kill Cooper, he is precious and deserves a Chance to live!,” wrote one advocate. Others wrote: “Don’t blame the dog for the past owners short comings. Give him a chance.” “Please do everything in your power possible to allow Cooper the dog to go to the Rottweiler Rescue.” “Please show the people who elected you that you are a compasionate (sic.) person and allow Cooper to live.” “This is a plea on behalf of Cooper the incarcerated little dog.” And so on.

Whether the Palm Coast City Council has a say or not in the matter—perspectives are divided depending on which lawyer you ask: the city’s lawyer says it has no say, Benton’s lawyer says it does—the campaign had the desired effect at least to the extent that it brought Cooper’s fate further into the open (the Observer had first reported on the issue in late May).

Saying she’d lost sleep over Cooper, Holland brought up the matter at the end of the city council’s workshop this morning.

“I know we can’t do much about it but I have to bring it up since someone decided to put my face and name on a poster saving a dog,” Holland said, describing herself as an animal activist. “I think it’s important we have this conversation, because if there [isn’t] any way to save Cooper, we need to understand why we can’t save Cooper.”

Bill Reischmann, the city attorney, summed up the facts of the case. After the first dangerous-dog determination in Port Orange, Cooper bit Terry Sandt when Sandt went to Benton’s house to clean the carpets. The injuries to Sandt’s face were so severe that they required reconstructive surgery. Since it was a “second bite,” Reischmann said, the dog had to be “destroyed,” the legal euphemism for killing an animal in those circumstances. “That’s what the law requires, and our code is consistent with state law,” Reischmann said.

save cooper flyer

The flyer that helped flood Mayor Milissa Holland’;s email account. Click on the image for larger view.

The lawyer acknowledged Benton’s attempt to place the dog at the rescue ranch. “I don’t have any control over that, the city of Palm Coast has no control over that,” Reischmann said, “nor has the city of Palm Coast have any control over what the special magistrate is required to do under state law, which is to apply the law. The determination by the special magistrate is currently being appealed in the circuit court. The appeal does not come to the city council. City council has no jurisdiction over the fate of this animal.”

Nonsense, says Marcy LaHart, the Micanopy, Fla. attorney representing Benton in the circuit court appeal. LaHart is also involved in other dangerous-dog cases in Palm Coast. “The city council is the client. They’re the ones who are supposed to be calling the shots, not the lawyer,” LaHart said in an interview this afternoon. “I have settled many dangerous dog cases. Palm Coast takes the position they don’t have the ability to do anything, and they’re wrong. In other jurisdictions where a little commons sense is allowed to prevail and a little compassion is allowed to prevail, cases are settled.”

 LaHart expressly dismissed the claim that the council had no say in the matter: if the council wanted the issue settled in favor of Cooper going to the ranch, the issue would be settled. “They should direct their attorney rather than their attorney directing them,” she said. “The city is a party to the case, so saying we’re not going to get involved is pretty stupid. They’re already involved. Taxpayer dollars of the folks of the city of Palm Coats are being used to defend killing this dog.”

Benton and her lawyer have also offered to indemnify the city should the city agree to the dog’s exile.

Cooper since Feb. 27 has been held at the Flagler Humane Society for $30 a day, a cost for which the society bills Palm Coast, which in turn bills the owner, says Amy Carotenuto, the society’s executive director. In Port Orange, the dog was owned by Benton’s daughter, who called Carotenuto to turn over Cooper after the first bite.  “I said fight for your dog, don’t just turn him in,” Carotenuto said. “They should have fought the initial dangerous dog classification, it was somebody reaching into a car or something like that.”  By not doing so, the designation becomes much more consequential with a second incident. For all that, the dog has been relatively easy to manager at the society, though it is restricted to a cage most of the time, and handling by specified staff, not volunteers, and no contact with visitors.

The society came in for some criticism at the council meeting today—unfairly so: the society is not leading the campaign for Cooper’s exile, though it supports it.

“The humane society doesn’t understand the state law or they’re advocating a different position,” Holland said at this morning’s meeting, “and I need the Humane Society to maybe be handed what the state law is so they clearly understand what that state law demonstrates, because what they’re stating is something contrary to what our legal counsel is stating. I’m somehow put in the middle of this discussion. I’ve never met the dog, I’ve never been around the dog, I’m not a dog expert on if the dog is dangerous or not. We do look to state guidance.”

jim landon

Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon. (© FlaglerLive)

“They know,” City Manager Jim Landon said. “They’re well aware of what the state law is, they’re well aware of the fact that the city council has no jurisdiction, they know the city staff has no jurisdiction, have no ability to intervene in a court case. They are attempting to use a political arena for you to intervene and they know you can’t. But it’s still—they’re hoping that somehow this will change, and I do not get why they would do that.”

Elected officials can certainly intervene in court cases in which the city or county they represent is named: it’s up to them to set the legal course, with counsel of insurers and attorneys involved, so it’s not accurate for Landon to claim the council has “no ability to intervene in a court case”: it’s Dottye Benton v. Palm Coast in this case, not Benton v. Reischmann. Palm Coast is the council. But the nature of the court case has nothing to do with exiling the dog. Rather, it is focused on due process issues that led to the special magistrate’s determination. In those regards, the council may have little say—but not regarding what led to the decision, which LaHart contends is still very much negotiable if the city willed it.

But she doesn’t expect to hear from Palm Coast’s attorneys.

Carotenuto, for her part, disputes the council’s claim that the society doesn’t know the law. “I think it’s the city council that doesn’t understand the law,” she said. “We are animal control for Flagler Beach and unincorporated Flagler, and we understand the law.”

She added: “I don’t think the dog should go back to its owner in the same situation all over again. The dangerous dog statute should be to provide safety, not just to punish owners, that’s where we look at the statute differently. The statute is vague so it lends itself to people interpreting things differently. That’s where we stand. We’d like to see the dog be able to go where it would not be able to pose any threats to the public, that’s hopefully what this appeal would accomplish.”

That, in fact, is what even the city wants to see accomplished: “We would love it if this dog could go to this ranch and this farm and live out a happy life. That would be our desire too, you know.,” Landon said. “Maybe the courts can come up with a way to make that happen,” he added. But, he said, the city was following the law’s requirement—to follow the special magistrate’s findings, based on the city’s own.

Cooper. (Humane Society)

Cooper. (Humane Society)

To square the matter of wishing the dog exiled on one hand while determining the dog should be killed on the other, Landon reached for an analogy. Once the dog severely bit a second person, “at that point law requires us to do certain things,” he said. “We do those. The courts then decide the end result. It would be the same as if it was some other type of criminal case that you wanted to be sympathetic to the person who was charged with a crime. You don’t have any jurisdiction. It’s not something that will come to city council.”

But that position has its skeptics, among them Elizabeth Robinson of Community Cats of Palm Coast, who helped Benton with her campaign. She said there was a time when animal advocates had little say in town. That’s been changing. She acknowledges that when the decision was made to include Holland’s email address on the poster, it wasn’t entirely clear what could or could not be done by the council, but “I don’t think emailing Jim Landon or emailing Barbara Grossman would have been productive,” she said, referring to the director of code enforcement.

As for today’s claims that the council is out the decision altogether, “I’m not convinced,” Robinson said. “I think it certainly serves their purpose that they’re out of it, I don’t understand why they couldn’t make a different decision.”

For example, it was in the city’s purview not to charge Benton criminally, even though Reischmann said the city certainly had that option, since the dog had been declared dangerous previously. So there was discretion in how the city decided to apply the dangerous dog law. “But yes that is a potential consequence,” Reischmann explained to Vincent Lyon, the recently appointed council member who, coincidentally, defended a Flagler County family in a protracted case involving the county’s designation of a dog as dangerous. (Just a few weeks ago the family won its case on appeal at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.) There was no additional question as to further discretion regarding the dog’s fate on the city’s part.

Still, just as the Humane Society feels it’s in the middle of an issue it can’t control, just as the mayor does so as well, for that matter, city officials responsible for the original determination are also caught in a vise for having merely followed state law and the city’s ordinance as directed. “The initial determination which is made by city staff,” Reischmann said, “they take into consideration all of both sides, not just the victim, not just the owner, but the animal as well. They work very hard to make sure all of the sides are considered.”

It’s not unusual for the roles of various sides to be mis-perceived, or worse. “That’s the thing,” Carotenuto said, referring to the city, “since we’re at odds over a few cases, they get the reputation that everything is euthanized and we get the reputation we save them no matter what, and the truth is somewhere in the middle.” The priority, she said, is safety.

But that middle ground can be elusive in the end. Asked today if there was still room for a negotiated settlement, LaHart, Benton’s attorney, was quick to reply: “As long as the city attorney is the one calling the shots and not the city council, I don’t hold up any hopes, no.”

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26 Responses for “Palm Coast Council Claims It Cannot Exile Rather Than Kill Dangerous Dog Cooper. Many Others Disagree.”

  1. Mark says:

    Palm Coast can’t do sh^t if the dog disappears!

  2. Jolene R Dehart says:

    Again an animal suffers for the poor choices and actions of some “humans”. Very very sad.

  3. palmcoaster says:

    This is pathetic that the council allows their attorney to call the shots in this sad Cooper case giving him the death penalty when not needed to this young dog.

    Taking a stand against our local Humane Society is another show of the lack of compassion of this Mayor, Council, Manager and Attorney. What is wrong with this people? Why such a cruelty? The poor dog was defending his territory the only way he knows how to and for that deserves death? What about a little compassion and kindness shown to the many residents asking to pardon Cooper?

  4. palmcoster says:

    Hope the cruelty wont get to the point that also Cooper will have to think: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.

  5. GY says:

    Heartless and total lack of compassion. As they treat animals, they also treat citizens who pay their salary. Not proud of our “leaders”…Pray for change.

  6. GY Presley says:

    Heartless decision. Council members show total lack of compassion for animals and humans alike.

  7. Duncan says:

    Are you posters kidding me? Yes the dog is cute and probably adorable om most days. However, the dog obviously has vicious and dangerous tendencies. The dog severely injured two people (that we know about)! You might think a little differently if he attacked a family member (hired to do a job for the dogs owner) and that family member had to under go facial reconstructive surgery.

    I’m a bleeding heart liberal and a dog lover but I would not put the safely of humans over the life of a dog proven to be vicious at times. Sorry, to disagree with other here, but that dog should be put down. If it were a pit bull rather than a hound dog, I wonder if those above would feel so compassionate.

    Sure, I have sympathy for the dog since a dogs owner are ultimately responsible for a dogs actions. I have a lot more empathy for the poor guy that got his face hacked off cleaning the owners carpets.

    Have some common sense!

  8. Just Sayin' says:

    In 1988 we had 3 Siberian Huskies and lived in Flagler Beach. Someone left their cat outside and it came into our chain link fence. My 3 dogs killed it that night.

    Next morning we had Flagler Humane Society at my door to seize all 3 of our dogs. We said “NO!”. They came back the next day and told us as long as we handed over 1 of our dogs they would leave us alone. We told them “NO” for a second time at which point they proceeded to forcefully go into our private fenced yard and took my dear sweet year old dog Napoleon as he was the easiest to catch.

    I was only 12 yrs old. I remember what you did FCHS. I will NEVER FORGIVE YOU! I’ll hate you til i die.

  9. Flatsflyer says:

    This dog is 40 some pounds, the breed often grows to over 100 pounds. With it’s history of aggression there is no choice execpttoput it down. If this was a human being with multiple assaults charges every single person would be demanding the public be protected. Too dam many idiots with animals, just go to any big box store and see the comfort companions, real service dogs are great but the comfort bullshit and lack of concern for the public’s safety needs to be reigned in.

  10. linda says:

    Don’t Destroy! DO THE RIGHT THING! Do the decent thing send him to the ranch.

  11. PC RESIDENT says:

    So easily are people that are a danger to society let back onto the streets, but so quick to kill an animal that behaves as a product of it’s environment.

  12. Just The Truth says:

    Just because a dog bites a humane doesn’t mean that dog is dangerous, dogs bite for a reason and it in most cases is to protect their owner, or out of fear. Palm Coast seems to want to declare every dog in town that bites someone dangerous, which has been the standard practice of their attorney. Their attorney needs to do more research on animal laws, especially if he continues to be a city attorney (for any city), not just Palm Coast.

  13. Algonquin J. Calhoun says:

    I’m all for the ethical treatment of all animals, but it would be a much better world if we had as much compassion for humankind as we have for them. Yes, the dog should go to that ranch and his owner should be cited for harboring a vicious dog.

  14. YankeeExPat says:

    Pardon Cooper?…….It’s a friggin dog !…….it is viscous and, will not get rehabilitated and go on to write a self awareness book for the New York Times bestseller’s List

    The dog needs to call our upon our Orange Omnipotent One, as he seems to currently be in the mood to hand out pardons as if they were dog biscuits.

  15. Johnx says:

    Hound or Rottweiler? I am familiar with someone who lost a toddler to rottweilers that mauled him to death. If this had been a young child, yes the child would probably be dead. Breeds do matter. So, the way I am reading this, if this dog is shipped off, and kills a young child, guess who will be blamed. Please be responsible about who and what you defend.

  16. Trailer Bob says:

    If one cannot understand or control their dog, then they should have a fenced in yard and have it on a lease when in public. That said…The problem could be solved (the dog removed from the city) by sending it to the sanctuary out west. Anything other than that is plain cruelty to animals. One of my Shepherd bite a person who put their hand over our fence…just what it was trained to do. Signs are all over our fence warning of the security dogs. And our dogs are NOT mean…sweet as hell, unless you violate what they are trained to stop you from doing. If this dog was a human it would be charged with less. We don’t kill people who harm others as much as the want to do to this dog.

  17. KathieLee4 says:

    Save Cooper..

  18. Trailer Bob says:

    I am willing to take in this doggy. My two shepherds will train him in how not to bite innocent people. All dogs should be fenced in and on a leash when in public. Not the dogs fault. Stupid owners fault if anyone’s fault. Why is it that we allow humans to harm others and get off with a warning or a few days in jail? Who gets off killing a sweet dog because of a non life threatening bite anyway?

  19. Jenny says:

    I dont see how putting down animals who were abused beaten neglected by their original owners is right. Morally or legally it’s absurd. What is moral is not always legal and vice versa. These animals who we bred and cultivated from wild wolves had an original purpose, to protect its clan. This was long before society was civilized. Then we began to breed them to companionship. We Basque in the loyalty they shower us with yet some of us have no loyalty towards them. If you want to put down abused animals because you seem them dangerous for society making them serve the ultimate punishment for crimes they didn’t commit then the owners who commit such heinous crimes should be punished. They are the ones making our society dangerous. They weaponize creatures by breaking and abusing them and making it so they never have a chance to succeed and be reintroduced into society to lead happy lives with their future owners. You keep punishing the animals and not the people. Who are the real animals? Those who were bred to love and protect us, those who abuse and destroy the animals purpose or those who at the end of they day protect the abusers over the abused?

    To the mayor I dont believe you are losing sleep. I dont believe you are concerned for the dog. I think you pretend to fight for what’s right just to get re elected. Which is why the dog wont make it out alive. You dont really care about the animal. Your statements seems false and insincere. You know having to state that your an animal lover before you say theres nothing I can do shows cowardice and false feelings. Theres plenty you can do if you wanted to. You were elected to lead and govern and be a champion for those in your community. That includes the animals.

    You can judge a society based on how it treats it’s most underrepresented population. Speak up for the animals and stand against the abuse.

    If people abuse animals they should pay heavy consequences. Forget about compensation or community service. They should have their hands broken. If they abuse animals what else who else do they abuse.
    Serial killers start by killing animals but it doesnt end there. Neither does abusing animals. Just like child predators they should be forced to register when they move somewhere new. Because just like I would want to know if someone down my road likes hurting children I want to know if they enjoy hurting animals. A minimum 5 year sentence for each animal you’ve been convicted of abusing and registering as an animal predator when you have finished serving your sentence. You should also never be allowed to own an animal again. There are non violent offenders who serve their time leave prison and cannot exercise their right to vote. How can it be okay to be a violent offender get out of prison and be allowed to continue abuse another living breathing creature.

    What everyone needs to do is elect true animal activist to your local government. Those who are most willing to keep your animals safe will also be most effective in keeping your kids safe. They understand what it means to keep those who are most vulnerable to abuse and torture protected. They will fight for your pet as if it were their own and they will protect your child as if it was theres. Elect people who aren’t solely concerned with reelection. They serve their public not the board they sit on.

  20. Johnx says:

    Read, people. FlaglerLive provides granular detail if you want to know the facts. “The injuries to Sandt’s face were so severe that they required reconstructive surgery.” FACE. The dog went for the FACE. not a nip to the hand or leg. and I am sure would have killed the carpet cleaner if not pulled off of him. I’m sure if it happened again after Trailer Bob or someone else takes the little doggie in and kills someone’s grandchild, he would say “Well, gosh I didn’t know he was like that”. Because people just won’t or for some reason, don’t accept responsibility. As a matter of fact, most people are completely uncaring of the fact that no one deserves to be attacked by a dog like that, AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN.

  21. Longtime resident says:

    Please like and share the Saving Cooper page on Facebook to everyone you know. There you will find all the information to help send Cooper to the Rescue Ranch as opposed to being euthanized. They encourage everyone to continue sending emails to the city council members and the city manager. The saving Cooper page will update any and all events related to the cause as it becomes available. Thank you for your continuing support of getting the word out to help save Cooper. ❤️🐾🐾

  22. Jamibad says:

    Any updates on Copper?? I can’t seem to find anything, praying he’s at the ranch and happy!

    To the fellow who was injured, I hope your healing, my compassion is for you both, the dog because it was acting out of protectiveness, and for you, having to endure the consequences !

  23. Arlene says:

    The two incidents where the dog bit people are questionable. Sometimes people are responsible for their actions too. You don’t ever put you hand in a vehicle where a dog is protective and will bite. Also, the pool man was warned not to go near the dog, and he did not heed the warning. Where is the harm in sending the dog to the ranch? EVERYONE wins! The owner should start a petition on change.org or another site and have people sign. Send it to the Council and get this over with. Nonsense that it is dragged out. Release the dog to the rescue where he can live out his life, and Palm Coast will look good, and people will have a good opinion of them for a having a heart!

  24. Ann schimek says:

    Please don’t kill Cooper he was only protecting his home.
    What the whole really . There is a reason by he was protection his home

  25. sandy says:

    give cooper a chance of life
    do not blame cooper he was protecting his domain and people he loves
    cooper needs love and social learning and he would be able to socialize and live a full life.

  26. Ron ulrich says:

    Landon is gone, that’s a good thing, now the councel and the mayor mabe able to help Cooper a provoked dog, we the people are the city’s employers and they are our employees we pay there salary, so we have a say so and there part time lawyer should not be involved in this , he leaves out a lot during every councel meeting, a provoked 40 pound dog is the subject of this long rediculous amount of money we are paying this lawyer, let the dog go to the ranch, mayor you run the show not the lawyer, please consider the real facts.

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