The 6-year-old dog called Cooper has been quarantined at the Flagler Humane Society since Feb. 27, following the second time he bit someone, and the second time he was declared dangerous and slated to be killed, in accordance with law.
Cooper’s owner appealed Palm Coast Animal Control’s ruling to Flagler County Circuit Court on May 18. But the case has lingered there since, and the bills for Dottye Benton, the dog’s owner, have been piling up: it costs $30 a day to keep the dog on a “bite quarantine” at the Humane Society. The bill so far has just exceeded $5,000.
And now the dog has bitten a third person.
According to code enforcement documentation of the incident, Benton was at the Humane Society on Aug. 16, visiting the dog. She had been in the dog’s kennel and was leaving it just when the victim, a relatively new, 26-year-old staffer at the Humane Society, was turning off lights in a certain area of the kennels, just before he was to get off work at 5 p.m.
As Benton was exiting the kennel, “Cooper managed to get out of his kennel and ran up to me viciously biting me on my left hip,” the staffer wrote in his sworn affidavit. After a few seconds Dotti [sic.] dropped her phone ran over and grabbed Cooper taking him back to kis kennel. Dotti came up to me after to see if I was alright telling me not to say anything to anyone.”
There was no denying the bite: security footage would have showed it. Benton did not merely allegedly attempt to cover up the bite. Eva Rodriguez, Palm Coast’s Animal Control officer, noted in her report that Benton “made no attempt to report this bite as I was at the shelter at the time of the bite.” A Palm Coast spokesperson said today the third bite was still under investigation.
Benton did not return a call today.
The victim treated his own bite, which did not require stitches, as was the case with Cooper’s two previous attacks, the first one in Port Orange.
By law, any dog already declared dangerous that bites a person a second time, drawing a second dangerous-dog designation, “shall” be killed, under Florida law. Palm Coast Animal Control reached that conclusion, which Benton appealed to a city hearing officer. The hearing officer upheld Code Enforcement’s decision.
Benton is not aiming to reclaim the dog or remove the dangerous-dog designation, but to send Cooper to a shelter for dangerous dogs on the west coast of Florida. The effort has drawn considerable support in Palm Coast and Flagler: Cooper’s supporters even marched in Flagler Beach’s July 4 parade then held a small rally to press for his exile to the shelter. They wrote letters to the Palm Coast City Council, singling out Mayor Milissa Holland. The council stood by its code enforcement department’s decision, saying it has no voice in the matter, a position Benton’s attorney disputes: the council, her attorney claims, could in fact overturn the decision, to the extent that it could agree to send the dog west.
The dog’s continued aggressive behavior, however–and its owner’s apparent attempt to cover it up–can only dim any such prospect, even assuming that the council were to give the case another look. It has given no sign of such intentions, leaving it to the court to decide. The case in court has yet to be docketed for a hearing. That’s not necessarily unusual. Last year Palm Coast resident Ellen Puerta filed an appeal in the case of her terrier-pitbull dog Muneco, which Palm Coast had declared dangerous but condemned to death–until a hearing officer did so. It took eight months months for a hearing to be scheduled, and nine for a resolution (the court upheld the dangerous-dog determination but reversed the death sentence and allowed the dog to be returned to its owner.)
Meanwhile, Cooper remains at the Humane Society.
“This is really just a difficult and sad situation,” said Amy Carotenuto, the society’s executive director. “Cooper is good with people that he knows, not so much new people.”
Aug. 27 update: Benton paid the initial $200 owed for the first 10 days of quarantine at the Humane Society. She has not paid since. “The City received an invoice from the Humane Society for $3,405 for the period of March 10 through July 31,” a Palm Coast spokesperson said in a email on Aug. 27. “The City then sent a letter to Ms. Benton reminding her that she’s responsible for the charges. She will be required to pay within 14 days of the conclusion of the appellate proceedings. Otherwise, Cooper would be considered abandoned and would thereafter be destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner.”