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Palm Coast Council Gets Primer on Dangerous Dog Rules: ‘You Don’t Have a Role in Process’

| October 30, 2018


Cooper today at the Flagler Humane Society. Rumors about his failing health are misplaced. (Humane Society)

With the fate of a dangerous dog its administration condemned to death in February exposing it to recurring criticism, The Palm Coast City Council this morning got a legal primer on the dangerous-dog law and yet another confirmation from its attorney and its interim city manager that its role as a council is to have no role in such determinations.

The workshop discussion, led by Bill Reischmann, the city attorney, did not offer information the council didn’t already know or provide analysis Reischmann hadn’t already presented in one form or another in one of innumerable discussions centering on Cooper, the 6-year-old hound currently awaiting execution–or a reprieve, if a Nov. 5 hearing in circuit court goes his way. The presentation was a more formal way of assuring the council that it had immunity in dangerous-dog decisions–as long as it remained on the sidelines. 

But the workshop discussion did not answer two questions the council wanted answers to: whether a refuge for dangerous dogs in west Florida included dogs that had severely bitten human beings more than once, and whether Cooper’s confinement at the Flagler Humane Society was affecting his health.

Advocates for Cooper say the dog should not be killed, but rather exiled to that refuge, where Cooper could live out the rest of his days. The council has repeatedly said it is not legally in a position to interfere with its animal control officers’ determination, which was upheld by a city-appointed hearing officer. Council members also questioned, and doubted, whether dogs sent to that refuge could be dogs that have bitten people more than once. The law is explicit regarding such dogs: they are to be executed. The law is more permissive with a dog’s initial determination of being dangerous: in such cases there’s more lee-way between execution or continued life within severe restrictions.

As to the second question the council had about Cooper’s health, Amy Wade-Carotenuto, executive director of the Flagler Humane Society, said that while the dog had a brief health issue last week, he’s fine now.

“Last week he gave us a little scare,” Wade-Carotenuto said in an interview this afternoon. “We thought he may have pancreatitis. We put him on medication and he turned around.” It was more like a 24-hour bug. “I was little bit worried about him, but he’s fine now.” (See the video to the right, taken by the Humane Society this afternoon.)

“I’m sure he’d rather be at home but that’s not an option,” Wade-Carotenuto continued. The dog gets out of his cage generally twice a day, but at worst at least once a day for an hour. “He gets out as much as the other shelter dogs, though it’s more supervised,” the director said. As she spoke, she walked back to Cooper’s cage. The dogs had just had their lunch and were mostly calm. Cooper had been resting. He got up, wagged his tail. Some council members had been getting word that Cooper’s health was failing. That has not been the case.

The city of Port Orange declared Cooper dangerous in January after he bit a woman there without provocation. The dog’s owner passed the dog to her mother, who lives in Palm Coast. In February, Cooper bit a man there, following which Palm Coast Animal Control determined that since it was the second bite, the dog had to be killed.

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Previous articles incorrectly reported that Palm Coast determined the dog dangerous a second time: that’s not the case, as Council member Vincent Lyon, an attorney who’s handled dangerous-dog cases before, said. A dog is determined dangerous just once. That designation is immutable for the rest of the dog’s life. What Palm Coast Animal Control had to determine in February was whether the criteria of a second bite against a human being, resulting in severe injury, had been met. It had. And since it had, the portion of Florida law that requires the dog to be killed kicked in.

The dog’s owner, Dottye Benton, appealed the decision to circuit court. But the court will not hear more testimony at the Nov. 5 hearing before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, Reischmann said. It will only examine the facts already presented and determine whether the city’s hearing officer applied the rules and definitions of “dangerous dog” properly, and whether there were sufficient facts to support the determination of death. It cannot simply reverse the determination outside those parameters, or even send the dog to a refuge just because advocates are calling for it (or even if the city council would prefer it).

“I think there’s a misunderstanding out there for what the appellate process is for these dangerous dog situations,” Reischmann said.

Beau Falgout, the city’s interim manager, said animal control takes its responsibilities very seriously when it comes to determining whether dogs should be declared dangerous or not, with each set of facts different one from the other. “For better or for worse, you don’t have a role in this process and neither do I,” he told the council.

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8 Responses for “Palm Coast Council Gets Primer on Dangerous Dog Rules: ‘You Don’t Have a Role in Process’”

  1. Totally Discussed says:

    I had been at the workshop today and I believe we need to hire a City Attorney who is a resident of Palm Coast. One who cares about our city not what the amount the $$$ amount in their paycheck is!

    Cooper’s health needs to be taken into consideration. You do not give a dog meds for a virus!

  2. Michael Cocchiola says:

    I fully understand the legal argument, but if hardened criminals can have death sentences commuted so can a dog’s death sentence. This is a dog. He’s not a serial killer. Surely we can muster enough mercy to spare his life so long as he’s separated from public contact.

  3. Trailer Bob says:

    This entire story is very sad. I have two large dogs at all times…when one passes we get another. Currently we have a GSD and a GSD-pit-great dane mix. One has bitten three people who were stupid enough to try and pet him over the fence. The is the only situation in which he gets aggressive, as he is trained to do. One our dogs are introduced to a stranger they fall in love with them (the humans). I hate to see any dog put down, but it appears that Cooper attacks not for protection, but for who knows? Sad story all the way around. I say move him to the west into the sanctuary for these types of dogs that have these negative behaviors.

  4. Rich says:

    Where is Joe Mullins? He is the biggest advocate of saving this dog. Why doesn’t he just use some of his $30,534,298 he claims he has and really help save Cooper instead of exploiting Dottye Benton. Shame on him using this issue to capitalize his campaign with. He leaves his dog alone all the time at his house in GA.

  5. Dog’s Best Friend says:

    I went to the workshop hoping that With the city manager being gone things would be changing. I see that other than Ms. Shipley the council is still not telling their lawyer what they want rather letting him run the show. How about instructing this lawyer to tell the judge at the hearing that they as a group want the judge to show leniency in this case. Of course the judge makes the ultimate decision but he needs to know the wishes of this council.

  6. John Brady says:

    Just so you know the taxpayers of Palm Coast have paid north of 15k in legal fees to kill Cooper . Yes is is over and above the 300K we already pay to our part time out of town attorney.

    It only takes 3 City Council votes to get rid of him. In total his firm gets north of 400k yearly, surely we can have our own city attorney who will be available every work day

  7. Debbie Darino says:

    It’s time to have a second look at the dangerous dog act and do some amending to it. I believe it should allow for an alternative to the sentence and instead of euthanizing it should allow the option, if available, for the animal to go to a reputable, rehabilitative rescue. We need to get that done so there isn’t another “Cooper” case in the future.

  8. Dog Lover says:

    As an owner of a agressive dog, I would never leave him in a situation where he can bite someone. It’s the owners fault for not keeping his dog under control. He should pay the price, not the dog. Save the dog and send him we’re he can live out his days and peace. This is a no brainier.

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