In mid-afternoon on February 27, 2021, Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the report of a child getting bitten by a dog on Colbert Lane in Palm Coast.
The dog, a 3-year-old pitbull mix named Jati, had bitten off part of the nose of the 8-year-old girl. The dog belonged to Melissa Gilham, 45, a resident of Brevard County. The dog had been declared dangerous in Orange County the previous year. That meant it was subject to strict restrictions when in public. Gilham was not abiding by the restrictions when the dog attacked the girl.
Gilham was charged with a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, though rarely so for people who have no criminal record.
Today, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins sentenced Gilham to 24 months on probation, withholding the adjudication, which means Gilham will not be considered a felon. The resolution of the case is the result of a plea deal negotiated between her attorney, Josh Davis, and the prosecution. Gilham will not be allowed to own pets for the duration of the probation, and will have to fulfill 50 hours of community service, with restitution costs yet to be determined in the next two months.
The child underwent at least two surgeries–she was treated at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando–, according to Gilham’s arrest report. The incident had happened during a running event. The dog was wearing a vest that said “ask to pet.” When the girl approached the dog, which was tied up to a fence, away from runners, Gilham told her the girl to wait until the dog calmed down before petting him. The girl approached the dog anyway, bit the girl and wrapped its paws around her.
The dangerous dog designation is not arbitrary. A dog is so designated only after it’s been proven to have aggressively bitten, attacked, endangered, or inflicted a “severe injury” on a human, according to Florida law, or that has on more than one occasion severely injured or killed another animal. There are exceptions, such as when a dog attacks someone on the dog’s property, or when the dog is responding to torment or abuse, or when the dog’s attack is protective of another person who is himself or herself under attack.
Once a dog is declared dangerous, it must be registered with authorities as such, confined even on its own property, to prevent interactions with children, and when not confined, it must be muzzled. Signs must be posted conspicuously outside the property warning visitors of a dangerous dog’s presence.
Gilham, the arrest report states, “refused to follow these guide lines such as having a muzzle on the dog while off of her own property. [She] brought a dog deemed dangerous from another county to a public park hosting a running event full of people. She did not follow proper procedure in keeping the public safe from this dog nor did she reveal to anyone at this event that her dog was dangerous and no one should approach it. Nor should she knowing allow anyone to approach the dog. Because of this, a young innocent victim suffered serious injury to her face.”
Gilham, speaking in a small, barely audible voice, answered the judge’s questions and pleaded no contest. She told the judge she would have to give up her dogs. “They’re dogs that we’ve had since they were infants and they’ll be going back to Texas with my daughter,” Gilham said. Davis said the probation will be served in Brevard County.
The judge will allow early termination of probation at the 12-month mark, “assuming that you have no violations and you’ve complied and met the terms of your probation,” Perkins said.
How sad it is for this kid to have been attacked because of someone’s lack of good judgment. I have great sympathy for someone who is in trouble for a dog they had no idea would bite, but she KNEW this could happen.
I adopted a dog from a no kill shelter a few years ago, unfortunately he was aggressive and bit me a couple of times, and I spent $2,000 with a professional trainer assuming that would fix the problem, but it didn’t.
As much as I loved him, I knew he could kill a child or attack anyone if he got out, so I had to put him to sleep when he bit me again (the bites were serious, not a nip). It just broke my heart, I loved him so much, I cried rivers over this, but I had to think about the danger I was putting myself and other people in by keeping him. I consoled myself in that he had a wonderful life when he was with me, rather than being moved from shelter shelter and living his entire life in a cage.
The trainer said he was absolutely not adoptable because of the aggression. I hate to say it, but that might be the best idea for this dog rather than passing him to someone else, because obviously if he has a history of biting the chances of that changing are pretty slim. No one else should be bitten because of him, imagine if the attack had taken off this child’s face or killed her!
Unfortunate, but pit bulls have the worst reputation when they’re no more likely to bite than any other dog breed, but when they do bite the severity of the injury is extreme.
I hope this dog will never be brought out into public again by anyone and every measure will be taken to secure him, and put in a muzzle if he has to go somewhere like the vet.
Under the circumstances, probation is a pretty light sentence in my opinion, since she knew the dog had could hurt someone and knowingly broke the law by bringing him into public. It was irresponsible to the extreme.
I have a pit bull and you have to start training them REALLY young. The previous owner of my dog did not, so I have to watch her if she’s around people. She wears a muzzle if I’m not absolutely CERTAIN she’ll get along, and that’s only the case with people she already knows. This woman should NOT have been allowing a child to pet that dog at all knowing it had a problem with aggression. It’s sad the pit bull stories get most of the coverage in the news too because they are not more likely to bit than other dogs. Chihuahuas are actually near the top of the bite list.
A J Billings says
Pit bulls make up only 6% of the dog population, but they’re responsible for 68% of dog attacks and 52% of dog-related deaths since 1982, according to research compiled by Merritt Clifton, editor of Animals 24-7, an animal-news organization that focuses on humane work and animal-cruelty prevention.
Regardless of WHY PITBULLS are by far the dogs doing most of the killing, it’s obvious that government needs to do something about this
Sounds like this woman wants to send the dog to Texas to run from it’s designation & past bite history. And the parents of the 8 year old child victim, why aren’t they teaching their child to obey the owner’s instructions regarding another’s dog, even that pit bulls aren’t exactly the Nanny dogs their owner’s portray them as.
The dangerous dog was seized by Orange County authorities and killed.
I adopted an older dog from the Flager Humane Society. He is a cuddly and obedient older male and about 80% Pitbull according to the DNA test.
Although I would never suspect he would bit a human, (even if I was being attacked), I don’t like taking him to public places especially where there are crowds. I certainly would never consider taking a dog deemed “dangerous” in public.
I think its very bad judgement to bring the dog to such an event. It was most certainly dangerous behavior to not be in full control of the dog.
I understand not wanting to leave our pets at home. However, things like this won’t happen, further disparaging the bred as a whole, if we left our dogs, that can be dangerous just by thier nature, at home. I doubt the dog enjoyed being out in the heat of a Florida summer anyhow.
Eileen Araujo says
Look out Texas. Where’s Gilham’s pain & suffering? Money talks and she walks…where is the justice? Very selfish person. How sad. Flagler County dealing again.
Why was this lady not complying, with such a dangerous dog. Honestly this dog needs to be put down. There is no place in our culture this behavior!
Bill C says
So, an 8 year old got her face bitten by a savage dog that was owned by a non-complying woman and said woman got probation? Then the woman moans for the dog(s) she may lose instead of a statement of contrition and sympathy towards the child? The judge must have heard something that the article didn’t say because this sentencing was a slap on the wrist.
The defendant was involved in the child’s recovery, did issue apologies and more. This was a plea hearing combined with sentencing, no testimony was given. She was required only to answer the judge’s questions and tender her plea.
So a dangerous dog just goes off to Texas where it can do the same thing again. Will the dangerous dog designation follow the dog too where Texas officials will be made aware of the dogs past?
Don’t you all read the posts, the dog was seized and put to sleep
Deborah Coffey says
Judge Perkins has got to go! He barely holds anyone accountable for their crimes…except for Blacks!
This woman knew her dog was dnagerous to the public. Despite being previously informed that more critical intervention was necessary, she probably foolishly believed that hanging a sign around her dog’s neck stating, “ask to pet” would suffice to serve as some kind of warning although it could be reaosnably interpreted as an invitation.
Although the criminal aspects of her poor judgement have been dealt with, it seems likely that a civil action seeking substantial damages may soon follow on its heels.
People please be careful with your dogs. They are animals and like animals. Dogs do bite and they do kill people. Have heard of many cases where dogs running wild and killing people. They can become a killing machine. Hope the child a full recovery.
Usually a dog owner is responsible for a dog biting someone or running at large. The dog always takes the blame for human errors.
Timothy Patrick Welch says
Should dangerous criminals be allowed to run free? Or should they be put down?