The Flagler County Commission this evening emphatically rejected a proposed settlement that would have removed the dangerous dog designation from the Labrador responsible for an attack on an 8-year-old child in early July, biting the child below the eye after the child entered the dog’s home uninvited. The bite required 45 stitches.
The commission’s 4-1 vote reasserts a September decision in which commissioners rejected a hearing officer’s finding that the dog, called Bacchus, had acted in defense of what it considers its domain. But the case is not over. The proposed settlement, worked out between County Attorney Al Hadeed and attorney Vince Lyon, who represents Jay and Dawn Sweatt, the dog owners, would have avoided further litigation. Now, Lyon said, the case will go back before County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens for further proceedings. The proposed settlement had been one step in those proceedings.
The terms of the proposed settlement filled one paragraph, being an amendment to restrictions imposed by the “dangerous dog” requirement. Several of those restrictions would have stayed in place, including the requirement to tattoo the dog or have him electronically identified, with an implant, as a dog with that attack’s history–but not as a “dangerous dog.” The most significant effect of removing the designation would have kept the Sweatts of being charged with a third-degree felony should the dog bite someone again. In the proposed settlement, the dog would have been confined in the Sweatts’ house “when not under the direct control of an adult owner,” warning signs would have been posted at the house entrance, the dog would have had to be trained, and Bacchus would have had to be muzzled when off the Sweatts’s property.
“The Sweatts don’t believe their dog is a dangerous dog who presents a danger to the community,” Lyon told commissioners. “They want hat you want which is to make sure our community is a safe one.” He conceded that the July attack “was bad, it was distressing, and a child was injured,” but not that the dog had acted as a dangerous animal.
The child, Ricky Westfall, 8, was friends with one of the Sweatts’s children and visited there often, but that day had tried to visit and been told to come back later in the day, after calling first. When he returned, he found the door unlocked. It’s not clear who let him in, if anyone. Once he entered, the dog bit him.
Lyon briefly argued before commissioners that the proposed settlement did not change the commission’s previous finding (although in one substantial way it did just that, by removing the dangerous dog designation). Rather, he said, the settlement relieves the family of certain requirements, such as building an outdoors enclosure (they live on a 5-acre property, and even the Westfalls’ attorney, Dennis Bayer, conceded that enclosing the whole property was not realistic). Of Geri Westfall, the victim’s mother, Lyon said, “I do understand her pain, my client understands her pain and they’re doing everything reasonable to protect the community.”
Westfall did not agree with the settlement.
“This settlement is a joke,” she wrote in a Dec. 17 email to Bayer. “It doesn’t protect anyone from Bacchus chasing them down if they are in the street or riding their bike or taking a walk–because the Sweatts only have an underground fence that Bacchus has a history of running through.” (Westfall was referring to a documented incident when the dog reacted aggressively to a couple biking by, prompting a man to fire his gun as a warning against the dog, which had not, in fact, crossed the underground fence.) “My former neighbors,” Westfall, who has since moved from the neighborhood, continued, “carry Tasers, baseball bats, and golf clubs when they walk and ride their bikes and they get no help from anyone with authority. Look to the extent I have gone and now they are considering this agreement? It’s a joke!”
Bayer presented a more measured view of the proposed settlement, saying he understood for the need to settle when possible, but that the settlement was too vague and permissive, and that Lyon’s statement about the dog not being dangerous was worrisome. “The training is so vague, they could have a next-door neighbor come in and provide training for the dog,” Bayer said. The training curriculum should be specific and prescribed, he said, otherwise it’s a “more or less meaningless proposition.”
Bayer was also concerned about the Sweatts’s lack of insurance. He said they should face some measure of financial obligation in addition to providing better assurances of security to neighbors.
Commissioner Frank Meeker, the lone dissenter in September in the dangerous dog declaration, again was willing to go with the settlement if it were strengthened. He suggested the dog should be tethered whenever it was outside, a proposal Lyon said he would agree to.
But Meeker was still the lone dissenter.
“I’m very troubled over the severity of the injury to this young child and am of the belief if an animal attacks with that viciousness, that they possibly could do it again,” Commissioner George Hanns said.
Lyon disputed the characterization of the attack as vicious, saying the record reflected that the dog attacked once, biting the boy severely, but “this was not a dog attempting to take someone down.” Commissioner Barbara Revels said the matter was not about to be re-litigated before the commission. As chairman of the commission, she could not make a motion on the matter. But she appeared eager to do so as she passed the gavel to Commissioner Nate McLaughlin and moved to reject the settlement. Hanns seconded, and the commission voted 4-1 for her motion.
Lyon confirmed after the meeting that the issue would be in county court next.
The most important sentence in these proceedings: “entered the home uninvited.” The court wants the family who owns the dog to provide proof of training, yet this special snowflake of a child seemingly walks into peoples’ homes uninvited. What about training your children?
Rich Mikola says
The dog attacked and severely injured a child. It’s a dangerous dog, end of story. Muzzle the dog so it does not hurt anyone else. The dog has a history in the neighborhood of being aggressive, someone going for a walk should not have to carry a club to defend themselves.
This entire story is pretty much “crap”. If someone walked into my home, uninvited, I would probably shoot them. That doesn’t make me a violent person that will go around randomly shooting people for no reason in the real world. But it DOES make me a person that will defend me and mine.
I think it is even that much more funny that the mother of the child is pointing out that people in the neighborhood take golf clubs, etc when they go walking or biking, as if it is for THAT DOG in particular….
This is Flagler County, Home of the Fogies–and a lot of our seniors are very much about their physical fitness. I see older folks walking in MY neighborhood, too, with golf clubs and walking sticks, etc in case of an errant dog attack (or other animal). It is just good sense, not a testament to this particular LABRADOR, which happens to be a breed known for being a “family dog” and friendly…..
I am sorry that a child ended up hurt…. But rather than a mother sit in her window and watch the comings and goings of all the other neighbors (which is the only way she would actually know that they “all carry tasers, golf clubs, and baseball bats because they are scared of this particular dog”), she should focus on teaching her child not to enter someone’s home uninvited/unescorted… How would she feel if her child just randomly opened someone’s door and they fired a gun and killed that kid? They would be defending their home from a would-be invasion, and her child would have paid with his life! She needs to take the time to focus on the actual PROBLEM here. Blaming a dog for defending its property and owners instead of taking responsibility for raising your child correctly is a lot like slapping a Band-Aid on a cancer — You can’t see it anymore, but it will continue to grow and cause lasting damaging effects. Just a thought.
This is the issue that is wrong with this generation of children these days… Parents are too busy looking for someone else to blame, or someone else to do their jobs–schools are teaching them to read, tie their shoes, potty-training, basic social skills that should be a part of every day life from the time the child exits the womb; just man-up and do what YOU are supposed to do. Teach your child, so that they DON’T go into someone else’s home. Teach them not to play in traffic. Read to them. Talk to them. Teach them not to run the streets all hours of the day and night. Talk to them about drugs and sex. Don’t wait for the DARE officer to come once a year to address the student body as a whole–talk to your kid one-on-one. This IS your job, as a parent.
Good all dangerous dogs need to be identified and owners charged.
The terms of the commission-rejected settlement were far too yielding to the dogs owners. This was a good call although I believe even animals are products of their environments
Carol Fisher says
Our son was also attacked by a vicious dog when he was five years old. He had multiple wounds that required over 100 stitches. That dog owner also said the dog was not vicious. I will never forget that day, being afraid of the dog, but wanting to save my son. Our city at that time, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, took action to label the dog vicious. Up until that day the dog had attacked other neighborhood dogs, and threatened people but had not been REPORTED. Once the dog was labeled “vicious” the owner chose NOT to follow the requirements (muzzling, caging, etc.) so the dog was moved out of the city. As my five-year-old said, “So now the dog can live out in the country and bite other kids.” I really don’t understand why someone wants a dog that attacks and threatens innocent people. Also, to the person that said, “If someone entered my home uninvited I would shoot them”, SHAME on you. Really! A child?
Though I do feel bad for the boy and his family… The Dog was in his own home when somebody came in uninvited. nobody wants to see a child injured, but as a dog owner myself, I know that my dog protects his home and his family inside it.
This is being blown way out of proportion. the dog didn’t chase down the boy. The boy is in the wrong, and unfortunately was injured. Maybe mom and dad should train their son how to knock on other peoples doors, instead of walking right in to a neighbors home
Seems as if there is much more to this on either side. I don’t see it as a dangerous dog as it was inside of its owners home and the kid came into it without the owners knowledge. the piece says the kid visited the home often not sure exactly what is considered as often and was it normal for this kid or anyone else to enter the home without being let in or accompanied by the owns?
Once again it needs to be reiterated based on this article and at least one other that the issue of the child entering the house uninvited is in question; impossible for us to know. Without evidence proving he did enter and was not let in,, we cannot decide unequivocably that the dog was in fact defending his domain and the dangerous dog label is prudent. Put emotions aside and see this case for what it is: liability and accepting responsibility for the inconsistent behavior of one’s animal.
I know of no one that keeps their front door unlocked. The boy’s friend has to let him in. I believe the boy rang the bell or knocked on the door, and his friend answered it. Use common sense. I agree with Bethechange. In the absence of proof, you side with the human, not the animal.