MANATEE -- Gov. Rick Scott has signed a bill into law that allows discretion on whether to put dogs to death that cause severe injuries to humans -- just as Padi, the Manatee dog that inspired the legislation, has become the subject of another bite controversy.
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office declined Tuesday to pursue a misdemeanor charge of reckless disregard for a service dog resulting in its injury against Paul Gartenberg, Padi's owner, a day after Padi bit a service dog in training on the nose. Padi first became famous after he faced euthanasia for biting part of a child's ear off in June, in a controversial incident that rallied thousands in support of Padi.
"While the actions of the past for Padi may have given warning to possible future issues, in order for the charge of reckless injury to a service animal to also be applicable, there by law would require a reckless disregard on the doctor's behalf," a deputy wrote in his report. "During my investigation, I did not find that the doctor appeared at any time to be grossly and consciously negligent without concern for danger to others."
The deputy called it "nothing more than an unfortunate accident." He also said the puppy did not have "substantial training" as a service dog and was not performing duties as a service dog at the time of the incident.
The case will still be forwarded to the State Attorney's Office for review.
Tammy Kritz, the raiser of the service dog in training for New Horizons Service Dogs, said neither she nor New Horizons have plans to file a lawsuit.
Kritz had visited Gartenberg's vet clinic Monday morning with Obi-Wan, a 4-month-old golden retriever, to get his 16-week shots. Padi bit Obi-Wan on the nose as Kritz was leaving, but Kritz and Gartenberg provided different details on what led to the incident.
Kritz said she has visited Gartenberg for years, a couple times with the young puppy and more with her personal dog, a 7-year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel. She brought Obi-Wan in for a rabies vaccine and said her puppy was excited by the new people and other dogs.
"He is the nicest, sweetest dog and was not growling at anyone," Kritz said. "He was excited."
Gartenberg said Monday that the puppy was growling at other dogs in the waiting room.
Kritz said she got the puppy to lie down beside her at one point before employees took them back to an exam room. Gartenberg said they did this early because Obi-
Wan was behaving aggressively, but Kritz said she was back there early because she was Gartenberg's first appointment of the day.
"Nothing happened beforehand whatsoever," Kritz said.
After the appointment, Kritz said she went up front to pay and Obi-Wan was beside her on the leash. She said Gartenberg went back into his office to grab some flea prevention medication and when he came back, Padi followed him into the waiting room. Obi-Wan tried to approach to sniff Padi, Kritz said, but couldn't because she had shortened the leash to keep him beside her. Padi then came up to Obi-Wan and bit him on the nose three times, Kritz said.
"The third time he held on for several seconds," Kritz said.
Gartenberg said Padi only "grabbed" Obi-Wan's nose once, and that Obi-Wan had approached Padi.
Kritz said there were "deep" bite marks on Obi-Wan's nose that were dripping blood. Gartenberg described the injuries as barely a scratch.
Kritz said the wounds didn't bleed for long, but she took Obi-Wan to the Sarasota Veterinary Emergency Hospital to be safe. A veterinarian at that hospital who asked not to be named said they did examine Obi-Wan on Monday and the injuries were not severe, but she understood Kritz's concern.
"I would always put antibiotics on an injury like that. I thought it was justified," she said. "But he will recover 100 percent. I think he'll be just fine."
Gartenberg said he thinks Padi is being targeted so others can receive attention in the media, but Kritz said she wasn't aware of Padi's history until after the bite happened. She said she called law enforcement to report the incident and was directed to Animal Services, who told her about Padi's history.
"He's allowing a dog that has bit another dog and a child to be out," Kritz said. "It's completely negligent."
The sheriff's report mentions that Padi has also bitten another dog.
"Within nine months of today's date, this dog has attacked at least two dogs and one child," said Dan Dannheisser, attorney for the parents of the child who was bit in June. He noted that Padi was an abused animal before Gartenberg took him into his care. "When animals are abused they develop behaviors. It's not the dog's fault, but the owner should take responsibility."
Padi drew thousands of supporters in recent months after the black labrador mix faced euthanasia for biting off a part of a 4-year-old child's ear. The child reportedly had cornered Padi in a part of Gartenberg's office at the clinic and then accounts differ on whether the child lunged at Padi first or if Padi lunged at the child. Padi bit off a part of the child's ear, and since the wound required sutures it was considered a severe injury.
Under previous Florida statute, dogs that cause severe injuries to humans had to be put down regardless of the circumstances. A large group of people spoke out publicly for Padi, saying he shouldn't be put down since the bite was in self-defense. A judge later ruled that the statute was unconstitutional and set Padi free.
Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, filed legislation to change the law so hearing officers could consider circumstances of the bite. In cases of self-defense or defense of humans, dogs that cause severe injuries would not have to be euthanized under the bill. It passed both the Florida House and Senate unanimously and Scott signed it into law Tuesday.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby