MANATEE -- Attorneys on the case of Padi, a dog facing euthanasia for biting off part of a child's ear in June, met Monday and discussed sending the case to a circuit court for a ruling on the constitutionality of a state law requiring dogs causing severe injuries to be put down.
Manatee County Attorney Mitchell Palmer said Chief Assistant County Attorney Robert Eschenfelder; Padi's owner, Paul Gartenberg and his wife; and their attorney Charles Britt met Monday to discuss options.
One was sending the case to a circuit court judge, who could declare whether the state law is constitutional, according to Palmer. If a judge declares the law unconstitutional, Padi would likely no longer face euthanasia. If a judge declares it constitutional, the Gartenbergs could either appeal the case or the county would have to continue the hearing process.
Eschenfelder said he believes the court could find time for a hearing a week after the motion is filed, which he plans to finish by Friday.
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Padi, a 4-year-old male Labrador mix, bit the child's ear June 4 when the child and his babysitter were visiting the Pet Clinic, 714 60th St. Court E., Bradenton, which is owned by Gartenberg. Accounts agree the child was in Gartenberg's private office throwing toys at Padi, who was under Gartenberg's desk.
Accounts by the victim's family lawyer, the babysitter and Gartenberg differ on whether the babysitter and Gartenberg's daughter were
in the room with the child when he was bitten.
Accounts also differ on whether the child had simply bent over to pick up a toy by the desk when Padi lunged at him, or if the child lunged at Padi in an effort to get him out from under the desk.
Padi was taken into Animal Services custody after the bite and a decision on whether to euthanize the dog was pending when the hearing officer announced they would reopen the case to hear testimony on whether the dog was provoked. A second hearing has not yet been scheduled.
"I'm hopeful that what we talked about works out, but I don't want to get ahead of myself," Britt said.
Britt and Palmer also said they had discussed options to release Padi to the Gartenbergs custody should they seek the judgment from the circuit court. Eschenfelder said the county does not have the power to release Padi from the custody of Animals Services, but a judge would have the power to relocate the dog.
"The county would not, assuming adequate protections are in place, object to that request," Eschenfelder said. County commissioners have said they have no control over Padi's fate, because according to Florida's dangerous dog law, any dog attacking a person and causing "severe injury" has to be euthanized. Severe injuries are defined as "any physical injury that results in broken bones, multiple bites or disfiguring lacerations requiring sutures or reconstructive surgery."
The child's injuries needed stitches and will require reconstructive surgery, according to reports.
"We are working together. We want to change the process so it doesn't happen again," said Manatee County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac. "We have a little work to do."
Attorneys such as Wendy Smith, former attorney for the Gartenbergs, said the strict interpretation of the statute ignores basic case law. Other parts of the dangerous dog law not concerning severe injuries allow for investigations into what provoked the dog.
"The county attorney is saying that you have to look at one particular statute in a chapter in isolation, and that when you are interpreting that you can't look at any other part of that chapter," Smith said.
"Law school 101 tells you that every statute must be read in the context of the entire chapter. Saying that you read one statute alone. ... without looking at anything else, would be like me telling you: 'Pick up a book, read a chapter in the middle, and tell me what happened before it.'"
Smith said it isn't just about the dog. The two owners would be "devastated" at the loss of their pet.
"When I saw Dr. Gartenberg yesterday. He looked like he'd lost 10 pounds. His shoulders are slumped over and he just looks so sad," she said. "The last time I saw his wife she just dissolved into tears."
There has been widespread community support for Padi, with a Facebook page called "Free Padi" getting nearly 18,000 likes in less than a month. Many people have come to speak at Manatee County Commission meetings in support of the dog.
Dan Dannheisser, attorney for the victim's family, said in a statement his clients, who have received numerous threats, are not calling for the euthanization of Padi.
"The family has been actively offering support to the Gartenbergs in reaching an appropriate agreement with the county, seeking a means of the dog returned to them with assurances designed to protect against a repeat of this risk to others," Dannheisser wrote.
Many concerned residents such as Agatha Mantanes, said this is important not just to save Padi's life, but also to save the lives of any animals that fall under the dangerous dog statute and don't deserve to be killed.
"Padi will happen again," Mantanes said. "If you remember the Buck and Bill incident (in 2014), they used the exact same formula to do the exact same thing."
-- Herald county government reporter Claire Aronson contributed to this report.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby