TALLAHASSEE -- A bill sponsored by state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, to keep dogs from automatically facing euthanasia after they bite someone and cause severe injuries passed its first subcommittee hearing with unanimous support Wednesday.
Steube proposed the bill in response to the case of Padi, a Manatee County 4-year-old male Labrador mix who bit off part of a child's ear in an incident that became highly controversial. Padi was facing euthanasia for the bite, because it was considered a severe injury under state law.
Supporters of Padi and his owner, Paul Gartenberg, say Padi was just defending himself when the child cornered him under a desk on June 4. But as the decision for Padi's fate inched closer, the Manatee County Commission told protesters that state law gave the hearing officer no leeway to consider preceding circumstances of a bite that causes severe injuries, which include injuries that
require sutures or reconstructive surgery.
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This case "really brought to the forefront a law that is really unfair, in my opinion," Steube said. "If a burglar breaks into your house and the dog bites the burglar, the dog would have to be put down."
Steube's bill would change that law's language, allowing exceptions if the person injured was unlawfully on the property or abusing the dog or its owner, or the dog was defending a human. If those exceptions apply, a hearing officer could declare the dog dangerous and return it to the owner or return it to the owner without restrictions, rather than having it euthanized. Those exceptions would not apply if a death occurred.
Steube also changed the bill's language to become effective as soon as the governor signs it into law, which means it could be law as soon as January. If the Padi case is still pending in court, the law would apply to Padi's case, Steube said.
An attorney for Gartenberg has filed a motion with the 12th Judicial Circuit Court for a summary judgment, saying the current law is unconstitutional because it violates due process. County attorneys have also filed a motion for summary judgment, and interested parties hope to have a court date within a month.
Before a dog is deemed dangerous, current law states there must be a hearing that allows the owner to present a case in defense of the dog before a hearing officer determines whether the dog is dangerous. Steube argued it makes no sense to have that process when deeming a dog dangerous but not when the dog faces death.
"This would apply the same standard as a dangerous dog to a normal dog," he said.
There were four public comments on the proposed law during testimony before the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, including one from Manatee County. All four supported the bill.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby