Florida Dog Bite Statute May Be Ruled Unconstitutional Today Due to Mandatory Killing Aspect

Padi, as pictured on Facebook.
Padi, as pictured on Facebook.

Florida veterinarian Paul Gartenberg performed surgery on a stray dog who had a rusty chain embedded in his neck.  Although his intention was to find a home for the dog, he ended up falling in love with him so made the dog part of his family.  He named him Padi, due to the padlock on the embedded chain he was dragging when found.

Padi came to work every day with his owner and was beloved by hundreds of clients at the vet clinic.  In June, a 4 year old boy was interacting with Padi at the clinic.  At some point, Padi attempted to hide under a desk but the boy reportedly followed him into the tight space, lunged at the dog, and Padi bit off the child’s earlobe.  Padi was seized by Manatee Co Animal Services for killing:

The state’s “Damage By Dogs” statute says that a dog that bites a person without provocation is to be “immediately confiscated by an animal control authority, placed in quarantine, if necessary, for the proper length of time, or impounded and held for 10 business days after the owner is given written notification, and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner.”

Dr. Gartenberg hired an attorney to fight in court for Padi’s right to live. After 11 weeks, Dr. Gartenberg received permission from the court to bring Padi home from the pound.  But the legal battle has continued, with Padi gaining support from many animal activists.

The legal argument being made on behalf of Padi is that the Florida statute requiring automatic killing is unconstitutional as it robs the owner of his due process – that is, a chance to offer a defense by explaining to a judge the circumstances of the bite.  There is a hearing scheduled in Manatee Co for this afternoon at 2:00 during which the judge could decide that the statute is unconstitutional.  In that case, Padi would be allowed to live.  State legislators are already working on amending the law.

7 thoughts on “Florida Dog Bite Statute May Be Ruled Unconstitutional Today Due to Mandatory Killing Aspect

  1. Part of the statute is surely “void for vagueness” — the part about biting a person without provocation. Pursuing the hiding dog & then lunging at him constitutes provocation, not that the child had to intend to provoke, but that those actions acted to provoke the dog & under normal circumstances would provoke most dogs in general. One could argue that the limitation “without provocation” already implicitly accords the owner the right to contest the decision, but the statute should provide a mechanism for doing so. So glad this is being challenged in court —

    1. The attorney for the child’s family disputes the claim that the boy provoked the dog in any way. The Free Padi website goes a bit further the other way claiming the child was teasing the dog, took away his toys, cornered him when he hid under the desk then lunged at the dog, all while under the (non) supervision of a 19 year old babysitter. I split the difference and went with the version the local news said was in the police report. In any case, I agree with you that the “unprovoked” wording requires that the owner be allowed to present a defense.

    2. Marianna, if you see this — obviously, having the law be declared unconstitutional would save Padi’s life, but I wonder if it would also serve as a useful precedent in other jurisdictions: Florida can’t be the only state with this kind of statute. Any thoughts about that? IIUC, this is a Circuit Court case, and Circuit Courts are federal courts that handle a wide range of cases at the local and state level, is that right? Not sure which kinds of court decisions are most effective in serving as precedents.

  2. Well, glad it’s being challenged. Killing a dog without any sort of recourse on the owner’s part is just horrible. Thank goodness this owner is a vet with resources to fight it.

  3. WTSP 10 News fb page: “We’ve just learned that there will be no decision today on the fate of Padi the dog – the judge will issue a written decision.”

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