Florida's Doggie Death Row Law Faces Challenges

If your dog bites someone and investigators declare the resulting wound "severe," your dog will be put to death — even if your pet hasn't been previously declared a dangerous dog. That's the law in Florida, but a case in Bradenton involving a black Labrador retriever named Padi has caused so much outrage that the Florida House is considering rewriting that strict rule. 

This past June, Padi bit the ear of a 4-year-old boy named Cooper. The injury was so bad that the child will require three surgeries, including ear reconstruction, to correct the damage. Under the law, any bite that causes disfigurement, even if the wound merely requires stitches, is automatically classified as severe. The dog is then put on what is effectively doggie death row and sentenced to be destroyed. However, owners are given a chance to request a hearing. 

Padi's owner, veterinarian Paul Gartenberg, says his dog should be given a second chance. According to WFLA, he claims that Padi was a rescue dog who was abused by previous owners and that the dog often hid under his office desk as a "safe spot" when he became afraid or stressed out. While playing at the vet's office in June, the boy followed the dog under the desk and allegedly lunged, and Padi responded by biting him. 

“This dog was purely acting defensively. I can’t think of a dog that wouldn’t have reacted the way Padi did," Gartenberg told WFLA.

Gartenberg adds that the dog is usually friendly and playful. 

The case has made its way through social media and has since grown a bit odd. Gartenberg's lawyers will actually invoke Florida's infamous Stand Your Ground law in Padi's defense. A Facebook page called "Free Padi" has garnered more than 25,000 likes, but it is using the politically tone-deaf "All Lives Matter" slogan as part of its logo. 

Regardless, Padi's day in court is today. The dog's supporters' best hope is that the judge will rule the law unconstitutional because owners have very little recourse to save their pet's life. Gartenberg says he'd accept having Padi designated as a "dangerous dog" but doesn't think the pup should die for one incident. 

The case has also caused a reaction in the Florida House of Representatives. 

Rep. Greg Steube, a Republican who represents the area, has introduced a bill that would ease Florida's "doggie death row" law. 

The law would require officials to take the "nature and circumstances of the injury and the likelihood of a future threat to the public safety, health, and welfare" into account before giving a death sentence to a dog that hadn't been previously declared dangerous. The law also clarifies the appeals process and gives judges more power to overturn the punishment required by an animal control office. 

As for Padi, his hearing is scheduled for this afternoon. We'll update you with the results.