In a recent case in Manatee County, Florida, a dog named Padi, owned by veterinarian, Dr. Paul Gartenberg, was given a second chance at life by Judge Andrew Owens, Circuit Court Judge of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit in and for Manatee County, Florida who found that a state law that would have resulted in the euthanasia of Padi was unconstitutional.

In the “Final Order . . . Deeming §767.13(2), Florida Statutes, Unconstitutional,”1 the Court reiterated the undisputed facts, stating:

on June 4, 2015, Defendant’s dog, Padi, bit a small child on the ear. The bite cost the child a small piece of his ear and required emergency room stitching. As a result, Padi was confiscated by the Manatee County Animal Services Division. On June 18, 2015, the Manatee County Animal Services Division issued its final notice of violation of §767.13(2), Florida Statutes.’ That statute subjects Padi to destruction upon mere proof that the bite caused by the dog in question resulted in severe injury, as defined in §767.11(3), Florida Statutes.

The parties agreed that Padi inflicted “severe injury” which, according to the statute, required the humane euthanasia of Padi, but Dr. Gartenberg argued that the law is unconstitutional because “the unavailability of provocation as a defense — during the limited hearing afforded under” the law “violates his due process rights and allows for unfettered discretion in the enforcement of the statute.”

The Court agreed with Dr. Gartenberg holding:

[i]n sum, the Court concludes and declares that §767.13(2) is unconstitutional because the statute bears no rational relationship to the legislature’s otherwise legitimate interest in protecting people from dangerous dogs who attack without provocation, as codified in §767.10, and is therefore arbitrary and unduly oppressive.

What I found most interesting was the Court’s acknowledgement of the importance of dogs as companions and “the significance of the emotional bonds formed between people and their dogs” while legally remain “the subjects of property or ownership.”

Despite many objections to the continued status of dogs as “property,” courts throughout time have acknowledged their special status as “man’s best friend” which this Court further acknowledged by quoting “Vests Eulogy to the Dog,’ which was delivered during an 1872 closing argument by a Missouri attorney (and, later, senator) named George Graham Vest, who poignantly stated that:

[t]he one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous, is his dog. . . [A] man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fierce, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert he remains. When all riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens. If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies, and when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in his embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death. 1943-44 Official Manual, State of Missouri 1129.

Well said.

1. All citations to Manatee County v. Gartenberg, Case No. 2015-CA-003844, slip opinion (Fla. 12th Cir Dec. 17, 2015).