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‘Emotional support’ dog quarantined after biting toddler at airport

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2018-04-25 10_02_56-'Emotional support' dog quarantined after biting toddler at airport.png

Bay County officials said they had no choice under state law but to put the terrier under a 10-day quarantine to monitor it for signs of rabies.

PANAMA CITY — Bay County officials have released a dog from the county’s animal shelter after it reportedly bit a toddler this weekend at Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport.

The incident began Saturday when a terrier bit a toddler, causing what a responding firefighter described as “punctures to the top of the hand and a laceration on the bottom that might require stitches.”

The dog’s owner, Amy Foirello of Amherst, N.Y., had been waiting to board a Southwest Airlines flight to New York for cancer treatments when the Yorkshire terrier, which she said is an “emotional support” dog, bit the child. Foirello and her family said the child had provoked the dog, though an independent witness said the dog had not been touched.

“Numerous accounts by other passengers witnessed the child’s uncontrolled behavior prior to this and wanted to give written statements that the dog was not aggressive,” Leslie Templin Richards, Foirello’s sister, wrote in an email to Animal Control. “He only responded to the surprise of his tail being pulled. Bay County Animal Control refused to take the statements.”

By the time Bay County Animal Control officer S. Lewis arrived, the toddler’s family had taken its flight, but Foirello and the dog, Jax, still were in line awaiting their Southwest Airlines flight.

“She became hysterical and picked up her dog and said, ‘You’re not taking my dog,’” Lewis wrote in a report. Lewis also stated Foirello couldn’t produce proof that the dog had had its rabies shots.

Bay County officials said without that proof, they had no choice under state law but to put the terrier under a 10-day quarantine.

“From what I understand, the dog may have been an emotional support dog, which does not stop us from having to comply with the rabies quarantine since they could not provide proof of rabies shots,” Don Murray, Bay County’s General Services director, wrote in an email. “This was an emotional scene that took place in front of the airline staff and onlookers.”

The scene also involved Foirello’s father, Joe Templin, who Lewis wrote “became loud to the point that he was obstructing my work,” and a call from Templin’s lawyer.

 

Michael Templin, an environmental health specialist for the Bay County Health Department who is not related to the family, said state law requires that dogs or cats be held for 10 days after biting someone so that health officials can watch the animal to see if it shows any neurological signs of rabies.

After a vaccination report was presented to Animal Control on Sunday, the dog was released to Joe Templin, who lives in Panama City Beach. However, the dog still cannot leave the state until the quarantine period is over, according to state law.

Letha Gorman, Joe Templin’s attorney, said Tuesday the family is considering taking legal action against Bay County for taking a service animal away from its owner. She said Foirello is dealing with cancer and has been worried about whether the dog has been receiving its proper medication.

According to a physician’s letter included the incident reports, the woman needs the dog for “emotional support.” Gorman said Southwest Airlines classifies the dog as a “service animal,” and Animal Control should have as well.

“What the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is saying is that a service dog is defined now to include those used for emotional therapy and comfort for people with physical illnesses,” Gorman said Tuesday.

However, state law says a “service animal” is one that is trained to perform tasks for an individual with a disability. In his report, Lewis disagrees with the “service animal” designation for this dog.

“The crime-deterrent effect of an animal’s presence and the provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks for purposes of this definition,” Lewis noted in the report.

Gorman said now that it has proof of the rabies vaccination, the county should release the dog back to its owner in New York, instead of making it stay in Florida another week until the quarantine ends.

Murray said his agency would ensure the dog serves out its quarantine.

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