When your emo­tional sup­port pit bull bites

Times Standard (Eureka) - - OPINION - H. Den­nis Beaver Den­nis Beaver prac­tices law in Bak­ers­field and wel­comes com­ments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to 661-323-7993, or emailed to Lagombeave­r1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit den­nis­beaver.com.

“They want to kill ‘Cozy,’ our of­fice emo­tional sup­port dog!” were the first words spo­ken by “Chris,” who sounded just sec­onds away from cry­ing. “Can you stop them? You’ve got to help me stop them,” he kept re­peat­ing.

He found my col­umn online, gam­bled that I would lis­ten and help pre­vent his lo­cal An­i­mal Con­trol Depart­ment from de­stroy­ing the Pit Bull-Labrador mixed breed which he and Linda, his fi­ancee, adopted from a res­cue as a pet three years ago and, “which pro­vides comfort to us and our 6 op­ti­cian-em­ploy­ees, most of whom suf­fer from anx­i­ety,” he ex­plained.

He was right about one thing; I would lis­ten to his story which went deep into is­sues that he had given vir­tu­ally no thought to.

Sup­port vs. ser­vice dog

In the past sev­eral years there has been a grow­ing aware­ness of the tremen­dous ben­e­fit to our lives brought by ser­vice an­i­mals, de­fined by the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice since March 15, 2011 as: “Dogs — in­clud­ing psy­chi­atric ser­vice dogs — that are in­di­vid­u­ally trained to do work or per­form tasks for people with dis­abil­i­ties.” They have con­sid­er­able pro­tec­tion un­der the Amer­i­cans with Dis­abil­i­ties Act. How­ever, emo­tional sup­port an­i­mals do not.

Ser­vice dogs and emo­tional sup­port an­i­mals aren’t the same thing. In the US, own­ers of an emo­tional sup­port an­i­mal must have an emo­tional or men­tal dis­abil­ity that is cer­ti­fied by a men­tal health pro­fes­sional such as a psy­chi­a­trist, psy­chol­o­gist, or other li­censed men­tal health care provider.

While state laws dif­fer some­what, in gen­eral;

• An owner’s men­tal health im­pair­ment must be substantia­l enough to pro­duce dis­abil­ity, rather than dis­com­fort or a desire to have a pet, and;

• The emo­tional sup­port an­i­mal’s pres­ence must pro­vide a sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit that makes the dif­fer­ence be­tween the per­son func­tion­ing ad­e­quately or not.

Nei­ther Chris nor his fi­ancee ob­tained doc­u­men­tary proof from a men­tal health pro­fes­sional that the dog was in fact needed by any­one in their of­fice for emo­tional sup­port.

De­spite the fact that Cozy wears “a vest that states ‘Emo­tional Sup­port Dog’ ” (pur­chased from Ama­zon), An­i­mal Con­trol of­fi­cers weren’t im­pressed when a 911 call alerted them to what hap­pened one af­ter­noon.

We ar­gued, Cozy bit me

“Linda is bipo­lar and re­cently she has re­fused to take her meds. One day at the of­fice, with her be­hav­ior get­ting out of hand, I lost my tem­per and yelled at her. That was when Cozy bit me, I was taken by am­bu­lance to the hospi­tal and wound up with sev­eral stitches.

“Then, a few days later, com­pletely un­pro­voked, Cozy bit Linda on the arm and she will need plas­tic surgery. An­i­mal Con­trol re­moved the dog and a hear­ing is sched­uled to de­ter­mine if it will be put down. Linda is cry­ing all the time, not want­ing to lose the dog. My 9-year-old daugh­ter loves Cozy and is also in tears! Can you help us?” for an in­stant I froze.

“Wait a minute, you have a 9-year-old daugh­ter, and Cozy lives at home with you and Linda? What planet do you live on, Chris? You own what al­most all states would de­fine as a dan­ger­ous or vi­cious dog. That’s why you are now fac­ing a hear­ing which will de­ter­mine the an­i­mal’s fu­ture, and it doesn’t sound rosy to me.”

“So, on a scale of one to 10, with 10 be­ing Su­per­man and one Su­per­wimp, when it comes to deal­ing with Linda, where are you?”

“I am a mi­nus 50, weak, just so afraid to set her off, Mr. Beaver,” he replied, the sound of a man about to cry be­com­ing more and more ob­vi­ous.

“Chris, do you know what would hap­pen if Cozy were al­lowed to return to your home and bit your daugh­ter? Have you given any thought to that?”

He had not, and didn’t have a clue.

In all ju­ris­dic­tions, al­low­ing a dan­ger­ous dog to be around chil­dren could eas­ily be­come the ba­sis for Child Pro­tec­tive Services to re­move the kids from the home and put them into foster care.

Ad­di­tion­ally, it would not take much imag­i­na­tion to see Chris be­ing es­corted out of his house in hand­cuffs if Cozy bit his daugh­ter. The sit­u­a­tion he de­scribed — a men­tally ill fi­ancee re­fus­ing to take her meds and pres­sur­ing him to keep the dog — had ev­ery rea­son to end badly.

“Lis­ten to me, Chris. I love dogs, but this isn’t about Cozy. It is about your daugh­ter’s well-be­ing. No, I am not go­ing to help pre­vent Cozy from be­ing put down. If you want a pet, get a French poo­dle.”

“I’ll get a cat,” he replied, promis­ing to keep me in­formed of the out­come.

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