BRADENTON, Fla. — After debates among dog lovers towards commissioners in a Florida community, a new state law has been passed to eradicate an old one stating that dog that can severely injure or kill humans should immediately be put to death.
The law was brought to surface by the case of Padi, a dog owned by Dr. Paul Gartenberg, a veterinarian in Manatee County. Padi reportedly bit the ear of a 4-year-old child who was trying to play. The incident required the child to receive stitches and reconstructive surgery.
According to Robert Eschenfelder, the author of an article about Padi that appeared in the Florida Bar Journal, the child was being babysat by Gartenberg’s daughter when the incident took place.
“The 4-year-old was hanging out in the doctor’s office and was trying to get the dog to play,” Eschenfelder told The Florida Record. “From what everyone testified at the hearing, the dog’s toys were laying around so the child started grabbing the toys and throwing them. Padi didn’t respond.”
According to Eschenfelder, Gartenberg argued that the 4-year-old attacked Padi, and that is why Padi was triggered to attack. Gartenberg desperately wanted his side to be heard. This prompted the beginning stages of the new law.
Eschenfelder, who is former chief assistant Manatee County attorney, was directly involved in the case. He is responsible for filing the lawsuit that helped bring the new law to pass.
“The strategy I came up with was to tell the commissioners, the statute reads the way it reads, but because of the way it reads, it might very well be unconstitutional,” he said. “So I figured, let’s go ahead and file a lawsuit against the law and if we can get the law struck down, that will solve the issue with Padi.”
With this logic, Padi would be free forever because he couldn’t be executed under an unconstitutional law.
“I went ahead and filed that lawsuit and I think sometime in December, the court entered an order that declared it unconstitutional,” Eschenfelder said. “Then a couple of months later, the Legislature unanimously passed the law, so now there’s a new law.”
In the new law, if an owner's dog kills or severely injures someone, the owner gets to raise defenses to justify the dog’s actions.
Eschenfelder received a great deal of backlash after writing the story on a case he was directly involved in. Accusations even arose that Padi bit other dogs.
“I started getting emails from as fair away as Australia, Germany and Paris, telling me what a terrible lawyer I was,” he said. “In that time, someone sent an email saying that Padi bit her dog when she had gone in to visit the doctor.”
There was one more occasion in which Padi bit, also within the doctor’s office.
“So, I know that at least twice, Padi bit,” Eschenfelder said. “I don’t know the circumstances as I wasn’t there, but when you see Padi on the news he looks just like a normal dog — playing and everything. I don’t know what the triggers are to make Padi snap, but there were no more instances where Padi bit a human.”
Eschenfelder decided to write the story after the chairperson for Animal Law Inspection asked him to. The organization desired to have a story printed towards what they cared about.
“The chairperson knew that I had been involved in the case,” Eschenfelder said. “The animal-law section of the bar is the actual entity that sent it to the journal. I can’t say why they decided to publish it, but that’s why I decided to write it.”
The attention the case received, Eschenfelder noted, owes a lot to the role of social media.
“It was very difficult, even back in the 1980s, to have anybody past your local community who might read the newspaper to even know about who Padi is and what’s going on,” he said. “Things like that happen. From Padi to all of the past year’s shootings that had racial law-enforcement tangencies, the fact that those kind of things could be shared on social media and within a day go around the country, that is I think what made the difference. You really saw, in the Padi case, the power of social media and its ability to motivate people.”