State law leaves the city no discretion in the case, council members said.
No one on the Palm Coast City Council really wants to see Cooper, a 5-year-old hound mix, euthanized for a bite if there’s a way he could live out his life on a secure rescue ranch that has offered to take him and keep him separated from the public.
But there’s not much they can do, according to council members and City Attorney Bill Reischmann: Florida law states that a dog that bites, is declared dangerous, and then bites again and causes severe injury with the second bite shall be put down.
“This council does not have a role … in any of the process that I’ve just described,” Reischmann said during a June 19 council meeting.
Councilman Vincent Lyon, himself an attorney, had raised the issue of the dog’s case toward the end of the meeting.
The case is now largely out of the city’s hands: A hearing officer contracted by the city to handle such cases made the determination that the dog should be put down after a bite in Palm Coast in February, prompting owner Dottye Benton to file an appeal with the circuit court, where it will be heard by a judge.
The dog had previously been declared dangerous after a bite in Port Orange.
Benton has also organized a grassroots campaign to pressure the council to “save Cooper.”
As the court case proceeds, “I would like that the city does not respond. ... Just take no position … and not take an adversarial position against them,” Lyon said.
“I certainly share your thought on us not taking a vocal stance,” Mayor Milissa Holland said.
City Manager Jim Landon said he didn’t object to the city “not arguing that the dog is dangerous” in court. But, he said, “I think we have an obligation to make the case that we took proper steps” in terms of the city’s procedural handling of the case.
Councilman Bob Cuff, an attorney, found the idea of the council directing Reischmann to “throw in the towel” concerning.
He said he’d spent many hours looking at the case, and, in his legal opinion, there isn’t any option under current state statute to release the dog to the rescue ranch.
“I hate to think that way because I love dogs,” he said. “I’ve rescued plenty of dogs.”
Landon said the city could consider lobbying its legislators to have the law changed and allow for more flexibility, but that that would probably be too late for Cooper.
Reischmann said that unless his office receives direction to do otherwise by the council, it will respond to the case by advocating for its client — the city — as effectively as it can. The council did not direct him to do otherwise.