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Palm Coast Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 2 weeks ago

Felony charge possible for owner of dangerous dog Cooper after third bite

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The dog was being held in quarantine at the Flagler Humane Society and bit a staff member during the owner's visit.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Palm Coast Animal Control is pursuing a felony charge against Palm Coast resident Dottye Benton, 72, after her dog Cooper — which has twice been declared dangerous — bit a third person while it was being held in quarantine at the Flagler Humane Society.

Cooper's first bite was in Port Orange, when he was owned by Benton's daughter Dawn Benton and bit a neighbor. Port Orange declared him dangerous. Then, shortly after Dottye Benton took him in, he bit a carpet cleaner at her house. 

"Because of this being the third reported bite case of the dog named Cooper and because Dottye Benton did not take responsibility to follow the order from the Port Orange Animal Control Office and did not keep Cooper in a muzzle and on a chain or leash and under her control to avoid further incidents and also made no attempt to report the third bite, and because the dog caused severe injury on the second bite incident involving (the carpet cleaner), the Palm Coast Animal Control Office is pursuing the felony charge of Statute # 767.13 (2) the Attack/Bite of a previously declared dangerous dog that caused severe injury," the charging affidavit states.

Florida law states that a dog previously declared dangerous must be put down if it bites again, so a hearing officer in Palm Coast ordered that Cooper be destroyed — prompting Dottye Benton to appeal through the court system and mount a campaign to have the city transfer Cooper to the Florida Rottweiler Rescue Ranch in western Florida, which has offered to take him, instead of having him euthanized.

Cooper was being held at the Flagler Humane Society pending the outcome of the appeal and bit a staff member there Aug. 16 while Benton was visiting.

On Aug. 23, according to a Flagler County Sheriff's Office charging affidavit, Palm Coast Animal Control officer Eva Rodriguez called the Sheriff's Office and "advised her office is wanting to pursue charges on Dottye Benton in reference to Florida Statute 767.13(2), which is for the Attack/Bite of a previously declared dangerous dog." Rodriguez had also handled the second bite case concerning Cooper.

Although Cooper was in quarantine at the Flagler Humane Society at the time of the bite, the charging affidavit places responsibility for the bite on Dottye Benton because she was visiting when it occurred and "did not keep Cooper in a muzzle and on a chain or leash and under her control to avoid further incidents and also made no attempt to report the third bite," a deputy wrote in the charging affidavit.

The affidavit will be forwarded to the State Attorney's Office, which will have to determine whether to proceed with the case against Benton.

The charge, a third-degree felony, comes in the midst of the pending court appeal by Dottye Benton, who'd filed a petition for writ of certiorari in May seeking to have the order requiring Cooper's destruction quashed. On Aug. 22, almost a week after the third bite and the day before Rodriguez contacted the FCSO to fill out paperwork for the felony charge, Circuit Judge Terence Perkins filed an order giving the city 10 days to show cause as to why Benton's petition should not be granted. The city requested an extension to file its response and has not yet done so.

The charging affidavit alleges a pattern of irresponsible action surrounding Cooper. It states that after Cooper — a 49-pound, 5-year-old dog that the affidavit lists as a Doberman/hound mix — bit one of Dawn Benton's neighbors in Port Orange, Dawn Benton was ordered to place him in quarantine at a local shelter starting Jan. 27 and ending Feb. 1 but never did.

"Dawn did not do this and instead relocated the dog to her mother's home (Dottye Benton)," the affidavit states. Port Orange declared Cooper dangerous on Feb. 21.

By then, Cooper was in Palm Coast, and it was a Port Orange animal control officer, not either of the Bentons, who notified the Palm Coast city government that Cooper had been moved to Palm Coast, according to the charging affidavit.

On Feb. 24, just days after Cooper was formally declared dangerous by Port Orange, Dottye Benton had a man over to clean her carpets, and Cooper bit him on the face — an injury expected to require reconstructive surgery — hand and leg. Dottye Benton already knew Cooper was dangerous, according to the charging affidavit, because she'd attended the city of Port Orange dangerous dog hearing as a witness for Cooper. 

"Knowing this, she failed to tell and/or warn (the carpet cleaner) of this and instead let the dog out of his enclosure so that (the victim) may pat him," the charging affidavit states. "This was clear negligence on Dottye’s part, knowing the dog was dangerous to strangers."

Benton had said that the victim had opened the door and let the dog in and maintained that she had told him that Cooper was dangerous. The victim had said he'd asked Benton if Cooper was friendly and that Benton had said "yes" and let the dog in.

Benton has been visiting Cooper regularly during his quarantine at the Humane Society, and on Aug. 16, a new staff member "observed Dottye Benton exiting Cooper’s kennel, and this is when Cooper came out of the kennel and attacked (the victim), biting him on his left hip, breaking the skin," the charging affidavit states.

"Because of this being the third reported bite case of the dog named Cooper and because Dottye Benton did not take responsibility to follow the order from the Port Orange Animal Control Office and did not keep Cooper in a muzzle and on a chain or leash and under her control to avoid further incidents and also made no attempt to report the third bite, and because the dog caused severe injury on the second bite incident involving (the carpet cleaner), the Palm Coast Animal Control Office is pursuing the felony charge of Statute # 767.13 (2) the Attack/Bite of a previously declared dangerous dog that caused severe injury," the charging affidavit states.

 

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