ORLANDO, Fla. — Orange County resident Suz Remus contacted Spectrum News 13's Watchdog team after she says her comfort dog, Ruby, was attacked by a pit bull.
- Orange County woman says pit bull attacked her comfort dog
- Animal Services cited Remus and pit bull's handler in incident
- Remus says pit bull should have been labeled as "dangerous"
- 2018 audit: Animal Services failed to properly investigate many cases
"It's a miracle she's alive,” Remus said.
Watchdog Reporter Stephanie Coueignoux reviewed a 2018 audit that states Orange County Animal Services failed to properly investigate many dog bite cases, and in some of those cases, those dogs bit again.
Remus provided Spectrum News 13 with paperwork from an emergency vet clinic, showing Ruby sustained a “jaw fracture” and “multiple puncture wounds.”
We obtained the Orange County Animal Services incident report.
After investigating the incident, Animal Services chose to cite both Remus and the pit bull’s handler for allowing their pets to be “at large.”
Remus feels Animal Services didn’t go far enough and should have labeled the other dog as "dangerous.”
According to Orange County code, the definition of a “dangerous dog” includes a dog that “has severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner’s property.”
The term “severe injury” is defined as “any physical injury… that results in broken bones, multiple bite punctures, or injuries requiring sutures or reconstructive surgery.”
Animal Services declined our request for an interview, but sent us a statement quoting a Florida statute in which a dog can be labeled as dangerous if it “has more than once severely injured a domestic animal."
We asked Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond for clarification when it comes to which definition Animal Services should use. Diamond says Animal Services should use the county code definition.
"It also presumes that Animal Services is going to do an investigation and look into it, so it’s not just some automatic thing,” he added, “People make mistakes. Mistakes get made.”
In 2018, the Comptroller’s Office conducted an audit of the Orange County Animal Services Dangerous Dog Division, looking at the time period from January 2010 to December 2015. The audit found several areas of concern including that “the Division did not adequately investigate reported dog bites that caused severe injury.”
The audit cited several cases, including one in which a dog “was not declared dangerous, because it was that dog’s first offense, although the bite appeared to meet the classification for a dangerous dog. Just over a year later, the dog bit another victim.”
We asked Diamond if there could be dogs in Orange County that were not labeled as dangerous but should have been.
Diamond says that was their concern and the reason behind the audits' findings.
The audit also focused on cases that were not labeled as “severe.” In 405 of those complaints, words like “surgery” and “stitches” were used. The audit concluded “these complaints possibly could have resulted in dangerous dog declarations.”
Diamond says, "We looked at it and the history of those particular dogs and found those particular dogs went out and bit someone else, whether it was a child or some innocent neighbor. And that’s our concern — public safety. That this is about public safety.”
Based on its findings, the Comptroller’s Office made a number of recommendations, including that Animal Services take a second look at all cases to determine if they should be investigated for dangerous dog concerns.
We asked Animal Services about the specific steps they’ve already implemented. A spokeswoman declined to provide examples, but sent us a statement reading, in part:
“Based upon upcoming new management, Orange County Animal Services is in the process of developing actions plans.”
As Ruby continues to recover, Remus hopes Animal Services puts a new action plan in place.
Spectrum News 13 called the pit bull’s owner and its handler multiple times. During a brief conversation, the pit bull’s owner told us she had no idea her dog was involved.
Neither she nor the handler responded to my requests for an interview.
The Comptroller’s Office says while it plans to audit this division again, it does not have a timeline for when that might happen.