First shelter to pay out for a fatal dog attack is sued again
FORT WALTON BEACH, Florida––Thirty years after becoming the first animal shelter known to have been sued successfully for liability in a fatal dog attack, the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, has been sued again, this time for alleged failure to prevent the March 25, 2017 disfiguring mauling of Zoey Green, then age 5, by a neighbor’s pit bull.
The lawsuit seeks “damages in excess of $1 million against the defendants,” identified as the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society itself and animal control officer Kevin Schoeneman.
100-pound male intact pit bull
States the lawsuit, filed on Zoey Green’s behalf by her mother, Paige Woody, “At all times material, Mandingo was a 100-pound male non-neutered pit bull owned by Lodie Hennessy,” 55, whose then-home at 186 Villacrest Avenue in Crestview, Florida, is now up for sale as “real estate owned,” at an asking price of $135,000.
According to a detailed account of the attack on Zoey Green by Northwest Florida Daily News reporter Wendy Victoria, published on March 29, 2017, Paige Woody “said she had agreed to pet sit Mandingo and another dog at their home while their owner worked in the south part of Okaloosa County. Paige already had been there twice.”
“Hold on, baby”
On the day of the attack, Victoria recounted, “the owner asked her to come over so she could show Paige how to apply a horsefly spray to the dogs. Paige went into the backyard with the dogs and their owner and left Zoey in the house. She says the owner told her the dogs were great with children, but Paige didn’t want to take a chance and didn’t want to leave Zoey in the car. She and the owner were talking near the patio door when Zoey started tapping on the glass, clearly getting impatient.”
Said Paige Woody, “I kept telling her, ‘Hold on, baby, hold on, baby,'” Paige said. “Then I cracked the door so she could hear me better.”
Resumed Victoria, “That’s when Mandingo lunged through the partially open door, grabbed the little girl by the face and dragged her into the yard, according to Paige. The dogs’ owner was holding off the other dog, Bella, while Paige fought with Mandingo to try to get Zoey free. As soon as he released her, she covered her daughter’s body with her own.”
Second pit attacked owner
Added WEAR-TV reporter Allie Norton, “Woody said that she threw herself in the middle of the attack and the larger male dog bit the top of her head. She said while that was happening, the smaller female dog began biting her owner, who tried to intervene. Woody said she let the dog attack her while she crawled inside to protect her daughter. Woody said she tucked Zoey into her stomach like a baby kangaroo.”
Wrote Annie Blanks of the Northwest Florida Daily News in a January 2018 follow-up, “When Mandingo released her, Paige threw her body on top of her daughter’s and continued fighting with the dog, shoving her arm into his mouth and pushing him back as far as he would go before picking Zoey up, running into the home and calling 911.”
The 911 dispatcher initially struggled to understand the severity of the attack and location, a recording of the call indicates, as Woody sobbed for breath and Zoey cried, with much of her face ripped loose from her skull.
“Paige was taken to the hospital and received 28 stitches and about 40 staples,” reported Blanks. “Zoey was flown by medical helicopter alone to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola, where she was underwent a grueling nine-hour-surgery — the first of many.”
Reported Wendy Victoria, “Zoey’s dad, Jonny Green, met her in the emergency room.”
Green told her, “They didn’t want me to see one side of her face, it was so bad. The side of her face I could see was bad, too. It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Balked at euthanasia
Both dogs were euthanized, Blanks wrote, though there were indications they might not be.
Recounted Wendy Victoria, “The owner [Hennessey] originally assured Paige that the dogs had been euthanized, and later admitted that they hadn’t. Paige sent a text back and asked her to surrender the dogs. The owner’s daughter, who wasn’t there at the time of the attack, replied and said that she was deeply sorry for what had happened to them and that the dogs were going to be put down. She said she just hadn’t gotten over to PAWS to sign the paperwork.
“In another text, the daughter said she wouldn’t be euthanizing Bella unless a saliva test proved the dog was involved in the attack.”
Staples & stitches
Meanwhile, resumed Blanks, “The dog had torn off Zoey’s right eyelid, broken her jaw, and left her face essentially held together with staples and stitches.”
Surgeons in Galveston, Texas “put a titanium plate under her eye and sewed her eye shut for three weeks to repair her destroyed tear duct,” Blanks said, with more surgeries scheduled “to have hard scar tissue removed from her face and her scar stitched back up. Due to her scarring, Zoey can’t be in contact with sunlight for at least a year after each surgery. If she wants to play outside, she has to wear a special mask that slips over her head and covers her entire face.”
Explained Paige Woody, “She has to wear a compression mask 16 hours a day because it helps push the scarring down and breaks up the scar tissue, and then she wears silicone because it helps to do the same thing,” Paige said. “She doesn’t like to wear those. She’s not supposed to be around any kind of ultraviolet light because it makes the scarring redder and more angry looking.”
“If they don’t have anything, you can’t take it”
The Okaloosa County School District arranged for Zoey to receive home visits from a tutor twice a week to help her keep up with her kindergarten classmates.
“Financially, it’s a nightmare,” Paige Woody told Blanks. “The people who own the dogs haven’t given us a penny. Then I’m uprooting from my two other daughters when we have to go on these trips to Galveston.”
“Zoey had insurance at the time of the attack, but Paige did not,” Blanks reported, “and Medicaid wouldn’t pay for Zoey’s $100,000 medical helicopter bill when she had to be transported to Pensacola. Over $22,000 in GoFundMe donations have already been used for the [first] eight Galveston trips.”
“People say, ‘sue,’” Paige Woody said. “Well, we’re on our fourth attorney trying to, but there’s not a whole lot we can do. If they don’t have anything, you can’t take it.”
But that was apparently before personal injury attorneys David Swanick III and Cherish N. Patitz learned of the prior history of the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society involving Mandingo. The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society is a $2.1-million-a-year organization with assets of $1.1 million, according to IRS Form 990.
States the Woody lawsuit against the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society, “In July of 2015, without provocation, the pit bull named Mandingo aggressively attacked, endangered, and bit several persons and a small female cockapoo, in the lobby of the Bluewater Veterinary Clinic in Niceville, Florida. The incident in the veterinarian’s lobby was so vicious and relentless that bystander had to stab Mandingo in neck to stop the pit bull’s brutal attack.
Duty to protect the public
“At all times material,” the lawsuit continues, “Okaloosa County paid PAWS $479,800 per year pursuant to a ‘Contract for Services,’ and in exchange, PAWS agreed to enforce all Okaloosa County ordinances and Florida statutes relating to animal control, including the designation and supervision of dogs classified as dangerous pursuant to Florida’s ‘Dangerous Dog’ statute.
“Pursuant to their contract with Okaloosa County,” the lawsuit says, animal control officer Kevin Schoeneman and PAWS “had legal duties to thoroughly ‘investigate reported incidents involving any dog that may be dangerous’ and more importantly, take appropriate action under the law in order to protect the public from subsequent attacks by the same ‘dangerous dog.’
“Because the July 2015 attack was unprovoked and Mandingo’s behavior during the attack was extremely aggressive and violent,” the Woody lawsuit contends, “it was forseeable that Mandingo would attack, bite, and severely injure a person in the future.
Took no action
“In violation of Florida’s ‘Dangerous Dog’ statute, Okaloosa County ordinances, and PAWS’ own ‘Contract for Services’ with Okaloosa County, Kevin Schoeneman and PAWS breached their legal duties and were negligent,” the lawsuit argues, “by failing to complete their investigation of the July 2015 Mandingo attack; and, most importantly, by failing to take any action whatsoever to protect the public from a future Mandingo attack.”
This, the lawsuit says, “was the legal cause of the horrific and catastrophic injuries Zoey suffered,” causing her to endure “more than 10 reconstructive surgeries on her face,” the most recent of which “was on August 2, 2018.”
The attacks involving Mandingo were scarcely the first time the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society has been accused of inadequate response to pit bull complaints.
ACO is pit bull advocate
Two pit bulls who were reported to PAWS for having allegedly killed cats in August 2015 were unconditionally returned to their owner when only one of the cats’ owners filed a complaint. In July 2016 the same two pit bulls broke into neighbor Wayne Patton’s yard, killing one of his four small dogs, injuring two others, and injuring Patton himself when he tried to save the small dogs.
While ANIMALS 24-7 found no pit bull advocacy postings from defendant Schoeneman on social media, fellow Panhandle Animal Welfare Society animal control officer Andrea Lauren David-Thompson on June 6, 2018 posted to Facebook a 726-word statement of pit bull advocacy in which at least half a dozen inaccurate claims were presented as “fact.”
Most blatant was the claim that “No single neutered household pet pit bull has ever killed anyone.”
In truth, just since 2010 at least 31 neutered household pet pit bulls have killed people––after passing behavioral screening prior to being rehomed by animal shelters. Dozens of other neutered household pet pit bulls have killed people, several of them earlier in 2018.
If any animal shelter anywhere might have been expected to develop a “safety first” culture in handling dangerous dogs, the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society might have been that shelter, after the events of the last week of September 1988.
First, on September 23, 1988, the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society sent a wolf hybrid named Chief to his fourth home in four months, after promoting him as “Pet of the Week.”
Within an hour, Chief escaped, chasing neighbor Heather Locke into her home.
He was found running at large, according to Associated Press, “by the [next] victim’s mother, Sharon Kay Carpenter. She noticed the PAWS tag, put the animal in her yard where her son,” Nathan Carpenter, age 4, “was playing, and phoned the shelter to find out who owned the dog. The attack began while she was on the telephone,” watching Chief and her son through a window.
Menacing first responders as they tried to revive Nathan Carpenter, Chief then chased bystanders, jumped a fence to get away after sheriff’s deputy Tony Wasden tried to shoot him but missed, ran in a quarter mile circle through a wooded area, and reappeared in the Carpenter family’s front yard, where Wasden finally did shoot him.
Nathan Carpenter was the first person known to have been killed by any dog rehomed by a U.S. animal shelter. Only one more person was killed by a rehomed dog during the next 15 years, but nearly 50 people have been killed by dogs rehomed from shelters and rescues since then.
For about 10 years, meanwhile, the known upper-end liability payment in a lawsuit against a humane society resulting from a dog attack was the $425,000 paid by the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society in 1991 to the Carpenter family.
Six days later
Six days after the Carpenter death, on September 30, 1988, the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society rehomed to Jeff and Hope Ivy of Pensacola an “old English sheepdog” named Tinkerbell, according to the official description of the dog.
Then-PAWS executive director Mike Zoller acknowledged later that Tinkerbell had been surrendered to the shelter “because she had played rough with little children.”
The Ivy family said they mentioned having two five-year-olds when they adopted Tinkerbell; PAWS adoption clerk Diane Walker said they did not.
Either way, Zoller said he received a call at home that night from someone who warned against rehoming Tinkerbell, and promptly called the Ivy family to share what he had learned, urging that Tinkerbell be returned to the shelter.
The next morning Tinkerbell inflicted injuries on Bobby Ivy, age 5, that required 25 stitches to close.
A Bobby Ivy of the same age and similar appearance to old newspaper photos of Jeff Ivy has apparently been a registered sex offender since 2011, and on April 17, 2018 was charged with possession of a weapon by a felon, but in 2017 volunteered to remove downed trees without charge for victims of Tropical Storm Harvey.
The Panhandle Animal Welfare Society was sued again in connection with a dog attack in June 2002. In that case Arthur M. Cheney, husband of murder victim Rhonda Kimmons Cheney, 42, contended that PAWS and county officials improperly ignored complaints about aggressive and vicious behavior by a pit bull who lived near Florosa in Santa Rosa County, Florida.
In February 2001, according to Fort Walton Beach Daily News police reporter Amber Bollman, Rhonda Kimmons Cheney was attacked and nearly killed by the pit bull. She subsequently “won a lawsuit and would have eventually collected more than $35,000 from the settlement,” Bollman wrote in September 2001.
Rhonda Kimmons Cheney, however, also known as Rhonda Kimmons Heine, had a history of cocaine use and related arrests predating her 1992 marriage to Arthur M. Cheney. After the pit bull attack, she was reportedly arrested six times on various charges during 2001 in alleged connection with crack cocaine use, and in late August 2001 was beaten to death in a hotel room.
Alleged crack addict Raymond James Dunn, 41, then of Fort Walton Beach and most recently believed to be living in nearby Destin, was charged with the killing, convicted, and served 11 years in prison before his release in June 2014.
Transient Terry Glenn Long, 47, of Fort Walton Beach, was charged with helping to dump Cheney’s body in nearby woods. Also convicted, Long served two years in prison. He was released in May 2004.
Arthur M. Cheney, according to Associated Press, contended that the pit bull attack on Rhonda Cheney caused “long-term physical and mental suffering, apparently contributing to her cocaine habit,” or at least the resumption of it, “and, indirectly, to the circumstances of her killing.”
ANIMALS 24-7 has discovered no record of the outcome of the Cheney lawsuit.
Ignored 1986 warning
Hours of searching, however, turned up a November 20, 1986 complaint to the Fort Walton Beach Playground Daily News, ancestral to the Northwest Florida Daily News, of today, by Nancy Menkener of Shalimar.
Wrote Menkener, “I was shocked to find out how little the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society cares about the safety of our city’s pets. My pet cat Alice was frightened off her own front porch on August 11, 1986 and murdered by two unleashed, unlicensed, and uncontrollable dogs,” despite the efforts of a neighbor to save Alice.
“These same dogs killed two other cats on my street previous to the attack on my cat,” Menkener charged, “and were also said to have mauled a small dog who was on a leash at the time. The owner of the dogs,” whom Menkener called “boxers,” while describing pit bull behavior, “was slow to call them off of the hapless victim. A boy in my neighborhood was also bitten by one of the same pair of dogs. Unfortunately he failed to report the incident,” Menkener said, while the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society only issued a warning in response to the multiple cat killings.
“The next victim of their murderous intent,” Menkener suggested, “might be a small child.”