With nothing more than a generic letter from her therapist, a woman’s “emotional support” dog was allowed into an airport without a crate. Soon after, a mother filed a $1.1-million lawsuit accusing the creature of mauling her 5-year-old daughter.
While waiting for their Alaska Airlines flight to Texas, Mirna Gonzales was waiting with her three children at Portland International Airport when she and her oldest daughter decided to get a coffee. As such, she left her 13-year-old son to look after her 5-year-old daughter, Gabriella Gonzales. What ensued was every parent’s nightmare.
In her mother’s short absence, Gabriella spotted a dog sitting in the waiting area with its owner, Michelle Brannan. Being a curious little girl, Gonzales says that her daughter asked Brannan if the dog bites and if she is allowed to pet it, KVEW-TV reports. After receiving permission, Gabriella began stroking the animal. Unfortunately, the dog wasn’t as friendly as she thought.
Brannan was cited by Port of Portland police for failing to crate her dog but was still allowed to proceed to her gate with the dog on a leash. According to the lawsuit, the 48-pound American Pitt Bull mix suddenly attacked Gabriella, biting her lip and eye. Her mother returned to find her daughter had allegedly been mauled by Brennan’s “emotional support animal.”
“There was just blood everywhere,” said Gonzalez, adding that seeing her daughter’s injuries was “horrifying.”
Gonzales and her legal team are insisting that not only was the owner responsible for her dog’s behavior but that the airport also has some culpability. The lawsuit states that Brannan was allowed to bring her uncrated dog into the airport with nothing more than a generic letter from her therapist.
“It didn’t say what kind of animal,” said Chad Stavley, the attorney representing the Gonzalez family. “It was just a generic ‘animal.’”
The lawsuit lists Brannan and Alaska Airlines for allowing the untrained and unregistered animal to enter the airport uncrated. The suit claims that Brannan should have known that the dog had “vicious propensities” and, therefore, endangered Gabriella with her “emotional support animal.”
“They did nothing to protect the public and a girl got hurt, so we’re going to hold them accountable,” said Stavley.
Gonzales is seeking $1.1 million in damages for the physical and emotional trauma caused to Gabriella. The child sustained a punctured eyelid, a severed tear duct, and lacerations to her face and lip. She was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery that left her with visible scarring.
Kama Simonds, a spokeswoman for the Port of Portland, says that the airline requires all animals that are not service dogs to be kept in travel carriers. The airline’s website, however, says that a leash is an acceptable substitute for a crate for emotional support animals.
“Service animals or emotional support animals must be under the control of the owner at all times in the airport and onboard the aircraft,” the website states. “Due to safety concerns, emotional support animals must be leashed – or in an approved kennel/carrier that fits under the seat in accordance with FAA Regulations.”
Additionally, port officials may ask travelers if their accompanying animal is a trained service animal, and if the owner says it is, authorities may ask what service the animal provides. Simonds confirmed that officials can question the handlers but must accept whatever answer they give.
“The traveler need only answer those questions, and we’re required to accept the answer,” Simonds said in an email. She added that officials don’t ask for documentation of the animal’s training.
The lawsuit raises serious concerns over whether emotional support animals should even be allowed in public facilities that otherwise prohibit animals. Some believe that if an animal is truly required for emotional support, it should have to go through the same training and registration as service animals.
This “emotional support animal” policy is dangerous. It allows for untrained and dangerous animals in the airport and on the airplanes, based on the word of the pet’s owner.