A mother was purchasing a quick coffee near her gate at Portland International Airport when she heard her daughter begin to scream. Mirna Gonzalez had left her 5-year-old, Gabriella, at the gate with her older brother. But when she returned, her daughter’s face was covered in blood.
According to a $1.1 million lawsuit, filed Monday, Gabriella had asked a fellow passenger waiting for the Alaska Airlines flight to Texas on Dec. 18, 2017, if she could pet her dog. The pit bull, which the owner, Michelle Brannan, claims was an emotional support animal, bit the young child in the face as soon as she reached out her hand.
Gonzalez has since filed a lawsuit against the owner, Alaska Airlines and the municipal agency Port of Portland. She claims that they were negligent, since the dog was permitted to walk through the airport rather than be confined in a crate.
The pit bull severed Gabriella’s tear duct, resulting in the 5-year-old having to undergo tear-duct surgery, and disfigured her upper lip, leaving a chunk of it missing. According to the family’s attorney, Chad Stavley, Gabriella has since developed fears both of airports and petting dogs.
Stavley told the Washington Post that the child has permanent scars. He is hopeful that the lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, will encourage airports and airlines to enforce stricter policies regarding emotional support animals.
The attorney also plans to investigate whether or not Brannan’s dog was, in fact, an emotional support animal.
“There’s a lot of abuse of this emotional support animal situation,” Stavley told the Washington Post, “and folks who have legitimate service animals — people who are blind and need guide dogs and the like — are kind of getting thrown into the same boat [as emotional support animals]. It shines a poor light on those folks.”
In October 2018, Alaska Airlines placed a new policy into effect regarding emotional support animals. It states that, on top of such animals remaining on a leash or in a carrier at all times, owners must provide a 48-hour notice and the appropriate documentation, including an animal health advisory form, mental health form and an animal behavior form, before their flight.
Ray Prentice, an Alaska Airlines director of customer advocacy, said in an April 2018 statement, “We are making these changes now based on a number of recent incidents where the inappropriate behavior of emotional support animals has impacted and even injured our employees, other guests and service animals. Most animals cause no problems. However, over the last few years, we have observed a steady increase in incidents from animals who haven’t been adequately trained to behave in a busy airport setting or on a plane, which has prompted us to strengthen our policy.”
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