Service dog may be put down after biting child

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Molly and Ava. Screenshot: ABC7

A German Shepherd currently acting as a service dog for a New Jersey girl with brain cancer may be put down after biting a neighbor girl in the face.

The dog, Ava, has been a companion to 9-year-old Molly Kimball for the past year as Molly undergoes numerous rounds of chemotherapy and has endured six surgeries to battle the tumor in her brain. But Ava was taken away from Molly after a neighbor reported that the dog bit the 6-year-old girl that lives next door, according to ABC-7.

Molly’s father, Paul Kimball, told a reporter that Ava “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” and that he believes the dog’s “jaws involuntarily snapped and one of her teeth caught the little girl’s nose.”

But the victim’s mother, Liz Gernhardt, disputes that claim, saying, “It is not a peaceful dog at all, to attack when it’s on a leash is disgusting.” The girl was brought to the hospital where she received 100 stitches to repair her face, and Gernhardt says her daughter has “trouble sleeping” and is scared to play outside.


Gernhardt added that the dog has previously nipped at her son, as well as another neighbor’s child. She said they’re supportive of Molly and wish her the best in her recovery, but they don’t want Ava living next to them any longer.

A judge is scheduled to decide Ava’s fate on Tuesday.

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  • ConcernedParent

    there is a picture in the local newspaper today showing the terrible injuries to the little girl’s face. This so-called service dog had less than a year of training. There is no excuse for this attack, accident or not, it happened and the neighbor has every right to be scared. It’s sad that Molly is so sick but the dog maimed an innocent child, no one is arguing that. The girl’s parents already said they don’t want to see Ava put down they just don’t want the dog to come back to the neighborhood. Just because Molly has cancer doesn’t make her distress about her dog any more awful than the fear experienced by the little girl whose nose was almost ripped off of her face. More than 100 stitches, permanent scars and still there are people crying over the dog who did this and saying horrible things about the neighbors. I hope the girl who was attacked gets justice.

  • I disagree. I don’t think we have the whole picture, or story. As a parent, I would never let my children put their face anywhere near an animals. They are taught to respect animals, and keep a healthy distance. Obviously these children were too close, and this dog was trained to protect. Why punish an animal for human error?

  • Juju

    Hey Bamm,
    The girls face was not near the dog. She was standing 8 feet away next to her mother and the dog lunged at her. What is it with you people that think dogs are infallible and people are always at fault? And what do you mean the dog was trained to protect? It’s a SERVICE dog, not an attack dog. It should be able to withstand children pulling it’s tail and not bite.

  • Jim

    As an owner of a *real* service dog I can tell you a true “service dog” does NOT bite, and if he did he would be retired immediately.

    I know people like the idea of turning their pet into a “service dog” but folks, there is a REASON service dogs tend to be Labs and Goldens… with aggression bred out of them as much as possible… so they have the temperment to withstand the daily interactions with the public while being able to remain on task to help the disabled handler. Once a dog shows aggression, especially to the level shown here, the dog is of no useful purpose as a true “service dog” because it can no longer be trusted.

    THIS is why REAL service dogs go through 2 years of training since birth, a bonding process, dual training with their handler, and are screened for temperment and physical issues. Now it’s time for this family to ask themselves, is saving the 5-8,000 an ADI accredited service dog organization charges was really worth it. Now they have a dog that is useless as a “service dog” may be put down, and an almost guaranteed lawsuit.

  • Visitor

    This dog should be punished but not killed.

  • cissy

    I’ve used service dogs for 15 years. IMO there is no reason why this child should not have a dog. There is every reason why this 18 mo old dog should immediately be washed out as a service dog regardless of the circumstances of the bite. Service dogs simply should not bite people and this dog either had insufficient training or is temperamentally unsuited for service dog work. He is also quite young for service dog work. And who was supervising the dog?
    Personally I don’t see a reason to put the dog down. A full vet check for underlying causes for reactivity is definitely in order if this represents a marked behavior change. Regardless, retiring him as a service dog and muzzling him when he’s not inside the house seems like a reasonable solution to the safety issue and keeping him as a pet will continue to help the child.
    With regard to the damages done to the child who was bitten, physical and psychological, I think that’s something that should be handled as a separate issue once community safety has been assured. Euthanizing doesn’t have to be the answer.
    BTW, there are all kinds of breeds, mixes and rescues being trained for service dog work. Talent, size and temperament are the determining factors. It is my understanding that in programs that have their own breeding programs there’s an average 50-80% washout rate depending on the program and who’s doing the reporting as holds true for rescues.

  • AttnAdd

    It is refreshing to see that the majority of the comments here are from experienced persons with sensible attitudes. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and for avoid knee jerk reactions like some of the more ignorant people online.

  • Eric Myers

    The dog is not formally trained as a service dog. It is a companion dog trained at home that helps 9 year old Molly. Isabelle has always been scared of the dog.

    The dog escaped from the yard and went next door to the neighbors. Molly’s mother, Patricia chased the dog and put a leash on the dog. At that time, Isabelle and her mother were 8 feet away chatting with Patricia. Patricia was explaining that Ava was friendly and Isabelle should not be scared of her. Isabelle was 8 feet away on her own property cowering behind her mother. At that point, Ava lunged forward and bit Isabelle in the face which required 100 stitches and left permanent scars on the 6 year old victim.

    The Gernhardt’s simply do not want the dog living next door any longer and that is understandable. Molly should get a true Service Dog and this dog should be reassigned.

  • sally

    Yes, but they are passing it off as a Service Dog. From various articles they keep stressing that Ava is a service dog:

    “Molly Kimball got Ava as her service dog a year ago, according to WABC…Ava’s role in Molly’s life goes beyond that of a companion animal. The dog has been trained to prevent Molly from falling when she shows signs of the dizziness she gets from her brain tumors.”

    From Molly herself (with coaching from parents probably)

  • Gia Savocchi

    This dog was compulsion trained with a choke collar. Choke collars are now being phased out of training, especially with service dogs. In fact, most service dogs are trained using positive methods only, and even Seeing Eye dogs are being trained in more humane ways. Here we have a high drive breed, a German Shepherd being trained by whom? Reports are saying that the dog was on the choke chain, and when she lunged forward the choke closed, causing her pain of course and restricting airflow. Animals in pain will bite, period. They also may not understand where the pain is coming from and will bite whatever is in front of them. This time it was sadly a little girl. I was sad to hear that this dog was being choked as it leaned forward probably to say hello. Let this be a lesson to the dangers of hurting your animal. This dog is now clearly not a service animal. In addition to being a biter, she is a biter who bites without warning (probably as a result of being choked for growling) and bites with a severe maim force bite. Very dangerous.

  • cissy

    Ya know, the only thing everyone seems to agree on in media reports is that the dog bit the child. Newspapers are a notoriously poor sources for in depth fact finding. Hopefully there will be a transcript of the hearing that will be published somewhere.
    In the interim IMO any further speculation is just that. But with regard to Gia’s post, the pics in the media showed an inhibited bite;we know nothing about warning; and a severe maim force bite would have caused far more damage to a child’s face. This isn’t to make light of what happened to the child, but I don’t see the evidence to support Gia’s post.

  • teresa

    Cissy, I’m not sure why you call this an “inhibited” bite–while it certainly could have been much *worse* –such as shaking after biting or repeatedly attacking, or refusing to let go– it definitely meets the criteria of a dangerous lack of bite inhibition! 100 stitches to the face, slashes from forehead down nose . . . the father reported elsewhere that Isabelle also had punctures on the underside of her chin . . .

    It’s my understanding that *bite inhibition* would be a range from an air snap to the sort of mouthy putting teeth on without clamping or very light closing of the mouth that dogs do to each other in play, as in a game of “bitey face”. There is no puncture to flesh or blood drawn. Well socialized dogs most assuredly do know the difference.

  • Abby

    @Gia Savocchi
    I have raised a Seeing Eye dog and we DO use choke collars, but only with a pop and release technique to get the dogs attention. This dog was much to young, and obviously unsocialized to be a true service dog.