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‘Service’ dog bites girl: What you didn’t hear about Molly & Ava story

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

EDITORIAL : Before you draw your final conclusions on the “Molly and Ava” saga — which ended last week with a cancer-stricken River Vale girl’s dog being moved out of town after biting a neighbor’s 6-year-old daughter —  consider what the media hasn’t told you.


For one thing, the terms “service dog” and “therapy dog” aren’t interchangeable.

For another, certified trainers “won’t place dogs until after they’ve had a rigorous 1½ to two 2 years of training,” one expert said. Ava, all of 14 months old, had barely a year’s worth.

And, finally, reputable training organizations don’t place service dogs with children under 12. Molly Kimball is 9.

Here’s the scary part: Unless there’s intensive training and constant vigilance, experts say, the young German Shepherd could go after another kid’s head.

As a kennel owner privately wondered: “What if the dog bites Molly?”

Ava was “in training, not a fully trained service dog,” a certified trainer said.

“No properly trained and reliable service dog would have done that to anyone,” the  owner of one added, adding that “the same thing could happen again.”

Jerry DeMarco Publisher/Editor

Ava “is not a service dog,” said another. “At best [she] is a therapy dog…too young and insufficiently trained.”

In short: She was young Molly’s pet.

Local police didn’t necessarily have a problem with Ava going back to the neighborhood, as long as she was muzzled and kept inside the fenced area at all times. But they agreed it was best left to the courts — and the parents — to decide.

Bergen County Animal Control saw it differently, saying Ava should be put down.

The injured girl’s parents opposed the move, provided Ava live with friends of Molly’s parents in Edgewater, a little over 20 minutes away. Molly still gets to see her pet and young Isabelle Gernhardt can rest easier. Not a bad solution.

I tried staying out of this one, out of sensitivity to Molly, who had to be crushed by the ongoing drama.

But the local media, so focused on blind devotion to a “poor cancer girl” story, overlooked some significant elements.

One is the 6-year-old who already was afraid of dogs when she was attacked while standing behind her mom. More than 100 stitches and a few surgeries the next few years can repair some of the physical damage. The trauma is another matter entirely.

“I feel terrible that the dog was taken away from a little girl with cancer,” a local mother said, “but what about the victim?

“[It’s] as if the fact that Molly has cancer somehow negates the severity of what happened to the neighbor’s daughter.”

Also overlooked and under-reported: Aberrations like this don’t happen with true service dogs. Even if a youngster is shouting or taunting, they simply don’t attack.

Which makes me wonder: How do Ava’s new neighbors feel?

“Unless a qualified person takes responsibility for the training of this dog,” one parent said, “then River Vale is essentially passing the buck.”

I wonder what folks in Edgewater officials are thinking.

What do you think?

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