Prada the pit bull sits on 'doggie death row' as sparse law leaves little alternative

Sunday, March 11, 2012 at 11:05pm

When a pit bull-boxer mix named Prada was impounded by Metro Animal Services for being a “vicious dog,” the parties involved probably didn’t foresee a year or more of court processes to resolve the matter.

But after navigating the avenues of Davidson County General Sessions Court, the 16-month-old case still isn’t resolved, thanks to what Prada’s attorney called a “hideously vague” Metro ordinance regarding dangerous dogs.

Not only has the case been dragged through the court system, but it’s also garnered national and international attention.

Prada, who is now on “doggie death row” for her alleged offenses, has received support from around the world. Nearly $5,000 has been raised for Prada online, and 11,357 people signed an online petition asking Gov. Bill Haslam to pardon Prada. (Haslam, it should be noted, doesn’t have the authority to do so.)

A trial in the case lasted nearly nine hours on Jan. 27, and Judge Joe P. Binkley Jr. said he took 35 pages of notes while 15 witnesses were questioned, according to a court transcript. But when it came down to possible rulings, the options were limited.

Metro code 8.08.060 affords a judge only three options when it comes to ruling on dogs deemed dangerous:

• The owner can retain custody of the dog, as long as they build “an enclosure to adequately confine said vicious dog.” A Metro Animal Control worker must approve the structure.

• The dog can be microchipped so that it can be traced to its owner.

• The dog can be destroyed in a humane manner by Metro Animal Services.

In Prada’s case, Judge Binkley ruled that evidence proved she was a danger to other dogs, and an “escape artist.” Therefore, the first two options wouldn’t adequately protect the public, he said — and the only option left is death.

“I take no pleasure in this. ... I have three choices. The choices are not the best choices, but they’re all I’ve got,” Binkley said in court. “I’m bound to follow the law. I took an oath to follow the law, and that’s what I’m doing.”

It all began in January 2011, when a friend of owner Nicole Andree accidentally allowed Prada to escape from her Forest Hills home. The pup wandered into several neighbors’ yards and was involved in physical altercations with different neighborhood dogs. During one of the scuffles, a neighbor was bit on her hand by her German shepherd while trying to separate the two dogs.

Animal control officers and Metro police arrived on the scene and impounded Prada. She is still being held at the Metro Animal Services facility pending the outcome of the court proceedings, at a cost of $18 per day. Animal Services said Prada also got loose twice while at their facility. Both times, she allegedly injured adoption-ready dogs that had to be euthanized.

However, Jean Harrison, who represented Andree and Prada, pointed to several flaws in Metro’s ordinance that she said prevents a fair outcome for the dog.

First, the classification of “vicious” under the code is a dog “that attacks and bites a person or animal on any public or private property without provocation.” Provocation is “any act that causes an animal to bite or attack to protect itself, offspring, owner or property.”

According to Harrison, the court can’t prove that Prada was the instigator. Furthermore, combative behavior between dogs is common in public settings, she said.

“There is no question that Prada is perfectly safe with people. ... There is no question in my mind that she is not good with other dogs. That’s not an uncommon problem,” Harrison said.

“Frankly, if they are going to euthanize dogs for biting other dogs and not getting along with them, they need to go to a dog park on Saturday and just watch. Half the population would be euthanized on the spot.”

Metro attorney Alex Dickerson couldn’t comment about specifics of Prada’s case, but he said it follows the same legal course as all other codes violation: a trial in environmental court, followed by an appeal hearing to General Sessions Court, then a non-jury trial in General Sessions.

“For Metro, this may be an unusual case in the sense that there are a lot of passionate people that have contacted us ... but as far as what we normally do, this is a very routine appeal of an ordinance violation,” Dickerson said.

During the course of the case, several sanctuaries for pit bulls stepped forward and offered to take Prada. The Villalobos Rescue Center in New Orleans, which is featured on an Animal Planet reality show called Pit Bulls and Parolees, was one of those facilities, Harrison said.

But the judge said he didn’t have the authority to assign the dog to sanctuary, based on Metro code.

Harrison is now off the case — and a firm from New York City is going to fight Metro in the state Court of Appeals, she said.

“Metro is fixing to have a mess of a public relations disaster, as they already do,” Harrison said. “It’s going to get much worse.”

As of press time, Pit Bulls and Parolees didn’t return comment about their involvement in the case. 

Nashville’s vicious dog ordinance is roughly 1,000 words — with significantly less nuance than laws in other Tennessee cities. Memphis’ ordinance is more than 2,500 words, while Knoxville weighs in at a beefy 3,681 words.

Knoxville has a multi-tiered ordinance that classifies “Level 1” and “Level 2” dangerous dogs based on their offenses. Owners are required to abide by eight mandatory restrictions for a Level 1 dog, including taking their dog to obedience class and American Kennel Club canine good citizenship class.

Level 2 has more restrictions, requiring the dog to be muzzled in public and the owner to maintain liability insurance in a minimum amount of $100,000. Both levels of classification allow flexibility for the municipal court to impose other restrictions, unlike Nashville’s rigid guidelines.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals calls for an ordinance similar to Knoxville’s.

The ASPCA recommends a law that ensures the safety of the public by requiring classwork, spaying or neutering, proper confinement, adult supervision and humane muzzling in public. They also recommend microchipping for all dogs deemed dangerous by a certified animal behaviorist or veterinarian.

Metro councilwoman and animal advocate Karen Bennett said she wasn’t familiar with Metro’s dangerous dog ordinance, but said it could be worth revisiting it to include more options for judges.

As for now, Metro’s ordinance remains, even in a judge’s words, “limited.” And it may take nationwide pressure — and a dog’s life — for it to change.

17 Comments on this post:

By: rickmuz on 3/12/12 at 7:20

That dog was doomed the day some self entitled, high maintenance female named it "Prada"

By: JeffF on 3/12/12 at 2:51

Saw her on news last night. Disturbing amount of plastic surgery and/or botox. Made the same comment about Prada you did.

By: chetuno on 3/12/12 at 5:04

The big issue here is Metro Animal control's high kill rate of healthy animals and its policies left over from the 1960's.. We need leadership that will stop blaming the public, roll up its sleeves and do what's needed to keep more pets with their people.

By: govskeptic on 3/13/12 at 4:17

I would trust Judge Binkley to do the right thing in this case, and it appears
from the factual parts of this trial he has done so. Fighting City Hall and
publicity seems to be the biggest cause for this owner of a proven very
dangerous dog that's a public Menes!

By: dustywood on 3/13/12 at 6:16

Have all of Prada's teeth pulled. The dog could still do some damage just with the power of its jaws. Medicate the beastie. There are other ways to do this. Keep a muzzle on at all times, except when fed nice canned dog food. Fully fence the front and back yard with at least a 6 or 8 ft fence, with the top of it tilting in. Then put an invisable fence inside that perimitor, to warn away from such a fence. The dog's owner just did not do a good job with training. Some dogs are pschyo.

By: rebeccaperona on 3/13/12 at 8:06

i think they should definitely look at revisiting the laws for nashville. this is so sad. there are so many other options besides death for this dog. why are so many people so quick to kill a dog (especially pit bulls)? it breaks my heart. i hope prada is able to make a difference in nashville, and i hope they are able to beat the court system.

By: 1kenthomas on 3/13/12 at 3:47

Oh good grief.

A judge is supposed to reasonably interpret the law, even bad law-- and this is bad law. But certainly he or she can work with the parties to come to an agreeable solution, in an unusual situation, that is reasonable.

Anything else is small-minded literalism, which, of course, we've got enough of already.

By: InTheRaine on 3/14/12 at 1:56

I have to shake my head at some of the stupid and uninformed comments here.

It's obvious that many of you don't know the case. I'm wondering what happened to the German Shepherd that jumped on Prada before she was tied to the tree? THAT dog was obviously a menace. I'm wondering what is going to happen to MACC that has lied under oath?

The dog was proven "vicious" by a biased analysis. I feel that if this person who deemed this dog vicious went to any dog park, or saw half the dogs in Nashville, we would have a canine genocide on our hands. I think it's only fair to have an unbiased assessment, nobody that has anything to do with Animal Control, and that is familiar with large breed dogs, who knows how to PROPERLY interpret signals and signs. I wonder how many people's dogs like running out of the house when it knows it gets to go outside? My dog is well established, properly trained, knows his commands in 3 languages and hand commands, and yet, when he knows he gets to go outside, he likes to rush the door, too. I wish you folks would get the REAL facts on the case instead of listening to hearsay. Law enforcement that forced this dog to be tied to a tree while it was heavily bleeding from being ripped up by that German Shepherd that outweighed Prada (89 pounds vs 34 pounds) should lose his job, and be charged with animal cruelty. They didn't allow any medical aid to come from Prada's owner.

Animal Control is supposed to work towards a lesser kill rate. There are already several groups willing to take Prada if the court system doesn't like the situation at the home. As being an owner of a bully mix, I can honestly tell you that Nashville has a vendetta against bullys. This case is just further proof of that.

By: rebeccaperona on 3/14/12 at 8:00

yay for intheraine!

By: bluedamsel on 3/14/12 at 9:54

rickmuz & jeffF- If you don't have something of value to add, please just don't comment. If you do not know someone you should not make assumptions. It makes.you appear less than adult. For the record, I actually know the woman you made the above statements about. She is kind, giving and all natural. She's likely far more intelligent than both of you with several degrees to prove it. Now that we have that straightened out we can talk about the actual issue.

govskeptic- I don't know how familiar you are with the case or if you've read the full trial transcripts. There are significant details not mentioned in the press. The only factual evidence is that dogs, including Prada were injured and by her own admission the owner of the German Shepherd was bitten by her dog which I'm sure wasn't intentional since that is an instinctive reaction. Originally she claimed Prada bit her but recanted that statement. There was a considerable amount of witness testimony but few proven facts. The length of time during which police officers were present can be proven and the length of time it took Animal Control to arrive can also be verified however those two facts alone seem odd. The vicious attacks Prada has been accused of supposedly went on for somewhere between 3 to 5 hours. During the majority of that time Metro Police were present. When the testimony is looked at as a whole it seems that 2 Metro Police Officers and neighbors with there dogs outside with them watched a dog roam the neighborhood attacking any dog in it's path.
Basically, the case is more complicated than it may seem. I read through pages of court docs and the entire event doesn't make sense from the witness testimony.
Prada has yet to be proven dangerous or a public MENACE.

dustywood- I hope what you said was an attempt to be funny or sarcastic. It's hard to tell sometimes when you are just reading comments. Pulling out a dog's teeth is certainly inhumane. You said the dog could possibly do as much damage with the sheer strength of it's jaws. Are you one of the people that
believe a Pit Bulls jaws "lock"? If so I can direct you to a site that will show you their jaws aren't physically capable of locking.

The Metro Dog Ordinances DEFINITELY need to be revisited and written in a manner that allow humane common sense resolutions for this type of situation. There should also be some investigation into the type of care animals at MACC receive. Prada's case has brought a myriad of issues to light.

wThe primary issue at hand is what is the best decision to resolve Prada's suffering. Ideally she would be sent home but there is a long legal road to navigate before that can happen. In the interim, given the documented evidence of abuse at the hands of Animal Control employees the most sensible and cooperative thing to do would be to release her to one of the reputable Pit Bull rescue groups that have offered to care for her during the appeal. This provision may not be specified in the current ordinance however this is an exception the judge could most certainly make. I've known judges to make various exceptions to the law when warranted.

If Prada didn't already have a loving home waiting for her, I personally would welcomeher into my home. She is no danger to humans at all. I believe that based on witness testimony, statements from one of her caregivers at MACC, knowledge of her breed and personal experience.

Most of what people believe about Pit Bulls is steeped in ignorance.

I appogize for any typos. This message was sent from a mobile device.

By: bfra on 3/14/12 at 3:09

Any time you see someone kissing a dog's tongue (which I saw this owner doing in a picture), knowing where that tongue has been, has serious mental problems.

By: bluedamsel on 3/14/12 at 8:36

The dog was licking her.

By: rickmuz on 3/15/12 at 9:35

@bluedamsel... this is a comment and opinion section and I am free to comment and opine as I wish. I enjoyed reading your initial comment telling me that I posted a statement based on the fact that I know nothing about the person I was making the comment about. What I enjoyed was how you go on to opine that somehow I am un(der) educated and CLEARLY you do not know me either. For the record love: BS University of Marlyland and JD Cornell

By: rickmuz on 3/15/12 at 9:37

Oh and one other thing bluedamsel... I did not comment on the dog or the court case or Metro animal control because 1) I could care less and 2) my opinion was not about the dog itself.

By: bluedamsel on 3/15/12 at 3:29

rickmuz- i must have been mistaken about you. good job on the degree. your lack of concern for legitimate issues is quite impressive as well.
again, congratulations.

By: bluedamsel on 3/15/12 at 8:35

So, the tendency of our childish nature is to take small things too seriously and get easily offended, whereas when we are confronted with situations which have long-term consequences, we tend to take things less seriously. -Dalai Lama

By: rickmuz on 3/16/12 at 4:36

@Bluedamsel: "your lack of concern for legitimate issues is quite impressive as well."

A pitbull about to be put down is a legitimate issue to you? Wow, I would love to live in Utopia with you.

"So, the tendency of our childish nature is to take small things too seriously and get easily offended" EXACTLY!!