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Lawsuit claims passenger's 'emotional support' pit bull mauls 5-year-old little girl in the face at Portland airport

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The owner allegedly presented a generic letter from her therapist to permit the dog to fly without a crate

Image source: KATU-TV video screenshot

A mother is suing for damages on behalf of her little girl after the child was allegedly mauled in the face by an untrained, unregistered "emotional support" pit bull at Portland International Airport.

What are the details?

The reported incident occurred in December 2017, when then-5-year-old Gabriella Gonzalez was waiting with her family at a gate for their flight. According to the lawsuit, defendant Michelle Brannan was at the waiting area with her pit bull, which she claimed was an emotional support animal.

Gabriella asked whether the animal bites and if she could pet the dog. In response Brannan granted permission. The dog then attacked the little girl, causing injuries which required facial reconstructive surgery.

Mina Gonzalez, Gabriella's mother, told KVEW-TV, "There was just blood everywhere," describing her horror over the attack. The suit says that "as a result of the incident, Gabriella Gonzalez suffered injury to muscles, tendons, bones, nerves and soft tissue of her face, eye, eyelid, tear duct and lip, as well as emotional trauma."

The complaint also states the child has suffered permanent scarring and "required surgery to repair complex facial lacerations and a damaged tear duct, and has incurred medical expenses and will incur future medical expenses."

Gonzalez is suing the dog's owner, saying she knew or should have known the pit bull "possessed vicious propensities." Alaska Airlines and Port of Portland — which runs the airport — are also named as defendants in the suit, for allowing the animal to be unkenneled for travel, despite it purportedly not being a trained or registered service animal.

Brannan was reportedly cited by Port of Portland police for not having the animal crated but was still allowed to proceed to her gate with the dog on a leash. Alaska Airlines does not require emotional support animals to be confined to a kennel.

Chad Stavley, the attorney representing the Gonzalez family, told the Oregonian that Brannan was carrying what appeared to be a form letter from her therapist, claiming the animal was for emotional support. But "it didn't say what kind of animal," Stavley said. "It was just a generic 'animal.'"

Stavley told The Washington Post, "There's a lot of abuse of this emotional support animal situation, 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."

The lawsuit is seeking $1.1 million in total damages, with $100,000 of the amount to cover past and future medical expenses.

Anything else?

While Port of Portland wouldn't address the specifics of the alleged incident, a spokeswoman told OregonLive their hands are tied when it comes to service animals. 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.

"The traveler need only answer those questions, and we're required to accept the answers," Kama Simonds explained.

Alaska Airlines declined to comment on the case citing the pending litigation.

Multiple media requests for comment from Brannan have gone unanswered. The dog owner was reportedly able to board a later flight without her animal in tow on the day of the incident. According to KATU-TV, the pit bull was taken to the Multnomah County Animal Shelter and placed in a 10-day quarantine following the alleged attack, which is standard protocol following a dog bite.

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