Before dog training vote, trainer's dog bites child outside Hillsborough County government center

Published Nov. 15, 2017

TAMPA — A dog bit a young child outside the Hillsborough County Commission building Wednesday morning just before the board approved an ordinance that will regulate dog trainers.

The child was taken to an undisclosed hospital for medical evaluation, according to Hillsborough County Pet Resources. A Hillsborough County sheriff's official said the child is no older than 5 years old.

The dog's owner handed the animal over to Pet Resources, and the dog was euthanized shortly after, said Kara Walker, a spokeswoman for the county. Walker said the incident is under investigation.

The dog apparently was owned by Clarke Inghram, a dog trainer and owner of Sit 'N Stay Dog Academy. Inghram could not be reached for comment.

The catalyst for the dog training ordinance was a dog death that occurred two years ago at Inghram's business. The owner of that dog, Lorie Childers, alleges that Inghram's rough training tactics killed her Shih Tzu-Pekingese. The Inghram family denies that.

During a public hearing Wednesday on the dog training bill, Inghram's daughter and general manager of Sit 'N Stay, Shallingda Inghram, said the dog that bit the child had never been aggressive in that way.

"No excuse for what happened," Shallingda Inghram said. "The dog should not have been there. It's never been aggressive in that light. The energy was crazy. My dad is public enemy No. 1 right now and he's got people threatening him in the lobby."

Marie Kelley of Titusville said she saw the dog shake the child by the head. The dog was only a couple of feet from the child when it attacked, she said.

"The trainer, that was his dog," Kelley said. "He told him to let the child go five or six times. The dog did not release."

Kelley came to the hearing to speak in favor of the dog trainer ordinance, called Truth in Training, which passed in a 5-2 vote.

The ordinance requires dog trainers in Hillsborough County to obtain a license and agree to a training plan with pet owners before instruction begins. Trainers must get liability insurance of at least $100,000. Trainers will also have to provide their credentials to the county for publication and undergo local and federal background checks. No one who is convicted of animal cruelty would be allowed to work as a trainer in the county.

The county attorney's office said the ordinance is the first of its kind in the country. Those against the bill said maybe there's a reason for that.

More than 60 people signed up to speak on the proposed regulations. Opponents out-numbered supporters by a 2-to-1 ratio.

Before people spoke, Commissioner Al Higginbotham said the incident with the dog and child was "more evidence" that the ordinance needed to pass.

Many local dog trainers argued against the new regulations saying they would inhibit their small businesses and open them up to expensive and frivolous lawsuits. Dog trainers can already be punished under animal abuse laws, they said.

"The only way to really combat (bad trainers) in a business sense is through competition," said Daniel Kean, a local trainer. "This ordinance will make Hillsborough County the hardest place in the country to become a dog trainer."

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But Commissioner Les Miller — who prayed for the bitten child during an invocation at the start of the meeting — said the new regulations just provide more information to consumers.

"If you're a good dog trainer," Miller said, "this shouldn't affect you at all."

Contact Jonathan Capriel at Follow @jonathancapriel.