NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- The Westchester County District Attorney is seeking to euthanize “Apollo”, a two-year old terrier mix who acts as therapy dog for a 10-year old autistic child.
A hearing will be held on Wednesday September 7th to determine whether the dog lives or dies.
The case came before Judge Anthony Carbone following an August 18th incident on Washington Avenue in New Rochelle’s West End. There was a confrontation involving Alena Telesco, the dog’s owner, and Latisha Washinton, a former friend and long-time nemesis, which resulted in the police being called to the scene. That matter is being adjudicated separately but there is a history between the two neighbors that goes back several years, prior to Telesco acquiring Apollo two years ago as a puppy
At a preliminary hearing on August 31st, the District Attorney, according to Telesco, described the dog as “vicious” and an “illegal” pit bull.
The dog is properly licensed and has his shots for distemper and rabies so it remains unclear why the DA believes the dog is “illegal”.
An effort has been made to dismiss Telesco’s claim that the dog acts as a therapy dog for her autistic son.
Telesco has a letter from Dr. Michele Laverdiere, an Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics (Child Development) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and an attending physician specalizing in Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics at the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Rose F. Kennedy Center in the Bronx, part of The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore
Dr. Michele Laverdiere states that Telesco’s son, Nicholas, has a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Mixed Reception Expressive Language Impairment and Developmental Coordination Disorder. She writes:
“Please note Nicholas’ dog is therapeutic for him, and removing the dog from the home would be detrimental to his behavioral health.”
So, what is a therapy dog?
Different organizations such as the American Kennel Club or the United States Therapy Dog Registry have different standards, accepted by different institutions, as to how a dog might qualify as a “therapy dog” but there is no legal definition of a therapy dog and no special privileges accorded to a therapy dog under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or related state statutes.
Therapy dogs are often used to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, nursing homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, and to people with autism.
“Therapy dogs are not service dogs,” says the AKC web site. “Service dogs are dogs who are specially trained to perform specific tasks to help a person who has a disability…a dog who guides an owner who is blind, or a dog who assists someone who has a physical disability. Service dogs stay with their person and have special access privileges in public places.”
From this, it is clear that Apollo is not a service dog, nor has Telesco claimed he is, but that he is a therapy dog and she has a letter from a reputable specialist from a prestigious medical college to back her up.
As for the dog being “vicious”, that is decidedly not the experience of this reporter. The exact opposite was the case during a recent visit.
After being contacted by Telesco, this reporter arranged to stop by her apartment to review paperwork related to the case. Telesco and her dog were observed by this reporter, unnoticed, as she walked the dog near her apartment. Apollo was under control at all times as he walked by his owner’s side and accompanied Telesco into the apartment building where she resides on Washington Avenue.
A mobile phone call brought Telesco back outside the apartment without the dog. Invited to enter her apartment and meet the dog, this reporter went back upstairs. A point was made for me to enter the apartment first, without the owner. The dog was extremely friendly. He showed no signs of stranger anxiety, barrier aggression or food aggression during a 20 minute visit. He took food, when offered, appropriately, and was primarily interested in being petted, having his head scratched or lying on the floor at my feet.
There may or may not be more to the case that brought the matter before Judge Carbone in the first place — Telesco has filed an Internal Affairs Complaint and an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint in the matter. Telesco was arrested by the officer she complained about on a charge of Obstruction of Government Administration. She says Lane Schlesinger, a New Rochelle police officer, was unprofessional, made rude, aggressive and inappropriate comments towards her and about her son and, when the dog inadvertently got loose while she was talking to the officer he began striking her dog with his baton. She says she was arrested after she jumped on Apollo to protect him from the officer striking the dog with his baton.
Whatever the differences involving Alena Telesco, Latisha Washinton and Lane Schlesinger, one things is certain — the dog is not the problem.
Apollo does not deserve die.
Apollo is a sweet, cuddly “mush” of a dog who showed absolutely no signs of aggression at all. It is not clear that he is a pure-bred American Pit Bull Terrier but if he is, and one dog expert said he was a mix not a pure-bred dog, then he may be suffering unfairly from the perception among some that “pit bulls” are naturally aggressive. They are not. In fact, the dog is known as a companion and family dog breed, known as “nanny dogs” because they are so gentle around children.
The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm. APBTs make excellent family companions and have always been noted for their love of children. Because most APBTs exhibit some level of dog aggression and because of its powerful physique, the APBT requires an owner who will carefully socialize and obedience train the dog. The breed’s natural agility makes it one of the most capable canine climbers so good fencing is a must for this breed. The APBT is not the best choice for a guard dog since they are extremely friendly, even with strangers. Aggressive behavior toward humans is uncharacteristic of the breed and highly undesirable. This breed does very well in performance events because of its high level of intelligence and its willingness to work.
-- The United Kennel Club
Telesco has obtained more than two thousand signatures on a her Change.org petition.
Petition: A CHILDS CRY FOR HIS THERAPY DOG APOLLO
New Rochelle City Court The Honorable Judges of the New Rochelle City Court
Apollo is my sons therapy dog and it greatly impacts the stability of his daily behavior. The bond between them is amazing. Please don't take him away from my family. I am willing to do anything necessary to keep Apollo home with my son. He is a gentle soul who, as any dog who loves it's family would do under the circumstances at the time of this incident, was only reacting to the commotion and feeling his family was in danger.
Readers can sign the petition here.