Before a standing-room only crowd, the Wichita Falls Independent School District Board heard public comments about a dog that one Texoma family says bit their daughter on the face two separate times. Among the speakers was Shannon Cushenbery, who says her daughter, Madyson, fell victim to the canine in contention.
Cushenbery had three minutes to speak in the public comments section of the meeting. Of her time-limited testimony she said, "I was very nervous, but I wanted to let them know that there are retaliations, and there are still problems that we are facing with the school." Cushenbery claims the retaliation started when she started speaking out about the incidents involving Mabel, the dog in question.
Many of the meeting's attendees were there to speak in favor of having Mabel in the classroom. Among them, Fowler Elementary Principal Tania Rushing. Rushing held up a picture of Mabel. Also speaking on behalf of the dog was the animal's owner and handler, Madyson's 2nd grade Teacher Mrs. Darter. Darter says Mabel is an English Mastiff, not a Bull Mastiff as Newschannel 6 had previously reported. Darter says that she never claimed Mabel was a Certified Therapy Dog.
This meeting was the first time Newschannel 6 was able to hear the school leader's side of the story. Each day we have worked on this story, we've requested an on-camera interview with a District Representative. On Monday, we requested to speak with Darter, Rushing and several other District officials. Each time, our requests were denied by Renae Murphy, WFISD Public Information Officer. Murphy cited the case being a pending legal matter when declining comment. District policy requires that the News Media channel all inquiries through Murphy's office.
While Murphy has repeatedly declined an on-camera interview, she has responded to inquiries via e-mail. In one exchange, Newschannel 6 asks "Was the animal certified for use as a therapy dog?" Murphy responded, "Both teacher and dog are certified: The teacher was trained by Midwestern State University in 2009 in a special course "Working in Harmony with Animals: Animal Assisted Therapy, Theory & Applications". The dog was trained and certified as a Canine Good Citizen in 2008 thru the American Kennel Club."
The Director of Communications for the AKC and Texoma Dog Expert and Trainer Eamon Riley have both told Newschannel 6 that the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program is not intended to certify an animal as a Therapy Dog.
While the debate over Mabel continues, Cushenbery says it was never about the dog. She says she just wants to send a clear message to the WFISD Board. "I'm hoping that (the situation) will get resolved in some way and I hope the Board opens their eyes that were not going to let this go." She appeals to the majority, that spoke in favor of Mabel, "..had this been your child what would you have done? Would you be so willing to stand up there and 'say Mabel is this great, loving dog' had she done this to your child?"
The comments were in the public comments section of the regular School Board Meeting, and the topic was not on the Agenda. No action was taken on the matter.