Dog Bite Battle Continues, Federal Lawsuit Possible

Debate over the dog bite battle continues and right now a Federal Civil Suit could be in the works against the Wichita Falls Independent School District. It stems from what a Texoma Mother says has been unprofessional and unethical actions by school leaders.

It all started when Shannon Cushenbery says a teacher's dog at Fowler Elementary School bit her daughter, Madyson, on the face 2 separate times. It was when she started to speak out about the issue that she says the School started retaliating against her and her daughter. She said that it has gone so far that she has pulled Madyson out of Fowler Elementary and is working with a local advocacy group to help find a better placement.

Shannon had a chance to speak her mind to the WFISD Board last night, but she wasn't the only one. Many people showed up to talk about how the English Mastiff in question, Mabel, has helped them or their family.

Many people love Mabel. At Monday's meeting, those that say the dog has helped them or their family outnumbered Shannon Cushenbery significantly. However, Shannon says the dog bite battle goes deeper than just the dog. But many other people are still speaking out about Mabel.

The dog's owner and teacher Susan Darter, along with Fowler Elementary Principal Tania Rushing, several parents and families all sang the praise of Mabel the Mastiff. On the comments section of this web site, user grateful.mom says:

"My Dyslexic child attends Fowler and began working with Mrs. Darter in January 2009. I cannot express enough how grateful I am. Dyslexia is very frustrating. Not only does the child get frustrated with himself but the parent also becomes frustrated... My child was always so excited to come home and tell me about Mabel 'helping her read'. "She is soft and cuddly and just listens'. Yes, Mabel, just listens, and accepts you as you are!"

That comment mirrors quite a few calls we've taken in the Newsroom. One of the callers that lit up our lines after the first story aired was Texoma dog expert and trainer Eamon Riley. He was concerned about the certification the WFISD claimed Mabel had, but he certainly understands how a dog like Mabel could be beneficial. Like Madyson, Eamon deals with Dyslexia.

Riley recounts his elementary school days saying, "I hated reading in class when I was younger the other kids laughed at me, I had a real bad speech defect and when you have a dog as a reading partner that dog sits there, that dog listens to you he doesn't criticize you he doesn't make fun of you."

After serving in the Marines, Riley has made a second career working with dogs, but wishes he had a dog like Mabel around earlier in life. "I wish that when I was a kid that there was a dog in class that wouldn't laugh at me when I read the word wrong."

Riley still says that in his professional opinion, any dog working with the public as a therapy dog should be certified by one of several national organizations. The WFISD has said that Mabel is certified through the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program. Riley and the Director of Communications for the AKC both say that the CGC program is not intended to certify an animal for therapy use.

Even with the uproar, Shannon Cushenbery says her complaints were never about the dog. Her issue is with the way she says the School Officials have handled the matter.

At Monday's Board meeting, Cushenbery says it was stated that every parent had to sign a waiver before their child could interact with Mabel. Cushenbery says she never signed such a document. She says she has a meeting Tuesday morning with the Assistant Principal of Fowler and she has requested to see those forms. Newschannel 6 also went looking for those forms, by filing a Freedom of Information Act Request with the School District. As of this writing, we have yet to hear back.

To view a copy of our request, click on the associated links to the upper left of this page.

Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6