A 9-year-old girl suffering from brain cancer might lose her service dog after it allegedly bit a neighbor.
Ava is a German Shepherd being trained to help Molly Kimball, who has had six operations to remove tumors from her brain. One of her many side effects is frequent balance loss.
"When Molly gets up from the table," said her mother, Patricia Kimball, "she loses her balance, and Ava has caught her before."
But the River Vale, N.J., family is in danger of losing their beloved pet after it allegedly bit their 6-year-old neighbor, Isabelle, in the nose, leaving her with a gaping gash that required more than 100 stitches.
"I never want any adult or child to experience this," said Liz Gernhardt, Isabelle's mother. "What hurts the most is this was totally preventable."
The incident happened outside, somewhere between the homes of the Gernhardts and the Kimballs. Both agree that the 6-year-old was standing near her mother, while one of the Kimballs held the German Shepherd on a leash.
Paul Kimball, Molly's father, said Isabelle was hiding behind her mother and occasionally poking her head out to peek at the dog.
"At one point she just stepped out; it happened in a split second," said Kimball. "When she ran out of slack and the collar constricted her, it caused her mouth to snap."
But according to Gernhardt, it was an attack.
"The dog looked like he was getting ready to sit down when all of a sudden, the dog lunged at her," she said.
Gernhardt said Ava has nipped her younger son in the face before. She said she never reported it to police because it was not that serious and she was reassured that the dog was not violent. This time, after hearing her daughter cry after doctors put scores of stitches in her nose, she decided to take action.
"We don't want Ava here in the neighborhood," said Gernhardt. "We don't want her anywhere near children where she can do the same thing again."
But the Kimballs insist Ava is not violent.
"Ava's a loving dog and this was just an accident," said Molly. "She would never do this."
Ava, they say, is much more than a pet to Molly -- she's her best friend.
"Ava's the whole world to me. She helps me with everything," said Molly. "I tell her she's a great dog and I love her and that she's the best."
Ava's fate will be determined by a judge in municipal court on Tuesday.