Lawsuit Describes Emotional Support Dog’s Numerous Attacks

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A resident of a West 79th Street building – where a dog named Sam has allegedly attacked numerous people – recently filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for injuries he claims to have suffered when bitten by the dog in September.

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Joseph Venafro, a TV producer and Sam’s latest alleged victim, filed the 25-page suit in New York Supreme Court against the dog’s owners, Inna Fayenson and Alan Katz, and the building’s management company. It seeks unspecified damages not only for the injuries Mr. Venafro claims, but also for alleged slander, misrepresentation and concealment of facts, and for the purported failure of both building management and Sam’s owners to protect the public from a dog known to be dangerous. He is being represented by Jeffrey K. Levine, a personal injury and civil rights lawyer.

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The lawsuit states that on September 8, Mr. Venafro, now 48, was cornered in the elevator by Sam, a then-four-year-old mixed-breed dog who was leashed and with Ms. Fayenson. Sam lunged at Mr. Venafro, according to the lawsuit, and bit him in the abdomen, right near a scar he had from surgery for Crohn’s disease. He told the New York Post he suffered seven puncture wounds, requiring medical attention at an urgent care facility. The attack was allegedly so severe, Mr. Venafro called the police, who investigated and filed a report. He recently told The New York Times Ms. Fayenson neither helped him or apologized.

Mr. Katz, Sam’s other owner, appeared to downplay the attack last fall, telling the New York Post “He needed a BandAid and he needed antibiotics. If it were [a big deal], he would have gotten admitted. No sutures were necessary. They cleaned the wound and sent him home.”

“Defendant Katz was quoted in the (NewYork Post) article that anything less than hospital admission was not a big deal,” states the lawsuit.

Far from minor, in fact, the attack left Mr. Venafro with serious injuries, according to the lawsuit.

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“Plaintiff sustained serious and permanent injuries and damages as a consequence of the attack by animal,” it states.

According to the lawsuit, Mr. Venafro later learned Sam had attacked numerous other victims over the past couple of years, including a doorman and delivery person, and that despite clear evidence that Sam was aggressive, no action had been taken by the management staff or the dog’s owners to protect the public and prevent further attacks.

The lawsuit describes dozens of incidents in which Sam has bitten, displayed aggression, lunged at, growled at, injured or frightened neighbors and others. After one attack in the building two years ago, Ms. Fayenson allegedly asked the neighbor not to tell the landlord about it and even gave her a box of cookies from Levain Bakery.

In the days after the elevator attack, the lawsuit states that Ms. Fayenson attempted to discredit Mr. Venafro, telling other residents “nothing happened.”

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“In the weeks and months following said attack by animal, defendant Fayenson affirmatively spoke with other premises residents and chose to downplay animal’s attack on plaintiff by repeatedly stating ‘nothing happened’ to plaintiff,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant Fayenson acted with …. reckless disregard for the truth, and/or with malicious intent, both presumed and actual, in knowingly uttering such statements to third parties and which were designed to negatively impact plaintiff’s credibility and reputation when considered against defendant Fayenson, a Harvard educated lawyer. These premises neighbors, having heard the first hand account of defendant Fayenson’s stating ‘nothing happened’ to plaintiff, secondary to animal’s attack on September 8, 2023, resulted in neighbors subsequent conversations with plaintiff where plaintiff felt the need to defend his reputation by waiving his medical confidentiality and showing the physical injuries to his abdominal region.”

The alleged attempt by Ms. Fayenson to dismiss the attack as “nothing” is the reason why the lawsuit also seeks damages for defamation and slander.

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“It invalidates my client to say nothing happened,” Mr. Levine told ILTUWS. “It’s absolutely outrageous.”

So far the landlord hasn’t required the dog to be removed from the property and, according to Mr. Levine, that may be because the owners say Sam is an emotional support animal, which the lawsuit claims is not true.

“Aware that animal was a dangerous dog defendant Fayenson used her knowledge as a lawyer in an attempt to avoid animal’s removal from her residence by falsely downplaying the seriousness of animal’s attack upon plaintiff and falsely and egregiously claiming animal was a support dog which defendant Fayenson knew would afford animal behavioral latitude,” the lawsuit states.

Mr. Levine told ILTUWS that he has no evidence that Sam, whom he calls Cujo in reference to a Stephen King horror novel, is or is not an emotional support animal. But even if he is, Mr. Levine said, the safety of other residents and the public supersedes that.

“When I told the landlord the dog needs to go, the answer was ‘we have a legal team (on it),’” Mr. Levine said, adding that if there is a legal team on it, he has seen nothing to suggest anything tangible is being done. “It’s not just the owners of Cujo who are responsible here. The management is doing nothing.”

Mr. Levine lives on the UWS himself and said that since news stories came out last fall about Sam, he has heard from numerous Upper West Siders who have been attacked or threatened by the dog.

The dog’s owners and Seeken 79 Realty could not be reached for comment. A woman who responded to a request for comment at Rotner Management Corp. simply said “I can’t release any information at this time.”


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