Frank Bicking was looking to celebrate his daughter’s perfect semester with a shopping trip that included an attack that might end up changing his life.
The Thorofare, New Jersey, resident crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge on Sunday, December 22, 2019, to head to the Christiana Mall to give his daughter Samantha a chance to shop, tax-free, at a mall that's got more than the closer mall in South Jersey.
Bicking, who suffers from a condition that brings about common bouts of seizures, has a service dog named Beauty, who has been with him for about a year-and-a-half.
Samantha and her mother had just exited the Williams Sonoma store in the mall, and the family was on the way out of the mall for the day, when they passed by a kiosk selling Prédiré Paris products.
Bicking said three small dogs were being kept near the operators when a reaction happened.
“As we walked past the cart, I heard the dogs start to bark. Beauty and I kept walking. The next thing I know, we were a little bit past the cart, and two dogs were biting on her back legs. One was getting underneath and trying to bite on her belly and did land bites on her belly. Beauty was scrambling trying to get away from them; there were witnesses screaming for the owners to pull their dogs off of my service dog--that they were attacking my service dog. I had to use my cane to try and push one dog off of Beauty’s leg while my daughter had to risk her own safety in pulling the other dog off.”
Bicking said the incident lasted about two minutes with Beauty receiving bruising under her fur near her hind legs and around her belly. After being checked out, Beauty was on pain medicine when WDEL visited the Bicking’s home on Thursday, December 26, 2019.
Delaware State Police troopers, who maintain a heavy presence around the mall at all times, and the mall’s security did respond to the scene.
At that point, blame started getting tossed around.
“When security got to the kiosk, the ladies blamed me for walking past with my service dog. Beauty never broke her heel. She has had thousands of dollars’ worth of training...she did everything right. She was in a perfect heel next to me working, just like she should.”
Beauty’s training, like all service animals, is extensive. She has been working with Heather Inzerma who is based out of the PetSmart in Deptford, New Jersey, to help Frank when moments of crisis arise.
“One of my conditions will cause me to go into extreme pain and seize up. Beauty can smell and detect when that is going to happen. She will give me five to eight minutes notice before it happens. When she does, she starts whining and pawing at me to let me know. She also designed to do interruption with those episodes. When she tells me I’m going to have an episode, I get down on the ground, she comes across me, I wrap my arms around her, and she takes the pressure when I seize up, so I can’t hurt myself. The other day when I had to go out without her and I had a seizure, my wife caught me, but unfortunately my wife pulled her back when she did that, and that’s because I didn’t have Beauty to notify me that I was going to have that attack and go down.
“Beauty is the best medicine that they’ve ever given me. No amount of chemicals or anything that they’ve used in the past to help with my condition can match the security I get with Beauty with me. I know she’s defined as medical equipment in the eyes of the law, but a handler and a service dog is known as a team. That’s what we are, we even have a custom patch that says “We are a team forever.” If she ends up being afraid of little dogs, and there’s any risk she could hurt a little dog out of fear, and has to come out of service, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Coming out of service is a possibility for Beauty. While the physical wounds will likely heal, the current concern is any emotional scarring.
“I hate seeing her scared. She went the other day to be evaluated by her trainer to see how much damage was done emotionally. Most of the injuries have been bruising, but the emotional damage of not being a dog that doesn’t fight back. When we were having her evaluated the other day, a little dog came into sight, and she froze up and started shaking. Beauty shouldn’t have to be scared. She has worked so hard to be my caregiver--and she shouldn’t have to be scared--and that makes me feel terrible that she’s shaking at times.”
Chicago-based Brookfield Properties, which runs Christiana Mall, emailed WDEL a statement Thursday evening.
“We are sorry this unfortunate incident occurred at our center. The mall permits service animals in accordance with the Americans with Disability Act. As such, the common area merchant was permitted to have its service animals within its location. The dog owner failed to properly control the service animals and unfortunately, they became aggressive towards a customer’s reported service animal. The merchant’s dogs are no longer permitted at the Mall. In addition, the proper authorities were contacted and are handling the situation between the dog owners.”
Back at the kiosk on Sunday, Bicking said it took him an hour to get the Delaware State Police to agree to take witness statements. He also claims the mall refused to give the name of the business running the Prédiré Paris kiosk--information Bicking said he still doesn’t have.
He said police told him there was no surveillance footage; Bicking saidthey were balking on giving the statements to Delaware Animal Services although state police told WDEL animal control took the lead in the investigation upon arrival.
“The dogs that attacked her were not on leashes; the owners had no control over them. They claimed they were service dogs to try to get me to go away. When I demanded that security be brought over, I found out they were passing off emotional support dogs as service dogs."
“Twenty-seven hours later, they were able to tell me that the dogs had their rabies vaccines, but were choosing not to cite them for anything for the crimes they committed. Dogs are supposed to be on leashes in Delaware. It’s a crime to pass off any other dog other than a service dog, as a service dog. Service dogs go through tremendous training to be service dogs. You can’t just pass off a pet as a service dog. On top of everything else, it’s cruel to do that to those dogs. Those dogs haven’t been trained to be in such a crazy environment and not be terrified.”
When asked what he would like to see happen to the kiosk owners, Bicking threw his frustration at the Christiana Mall, Delaware State Police, and animal control.
“There are laws to help protect against people faking service dogs, but no one is enforcing them. This is a case where they know all three of those dogs were fakes, and nobody is choosing to punish them. How is this going to change for people with disabilities to be able to safely have their service dogs with them, if they don’t start enforcing the laws?”
WDEL reached out to the Delaware Department of Public Health, which oversees the Delaware Office of Animal Welfare, after speaking with Delaware State Police, and did not receive a response at the time publication.
As for Beauty, Frank Bicking said she’s been a life-changer and that his family has had to spend thousands of dollars out-of-pocket since insurance doesn’t cover the costs associated with a service dog.
One thing Frank said, is that even if Beauty fully recovers, she’s set foot in the Christiana Mall for the final time.
"If the mall had shown any compassion towards what happened towards Beauty, or offered any real help in getting justice for her, I would definitely [return], but they did not do any of that, so no I would not go back there.”