Thursday, April 14, 2005

Legislators in Spotsylvania County, Virginia, are proposing a new law that would make pet owners criminally responsible for their animal’s actions.

This follows the death of a boy after a dog attack. The proposal would make it a category IV misdemeanor if a conviction for negligence is gained against a pet owner charged for their dog biting someone, punishable by a $250 fine. For a second offense, the penalty can go up to $1000 or 6 months in jail, and for a third offense, $2500, or a year in jail. The legislation, if enacted, would enable the creation of a criminal profile for a negligent animal owner and the animal itself.

On a CBS6 news report broadcast recently on an Orange County boy killed by the family dog, they said the station received many angry e-mails from dog owners about the story when it was aired earlier that day. It is a topic that draws strong views from both sides of the argument, and probably explains why the Commonwealth of Virginia has been strangely quiet on the subject. It appears the state government is willing at this point to let it be slugged out at the county level, while remaining distant and learning from it above the fray. This means that if a Spotsylvania County dog owner cannot abide a new law that might fine him $250 because his dog bit the mailman, he can move to a nearby county where no such law exists.

The legal wording the county might use in drafting the legislation should not concern itself with the species of pet. All pets should be affected because the legislation should be indiscriminate. What it needs to concern itself with is what meets the definition of a pet, and exactly what negligence is.

Recall that Dianna Large, now charged with a felony, originally said she owned only 1 of the 3 pit bulls involved in the attack that killed an elderly woman. Even if she later recanted that, if her defense can show that her status as pet owner of the other 2 dogs is only slight, or if it exists at all under current law, that would have a big impact on the case.

There will be a public hearing on May 10 to discuss proposals that may change county legislation.

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