Virginia dangerous dog law bill ready for Assembly debate

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Friday, December 9, 2005

An American Pit Bull Terrier

The key legislative provisions of a new dangerous dog bill could mean felony criminal charges and higher home-owner insurance premiums for Virginia dog owners whose pet is deemed dangerous. A Spotsylvania County committee, called the Dangerous Dog Task Force, hammered out the basics of the bill that county Senator R. Edward Houck will introduce to the General Assembly in January.

Within the bill:

  • a first-time incident by a dog would result in a felony charge to the owner, with an increase in the severity of the penalty for subsequent offenses (the penalty ranges from 1 to 10 years in prison)
  • a dog deemed dangerous must be registered with the state on the Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry (published by the state to the web) and owners must carry insurance liability protection for the animal up to $300,000
  • dangerous dogs cannot be sold, adopted or transferred , except to animal control
  • no dog deemed dangerous can be transferred into the state

The dog would be legally defined as dangerous if it has bitten or attacked a person or companion animal. In the case of an attack on a companion animal, the injuries to the animal are such that it had to be euthanized. Currently, the Virginia state penal code contains no guidelines in the case of injury or death due to a dog attack.

"We're not talking about a little situation where somebody's pet chases a kid down the street with a bike and maybe jumps up and causes a very slight little scratch or a little nick or something," Senator Houck said Tuesday. "We're talking about where people are seriously disfigured and maimed.

"This journey has just begun, this is going to be a long way," Senator Houck cautioned, since the proposals before the General Assembly could face many changes, or outright rejection.

Task force committee member Maureen Hill-Hauch said to the issue of dog owners being held accountable for their animal’s actions, "This will send a clear and convincing message to irresponsible dog owners."

The legislation, called the Dorothy Sullivan Memorial Bill, is named in memory of the 82-year-old Spotsylvania woman who was mauled to death by 3 neighborhood Pit Bulls while she was walking her own dog in her front yard. The owner of the attacking dogs, Deanna Large, 38, has been charged with a felony of involuntary manslaughter. The trial is scheduled to begin December 20.

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