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Richmond, Virginia

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Owners Accountable for Dangerous Dogs

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This past weekend, a casual stroll through many of the parks in the Richmond, Virginia area would you have made you think it was “pitbull weekend”. Strangely enough, there were dozens of owners walking their dogs with make shift leashes. In many instances, it appeared that the dogs were actually walking their owners.

On Sunday, one pitbull got loose in Monroe Park and attacked at least five people, causing puncture wounds from the dog’s teeth. Witnesses at the scene told police that the dog was not provoked and just went “wild”. The owner admitted to one reporter that this dog had been known to attack. Notwithstanding, he decided to take this dog for a walk without a muzzle or any special chain.

The Virginia General Assembly has approved legislation that would hold dog owners accountable and even become a felony conviction, if their dog attacks an individual. Under Senate Bill 200, a dog will be declared dangerous if it injures a person, cat, or other dog that was not on it’s owner’s property. Once that dog is then declared dangerous, the owner could face a maximum of a 5 year prison sentence as well as a $2,500 fine, if the dog again leaves the owner’s property and attack a person. If the dangerous dog attacked another dog or cat, the owner could face a misdemeanor charge that would be punishable up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.

It seems that the news regularly features stories of animals attacking neighbors and the unsuspecting. In fact, Senate Bill 200 was introduced a little over a year after three pitbulls attacked an 82 year old woman in Spotsylvania County, killing her and her dog.

Now, individuals will not only face the possibility of civil accountability for creating these dangerous conditions, but they will also now face a real criminal accountability as a result of allowing their dangerous animal to attack. The criticism of Senate Bill 200 is that it does not do enough. At the Joel Bieber Firm, we will work to hold these owners civilly accountable. Now at the least, there is some viable criminal punishment for this kind of conduct, once this bill receives signature and advances to law.