Earlier this month, the state of Virgina established the online Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry. This site allows residents to find dogs in their county that have attacked a person or an animal, and that a judge has decided could cause injury again. Two pictures of the dog (front view and side view), address of the owner, and the incident are public information on the registry.
Officials in Virginia created this registry after dogs killed a toddler and an 82-year-old woman in separate incidents during the past two years. The registry was created for the state to deal with dogs deemed dangerous. 33 states and the District of Columbia hold owners legally liable if their dogs injure or kill.
Under Virginia’s new law, dogs must wear a special “dangerous dog” tag, and when he goes out in public, he must also wear an orange “danger” collar. The owner must also display a dangerous dog sign in the window of the house. Also, a $100,000 liability insurance policy on the dog must be bought. All of this is in effect “until proof of death of the animal.”
Amidst the growing legislations, lawmakers struggle to balance between the fine line of public safety without invading the privacy and property rights of dog owners. Many national dog owner and veterinarian associations say the specific breed bans are difficult to enforce and ineffective since, they say, if one breed is banned, dog owners seeking aggressive dogs will simply begin fostering fierceness in other breeds.
From New York Times: (registration required)
In 2006, Ohio became the first state to enact a breed ban, but it was later overturned. During the past several years, municipalities across the nation have been taking similar steps. They are targeting specific breeds especially pit bulls, Rottweilers, English bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers, and passing regulations that require owners to use muzzles or short leashes in public.
12 states prohibit local municipalities from passing breed-specific legislation.
Texas has responded to dangerous dogs by making it a felony with a possible 10-year prison sentence for anyone whose dog seriously injures a person while off its leash.
Counties in Florida and New York have also created public dangerous dog registries, and Hawaii is considering one. Opponents of the dangerous dog registries say that by putting home addresses of the dog owners, this allows for harassment and violates the privacy of the owner.
17 states have a “one bite rule” that protects dog owners from liability for the first attack.
â€œIt seems a little unfair to single out a dog if they havenâ€™t done something in the past,â€ said Jacqueline Short, 40, who lives in Newport News, Va. She is Bearâ€™s owner and says the bicyclist was her petâ€™s first biting offense.
Now that Bear [pictured here] has been officially designated a dangerous dog, he must be muzzled and walked on a short leash when he is taken in public. But Ms. Short says the toughest requirement has been the $100,000 liability insurance that she now has to carry, which costs about $1,000 a year.
â€œCourts need to look at the dogâ€™s history and the severity of the incident,â€ Ms. Short said, â€œand if the dogs havenâ€™t shown aggression in the past then that should be taken into account before they are considered dangerous.â€
Even with stiffer penalties, animal control departments are often understaffed and under-financed and therefore unable to apply the laws.
Each year, roughly 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs and about 800,000, half of them children, seek medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On average, a dozen people die each year from dog attacks, according to the center. In 2003, 32 people died from dog-related incidents.