Monday, December 27, 2010

Who should be punished more when a dog bites: The dog or owner?

From Sun Sentinel

Two once-doomed dogs with exotic-dancer names have consumed South Florida's attention lately. To some, Brandie the husky and Gigi the Lab mix have come to symbolize the need for well-reasoned dog-bite laws that both protect the community and guard against government overreach.

Now, after agreeing to spare the pets from the euthanization needle, Broward County commissioners want to repeal or change the one-strike dog-bite law that once sent Brandie and Gigi to the doggie version of death row.

But lost amid all the dramatics, pleas for governor pardons and community fascination is the reality that Brandie and Gigi do not exemplify Broward's or South Florida's serious dangerous dog problem. Both of these pets were being walked on leashes when they encountered smaller dogs and killed them — a stark contrast to the majority of cases where dogs escaped from their confines and mauled other people's helpless and unsuspecting pets to death.

In the Brandie and Gigi cases, there is some question as to which dog provoked which, exposing some inherent weaknesses in such rigid, one-strike-and-you're-dead rules that doom dogs after a single fatal bite to another animal. So Broward is right to go back to the drawing board and rework the restrictions.

But it must take care not to bend too far backwards in appeasing dog owners, remembering that most of the 56 dogs put down since the 2008 dangerous dog law passed were true community menaces.

Broward would do well to take its cue from Palm Beach County, which has had a much more reasoned and effective law in place since July 2009. A dog there is declared dangerous if it aggressively bites, attacks or injures a human; if it severely injures or kills another pet while off its property; and/or if it's been trained to fight. Dangerous dogs must be spayed or neutered, registered as dangerous, confined in enclosures and muzzled when not enclosed, among other requirements. A dog is deemed vicious, and euthanized, if it's been declared dangerous and later bites an animal or human, or if it has severely injured or killed a human. Pet owners can face criminal charges if a dangerous dog later attacks.

Some pet owners have been up in arms over the fees inherent in the law, but the onus must be put on owners to take more accountability for their pets when they pose a danger. What good does it do if the dog pays the only price?

BOTTOM LINE: Dogs, and their owners, must pay a fair price for posing a danger. 

Poll

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