Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Under bill, dog owners could face life in prison for fatal attack

By Gary Scharrer, from My San Antonio

The owner of a dangerous dog could end up spending life in prison if the animal attacks and kills a child or senior citizen under legislation tentatively approved Tuesday night by the Texas House on a 123-7 vote.
HB 1389 would make a dog attack a first-degree felony if the victim involves a child or elderly person. There was no discussion before the vote.
“I was shocked,” Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, said about the lack of debate after casting one of the few opposing votes.
“There might be some extenuating circumstances,” he said. “I believe we need to be a little more understanding.”
The bill potentially could generate discussion before a final vote today. The Senate hasn't acted on the legislation.
“We are concerned about vicious dogs killing people,” said Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, a pediatrician and co-author of the bill.
“You have to control your dog,” Shelton said. “And you have to make sure that your dog doesn't get out and hurt folks.”
Existing Texas law creates a third-degree felony (two to 10 years in prison) for an owner of a dangerous dog that attacks unprovoked and injures a person, or if the owner fails to secure the dog and it attacks another person not on the owner's property.
If a person dies as a result of the attack, existing law elevates the offense to a second-degree felony (two to 20 years in prison).
Current law developed as the result of a 2005 attack on a 76-year-old woman who was killed by six pit bull-Rottweiler mixes that escaped from a neighbor's yard.
A person is aware that he or she owns a “dangerous dog” if the owner knows the dog has committed unprovoked attacks, or if the owner has received notice from a court or animal control that the dog is dangerous, according to the state's health and safety code.
HB 1389 would take effect on Sept. 1, 2011, if the bill becomes law.
None of San Antonio's legislators voted against the bill.

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