Breed-specific legislation shouldn't be prohibited
© March 14, 2006
Last updated: 11:57 PM
Perhaps we've been too hard on pit bulls. Yes, these muscular beasts can be aggressive. A Suffolk toddler and a Spotsylvania County woman were mauled to death last year by pit bulls or pit-bull mixes. Still, we may not be giving the breed enough credit.
They may be smarter than we think.
Exhibit A: A pit bull attacked two people in Fairfax County on Wednesday.
Exhibit B: Another pit bull attacked five in a Richmond park on Sunday afternoon.
It's almost as if both of these dogs knew that if they waited until July 1 to maul folks for fun, their owners would be in a world of trouble.
Better to get it out of their systems now.
You see, last week, after much debate and several revisions, the General Assembly finally passed dangerous-dog legislation. The governor has not signed it, but when he does - and it's inconceivable that he won't - the law would take effect this summer. The statute would increase the criminal consequences for nitwits who keep vicious dogs.
Can these dog owners spell f-e-l-o-n-y? Probably not. They'll learn.
It's not a perfect law, but it's a start.
Sadly, from my reading of it, the bill prohibits what's known as breed-specific legislation. Big mistake. Virginia ought to allow cities and counties to ban aggressive breeds if that's what the voters want. Many cities in other states outlaw pit bulls before they bite.
Apparently, the fact that two Virginians were killed by pit bulls or pit-bull mixes last year was not persuasive. Just how many deaths will it take before cities will be allowed to take pre-emptive action ?
The horrific death of Jonathan Martin should have been enough. He was the 2-year-old Suffolk boy who was ripped apart by his family's pit-bull mixes last fall.
Last March, Dorothy Sullivan was killed by three marauding pit bulls or pit-bull mixes. It was the gruesome death of this Spotsylvania County woman and the problems prosecutors had bringing serious charges against the owner of the dogs that caused state Sen. Ed Houck to introduce the dangerous-dog legislation .
Fortunately, neither of the most recent attacks was deadly.
According to television news reports, a pit bull escaped from its Falls Church yard Wednesday and attacked two people.
A quick-thinking police officer shot the dog dead.
One dangerous dog down, many more to go.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that four days later, on a spectacularly sunny Sunday afternoon, a pit bull in Richmond's Monroe Park "attacked its owner and four other people."
"The attacks were unprovoked," one witness told the paper .
It happens all the time.
Virginia's new legislation won't do anything to prevent a first attack, but it will extract a price from owners of dogs that bite.
In addition to penalties, the legislation creates a "Dangerous Dog Registry."
Dogs that launch unprovoked attacks on people or innocent pets will be officially classified as "dangerous." Once that happens, the owner will have to jump through a series of expensive hoops to keep the dog alive. The malevolent mutts will have to be computer chipped or tattooed and kept on a short leash . Literally.
It's about time.
July can't come soon enough.
Reach Kerry Dougherty at (757) 446-2306 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 HamptonRoads.com/PilotOnline.com