Punish the Deed, Not the Breed?
Thursday I talked about Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) and how I have conflicting thoughts about such laws. I do not feel these laws are a solution. In fact, they make the problem worse. Many people want to own pit bulls because they’re considered dangerous. Others want the aura of having tamed “the savage beast.” Either way, BSL means more pit bulls owned.
I think it’s only fair that we look at the problem from a victim’s perspective.
In an article published in the Seattle Times last October, Ona Deane-Gordly, a victim of a pit bull attack, talks about the YEARS of recovery she has faced, both physical and psychological. Ms. Deane-Gordly does not support BSL, but she does support stiffer penalties for owners of dogs that attack. The owner of the dog that attacked Ms. Deane-Gordly was not charged. She surrendered the dog and it was euthanized. And it was Ms. Deane-Gordly’s insurance that paid for her medical care, not the dog’s owner or even her employer (she was working when attacked).
One of the most publicized cases of late is the attack on 10-year-old Dominic Solesky in Maryland. His attack, among others, was the reason why the Maryland Appeals Court ruled that pit bulls should be assumed to be dangerous and owners are liable if the dog attacks someone. Before it had to be proven the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
Thomas O’Halloran’s male pit bull escaped his kennel and attacked Solesky and another child. Solesky almost died. The owner pled guilty to one count of Reckless Endangerment and was sentenced to 2 years supervised probation. The family sued O’Halloran and won. O’Halloran then filed bankruptcy and ended up paying nothing.
If these were isolated incidents, it would be terrible enough.
Sadly, that’s not the case.
According to the American Humane Association, an estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur each year, and 800,000 of those bites require medical care. And half of those bites happen to children less than 12 years of age.
That’s alot of children who have suffered.
So what’s the answer?
Well, herein lies the problem. Pet owners want protections for their pets, but are they willing to go to bat to also offer protections for victims?
It’s my position that we should.
By being pro-active in supporting legislation that, while breed-neutral, holds owners accountable for the actions of their dogs, we can go a long way toward building bridges with people who don’t exactly like dogs (or cats). We can also help them learn what responsible owners look like, and empower them to report irresponsible owners to authorities.
The American Veterinary Medial Association has developed a model public policy for communities to use to address dog bite problems. I think it’s fair, and with the education component, goes a long way to prevent bites.
So instead of making ourselves look as though we’re more concerned about our dogs than we are in the children of our community, let’s engage in outreach and work together with others in the community to protect both humans and innocent dogs. I think it’s the right thing to do.