Virginia Advances Criminal Penalties for Owners of Dangerous Dogs

February 3, 2006

A Virginia House committee this week advanced a bill that would impose criminal penalties on dog owwners whose pets injure a person.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Robert D. Orrock Sr., is similar to a bill unanimously passed by the Senate last week. But Orrock’s bill punishes nonfatal dog attacks as a misdemeanor, while the Senate version punishes such attacks as a felony.

Orrock’s bill would make serious nonfatal attacks punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of $2,500.

But those penalties don’t go far enough, said a man whose mother-in-law, Dorothy Sullivan, was killed by three roaming pit bulls.

“It’s a slap in the face to the family and the victims,” Larry Just told the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee. “This bill does not go where it needs to go. While the language is good, the penalties are not adequate.”

Sullivan, 82, was attacked while walking her small dog, Buttons, in her front yard in Partlow on March 8. Buttons was also killed.

Despite the absence of a specific law, Deanna Large, who owned the pit bulls, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter last month. The jury recommended she serve three years in prison. Sentencing was scheduled for Feb. 24.

The Sullivan family has backed the Senate bill, which would make fatal dog attacks a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Fatal dog attacks are not specified under the state’s involuntary manslaughter statute.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. R. Edward Houck, D-Spotsylvania County, would also make a felony certain dog attacks that result in serious injury, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Orrock, R-Caroline County, said the penalty portion of his bill may change, depending on what the House Courts of Justice committee recommends. He said he would not allow the bill to be considered by the full House of Delegates until it has been taken up by the Justice committee.

Orrock’s bill would also establish a dangerous dog registry and ban dogs declared dangerous in other states from being brought into Virginia.

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