Texas Senator Proposes Legislation in Dog Bite Law
Texas Senator Wentworth – Some dog owners are a breed unto themselves. They pamper their dogs and lavish them with affection, and their dogs love them back. Unfortunately, not all pet owners are responsible, and not all dogs are lovable. Some are vicious, so vicious that they attack and kill people like 76-year-old Lillian Loraine Stiles. Mrs. Stiles was riding her lawnmower in her front yard, on her own property, when six mixed-breed dogs attacked and killed her.
There is no leash law in Milam County where Mrs. Stiles was killed, so the dogs’ owner could not be held criminally liable for her death. After Mrs. Stiles’ tragic death, her sisters, Bobbie Treuthardt and Mary Hill, both of whom live in Senate District 25, came to my San Antonio district office and asked me to strengthen Texas’ dog bite laws.
Currently, owners are responsible for their dog’s actions only if the owner knows the dog has previously bitten or attacked someone and has been determined to be a “dangerous dog.” I believe Texas should do away with the “one free bite” law.
Dog owners would be held responsible in a bill that I plan to introduce when the Texas Legislature convenes in regular session in 2007. While the language of the bill is still being determined, one thing is certain — the bill will not target a specific breed of dog.
I don’t care if the dog is a cocker spaniel or a pit bull; if it is not provoked and attacks someone, its owner should be held responsible. If the dog kills a person, it should be destroyed and its owner tried and punished.
Under the bill’s provisions, an unprovoked dog attack would be classified as a Class B misdemeanor. Should serious bodily injury or death occur, the offense would be a third-degree felony.
The punishment for a Class B misdemeanor is a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail term of up to 180 days. Third-degree felony punishment is prison for not more than 10 years or less than two years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
In addition, owners would be required to restrain their dog at all times on a leash or in a secure enclosure, even if it is not considered dangerous. Owners who do not restrain their dogs could be found guilty of a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500.
I do not want a bill that discourages dog ownership. I know how much pleasure a dog can bring to a home, especially one with children, and to retired Texans. My family and I have two dogs, one we adopted from the Animal Defense League several years ago, and a stray we gave a home to a month ago. I also am aware, however, that many Texans are living with physical and emotional scars that are the result of having been viciously attacked by a dog.
More than five million Americans suffer dog bites every year, almost 800,000 of those are so severe that they require medical treatment. Most attacks could be eliminated if dog owners leashed, penned or otherwise restrained their pets.