Panel amends ‘dangerous dog’ description

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, February 1, 2017

by Ashley Luck
Capital News Service

A House subcommittee on Monday approved a bill that would change the description of a “dangerous dog,” possibly putting fewer animals on a state registry.

Del. Matthew Farris, R-Rustburg, wants to give a dog the benefit of the doubt if it bites a person or another animal.

His HB 2381, approved by a subcommittee of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, would give animal control officers the option of determining whether a dog should be considered dangerous just because it inflicts a nip, scratch or minor injury on someone, or on another pet.

Current law requires the animal control officer to summon the offending dog’s owner to appear in General District Court to explain why his or her animal should not be considered dangerous.

Virginia Newsome, an animal control officer from Loudoun County, told the Agriculture Subcommittee that she and a group of fellow officers support the bill because they frequently see minor accidents with non-dangerous dogs.

“The intent of this bill was never for animal control officers to have to go out and get summons for every dog that bites,” said Newsome, representing the Virginia Animal Control Association.

“You can accidentally get bit by your puppy; that doesn’t make it a dangerous animal. We want to be able to give officers that discretion to look at the entire totality of each individual situation.

“There are certainly animals out there that do bite, and are dangerous. Those types of situations do deserve to go in front of a court and have a judge make a decision,” Newsome said.

“There are a lot of animals in a lot of situations that are simply just accidents. This bill will give us the ability to have clarification, for the officers and the courts. I also think it gives a much better relationship between animal control officers and the public and to be able to teach the public what the actual criteria is for a dog bite.”

If a court finds a dog is dangerous, the bill would give its owner 30 days to obtain a dangerous-dog registration certificate, which carries a $150 fee. Current law allows a 45-day wait.

The subcommittee heard no opposition from the audience and endorsed the bill with a unanimous vote. It now goes to the full committee for consideration.