To dog owners: ‘Be responsible or face the music’
By LPR Staff
It has been almost ten years now since I was bitten by a pit bull mix while out rollerblading in my neighborhood with my roommate. Under the law that existed at that time, the dog’s owner received a light slap on the wrist for violating Austin’s leash laws and letting the dog run loose in the residential neighborhood, but because the dog had not been
declared “dangerous,” there was no other penalty.
On balance, I know that I was lucky. All I have left of that experience is two tiny scars on my left leg and a blinding fear of pit bulls. I got off light. But still, I’ve always been an advocate of making pet owners face responsibility for their pets’ actions, if those actions bring harm to another person.
In light of the growing number of dog attacks being reported across the state, and the number of those attacks that have been fatal, the Texas Legislature and Governor Perry have answered with much stiffer penalties for the owners of dogs involved in attacks.
It’s about time.
In the past, the only way a dog owner could be held criminally liable for a dog attack is if the dog had previously been declared “dangerous.” Unfortunately, so often, owners do not have any real idea that their dogs might be “dangerous” until someone has already been hurt.
I’m as guilty as anyone else. It’s hard for me to imagine that my sweet baby could be anything but a lover – but at just under 100 lbs., I know that she could put a serious hurt on someone if she was of a mind to.
Starting Sept. 1, HB 1355 will go into effect. The new law is the State’s way of reminding us that yes, in fact, we ARE responsible for our dogs’ behavior.
Under the new law, a dog owner can be charged with a third-degree felony if their dog attacks and causes bodily injury at some location other than the dog owner’s property (for instance, if your dog runs across the street to munch on an unwitting jogger, you can face charges for that. Or if the dog jumps the fence into the neighbor’s yard and beats up his or her grandchild in the wading pool, you can face charges for that). In the tragic event the victim of a dog attack dies, the charges scale up to a second-degree felony. That almost certainly means jail time.
Under HB 1355, it makes no difference if the dog has previously been declared “dangerous” or not… but it does impose even harsher penalties if the dog has been tagged as “dangerous.”
Here in Caldwell County, there are a great number of dog owners who will probably want to familiarize themselves with this law before September. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or seen reports of “vicious dogs roaming at large” on the police scanner and in the sheriff’s blotter. In most cases, this just means a dog is running loose, barking and aggravating the neighbors. To my knowledge, there have not been serious attacks reported here – yet.
But it’s a craps shoot, and it’s only a matter of time.