RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) – Governor Terry McAuliffe has recently signed off on a bill to change the description of a “dangerous dog” in a way that could put fewer animals on a state registry.
This comes after the house voted unanimously on legislation introduced by Del. Matthew Farris, R-Rustburg, who wanted to give a dog the benefit of the doubt if it bites a person or another animal.
HB 2381 will 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.
The House voted 97-0 in February before it passed the Senate.
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.
If a court finds a dog is dangerous, the bill would give its owner 30 days to obtain a dangerous dog certificate, which carries a $150 fee and places the animal on a state registry. Current law allows the owner a 45-day wait.
Amanda McKenna is a dog trainer and animal behaviorist with Alpha Love Dog Training who agrees with the amended language, saying, “The biggest reason that a dog makes the mistake of biting a human is out of fear. It’s horrible that they get labeled as aggressive dogs because they really just need a little help, a little guidance, and confidence building to not be fearful when the hands reach out to them.”
When HB 2381 was heard by the House Agriculture subcommittee, Virginia Newsome, a Loudoun County animal control officer, said that she and a group of fellow officers support the bill because they see minor accidents frequently 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, who represented the Virginia Animal Control Association.
“There are certainly injuries that occur when you’re playing with your puppy,” she said.
“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.”