In March, our Atlanta dog bite lawyers discussed a new bill, HB 685, aimed at clarifying definitions and increasing penalties for owners of dangerous and vicious dogs (see previous post here). This bill has now gone through the legislature and is waiting on a signature by the Governor before it becomes law.
Every year, 5 million people are bitten by dogs in the US, and about 800,000 of those bites are severe enough to require medical attention. So clearly this is a continuing problem. And even more alarming, most dog bites are from the pets of family or friends and about a half occur on the owner’s property. Naturally those that are too young or too old to fend off the attack are the most likely to get seriously injured. HB 685, also called the Responsible Dog Owners Act, is a step in the right direction, according to an opinion piece recently in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It is certainly a good thing to have the definitions of “dangerous” and “vicious” dogs refined and unified across Georgia. Once classified, a dangerous dog cannot be off the owner’s property unless it is under the physical control of a person who can prevent the dog from engaging with another animal or human, or unless the dog is in a crate or cage. The higher, more threatening classification of vicious dog cannot be off the owner’s property without a muzzle and being under the physical control of someone, like above, or in a cage or crate. The owner may not have more than one vicious dog and must keep $50,000 of insurance on it. Judges also have the authority to authorize euthanasia for a vicious dog.
A team of experts created this latest legislation, headed by Rep. Gene Maddox, and took more than two years to tweak it and try to come up with the best way to incentivize good pet ownership and hold reckless and irresponsible pet owners liable for their dangerous dogs. Unfortunately it was not a totally smooth process, and some parts of the legislation were taken out. One part that was left out of the final version was a provision to sterilize a dog categorized as vicious. It is worth noting that more than 70% of reported dog bites are from non-neutered male dogs. But a lobbying group for dog breeders got that part thrown out. As with all things in politics, compromises must be made during the long legislative process. The bill, once signed, will still enhance and clarify Georgia’s current “dog bite” law.