Georgia dog owners face new penalties for attacks
New dog ownership legislation has been proposed in Georgia, placing more responsibility on owners to keep dangerous dogs from causing harm. The proposed change would classify as a felony, impose fines of up to $20,000, and/or up to three years in prison for the failure to properly secure a dog that seriously injures or kills a person.
Bill HB 717 is sponsored by Reps. Peny Houston (R, Nashville) and Amy Carter (R, Valdosta). The recent catastrophic death of Lowndes County’s Misti Wyno at the teeth of a pit bull spurned the creation of this legislation. Wyno, 40-years old, was reportedly attacked as she walked to her neighbor's house to get some grits. A nearby pit bull broke its chain and attacked. According to authorities, the dog repeatedly tore into the woman's legs and arms. The victim died about an hour later due to her injuries.
Last summer, 8-year-old Javon Roberson was attacked by two pit bulls in a neighborhood park on Savannah's eastside while he was playing on a swing set. The dogs attacked the boy when he tried to run away and began mauling him until two men heard his screams. They beat the dogs with bricks until they finally released the child.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the animals had escaped from a nearby car. Both dogs were later euthanized but the incident was ruled an accident and the owner was not charged with any crime.
Many Georgia residents believe that the owner should be held ultimately responsible for the aggressions of a dog. The new legislation change allegedly aims “to provide for criminal penalties for certain owners who fail to secure their dog resulting in the dog inflicting severe injury or death on a human being; to provide for related matters; to provide for an effective date and applicability; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.” If approved, the law will become active on July 1, 2012, and no previous incidents will be charged under it.
Dog-bite claims have risen sharply in recent years, as medical bills and monetary damages awarded have increased. In 2008 there were over 300,000 visits to hospital Emergency Departments for dog-bite related injuries, with many of these injuries considered serious.
Like most other states, Georgia already has laws that require dog owners to keep their pets inside fenced yards and on a leash when out in public. Georgia law also requires that dogs receive annual vaccinations for rabies.