New state vicious dog law in effect
A new Arkansas law provides for the filing of criminal charges, under certain circumstances, against the owner of a dog that attacks someone.
According to Rep. Lance Reynolds, several cities and counties across the state have approved, or are considering, bans on certain dog breeds, most notably pit bulls in the wake of some highly publicized attacks. Some of those ordinances are the subject of lawsuits claiming that banning a specific breed of dog is unconstitutional. No Arkansas law bans a specific breed statewide.
Prior to the passage of Act 258 of 2007 (House Bill 1489) and during testimony on the bills this past spring, some law enforcement officials said they had little recourse against dog owners whose animals attack someone. Act 258 now allows a Class A misdemeanor to be filed in certain cases and sets a course in which the attack victim can get compensation for medical costs.
That law stems specifically from a dog attack last winter on an 81-year-old woman in Calico Rock. At least four dogs attacked the woman while she was walking to her mailbox. She suffered serious injuries and incurred high medical bills.
Specifically the law creates the crime of "unlawful dog attack" and allows the charge to be filed against the owner if he or she "knows or has reason to know" that the dog has a "propensity to attack, cause injury or endanger the safety of others without provocation" and when the owner "negligently" allows the dog to attack another person and the attack causes death or serious injury.
Conviction of a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, or both. The law bill also permits a judge or jury in the case to award restitution to the victim for any medical costs incurred. That provision is aimed at saving the victim the expense of having to go to civil court for damages. The bill was approved in the House on a 92-1 vote, and by 35-0 in the Senate.
Lawmakers in Texas recently approved one of the stiffest penalties in the nation in such dog-bite cases. The law was prompted by a fatal attack by six dogs on a 76-year-old woman. At the time, only misdemeanor charges could be filed against the dogs' owner, and he was acquitted by a jury, in part because there was no record of the dogs having attacked anyone before.
The new Texas law allows felony charges to be filed - punishable by prison upon conviction - if the attack results in the death or hospitalization of the victim and misdemeanor charges if the attack results in a less serious injury. Any dog's first attack can be a felony offense - if the injuries are fatal or severe enough and if prosecutors prove the owner's criminal negligence in not securing the animal.