After many years where it was common knowledge through the halls of the State Legislature that “any bill restricting dogs that comes down here will soon be dead on arrival“, the highly publicized tragic death of the Fredericksburg woman and her pet dog after being mauled by a neighbor’s pit bull a couple of years ago has changed all that.That incident, more than anything, led to the passage of the bill, effective on July 1, 2006 which established a “Dangerous Dog Registry” and actually went quite a bit further. Rather than publish the bill in its entirety here, I urge all of you to go to the www.vdacs.virginia.gov website and print a copy of the three page bill for yourself, while I will briefly summarize it and give a few suggestions here.
Note the definitions, wherein a “Dangerous” dog is one who “has bitten, attacked, or inflicted injury on a person“; while a ”Vicious“ dog is one who ”has killed a person, inflicted serious injury, or continued to exhibit behavior that resulted in a previous finding that it is a dangerous dog“.
Since this law is relatively new, police, animal control officers, and judges have not yet had much experience with it, so it will be helpful if you are familiar with it, so you can coach them along. Note that in Section B, only a “law-enforcement or animal control officer ……. shall apply to a magistrate of the jurisdiction for the issuance of a summons requiring the owner ….. to appear before court, etc.“ Since I have found it very difficult to contact the animal control officers in some jurisdictions, I would suggest anyone trying to do so should call 911 and report an “attack” to the law enforcement dept. and let them get the animal control officer involved, which they seem to be quickly able to do. I would assume from reading the act that any rider who has been bitten certainly can make a case for a dog to be declared “dangerous”. I would also assume that a rider who’s bike has been run into, or under, by a dog, and caused to fall, could make a good case that they have been “attacked”. If, however, the dog has run at your bike, but not bitten or caused you to fall, I would think it would be very difficult to take that to a point where the dog would be adjudged “Dangerous”. I’ll be interested in hearing from any of our attorneys in the club, as to how they view this legislation.
Print the act and read it closely, so that anyone who is bitten or knocked over by a dog from now on will know the serious consequences, including registration with a $50 fee; maintaining $100,000 in liability insurance coverage; confinement, leashing and muzzling requirements; and fines for failure to do so, that will burden the owner of that dog if it is found to be “dangerous” (and possible euthanization, if the dangerous dog repeats its behavior and is found to be “vicious”).
Please contact me if you are involved in any such incidents, so we can see if we can establish a few precedents using this law. As with all such situations, there is some effort and inconvenience involved in waiting for police and animal control to arrive at the scene, and appearing in court later. However, if we can get a dog or two in our area adjudged to be “Dangerous”, and publicize it, the word might get around to the dog owners in the rural areas, resulting in fewer dogs running loose, and chasing cyclists.
Update: we have a new page on this subject, covering what cyclists should do after a dog incident.