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House unanimously approve bill to amend description of ‘dangerous dog’

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RICHMOND, Va. – The House has unanimously approved a bill to change the description of a “dangerous dog” in a way that could put fewer animals on a state registry.

Del. Matthew Farris, R-Rustburg, wants to give a dog the benefit of the doubt if it bites a person or another animal. So he introduced HB 2381, which would 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 on Monday to approve the legislation. It now goes to 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.

When HB 2381 was heard by the House Agriculture subcommittee last week, 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.”

By Ashley Luck with Capital News Service

Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.