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A New Day for Georgia’s Responsible Dog Owners

Almost three years after little Cheyenne Peppers was killed by dogs in her backyard, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law the Georgia Responsible Dog Owner Act on May 3, 2012

The 2012 Georgia Legislature, guided by Representative Gene Maddox, almost unanimously passed this law which addresses deficits in Georgia’s antiquated Dangerous Dog laws, which have been piecemealed since 1989.

Representative Maddox’ efforts were spurred by the death of little 5-year old Cheyenne Peppers in Thomasville in 2009.

The two and half years of hard work by Maddox, his co-sponsors (Representatives Black, Atwood, Shaw, Taylor, Williams and Senator Hamrick) , and supporters like Carlton Powell of the Thomasville’s Sheriff Department, Harry Young of Grady County Sheriff's Office, Wiley Griffin Decatur County Sheriff, Representatives M. Hatfield B. Watson, M. Ramsey and Georgia Animal Control Association, places the responsibilities for dangerous dog behavior squarely on the reckless owner. Holding owners responsible for their dogs’ actions is key to reducing the number of dog bites and aggressive incidents in Georgia, and the rest of the US. “If we have saved one life as a result of this law, then our work was not in vain”, said Gene Maddox.

The new law will be called “the Responsible Dog Owner Act”, recognizing where accountability lies. Definitions of a dangerous and vicious dog were refined. A dangerous dog is one that causes a substantial puncture wound to a person, or aggressively attacks posing an imminent threat of serious injury to a person, or while off the owner’s property kills a pet. Once classified, a dangerous dog cannot be off the owner’s property unless he is under the immediate physical control of a person capable of preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal when necessary or is in a locked cage or crate. Some exemptions were made for working, hunting and predator control dogs.

A vicious dog is one that seriously injures or kills a human and a judge, in some cases, can order euthanasia for a vicious dog. A vicious dog must microchipped, cannot be left unattended in the presence of a minor and cannot be sold or transferred unless it is relinquish to a government facility or veterinarian to be euthanized. A vicious dog cannot be off the owner’s property unless he is muzzled and under the immediately physical control of a person capable to preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal when necessary or is in a locked cage or crate. The owner must maintain a minimum of $50, 000 dollars of insurance. No person may own more than one vicious dog and no person convicted of certain felons may own a vicious dog.

You must be 18 or older to own a classified dog and only one per domicile. Any classified dog must be in an enclosure designed to securely confine the dog or in a locked pen or fence with warning signs. If classified owner moves, he must notify the dog control officer and register in the new jurisdiction within ten days of becoming a resident. The definition of a serious injury was refined and impound procedures are clearer. Most of all, dog owners will be held accountable with stiffer penalties, including high and aggravated misdemeanors and felony provision for the worst offenders.

The day after Governor Deal signed the law, Rep. Maddox was honored at the First National Dog Bite Investigation, Treatment and Prevention Conference presented by the Georgia Bar, co-sponsored by Children’s Health Care of Atlanta, Georgia Veterinary Medical Association, Prosecuting Attorney’s Counsel among others. Experts in Animal Control, Dog Training, Surgery, Disease Control and Canine Aggression provided information and strategies to address the growing problem of dog related injuries and how to enforce the new law. Keynote Speaker Victoria Stilwell, host of the television show “It’s Me or the Dog” , legal Experts including Atlanta’s own Claudine Wilkins, who help draft HB 685 and Georgia’s prosecutors Sherry Boston, Jessica Rock and Kim Schwartz discussed prosecution and legislation. Dr. Mark Wulkan, Surgeon-in-Chief of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta addressed treatment issues for the injured, and Canine Aggression Expert Jim Crosby discussed investigating “The Worst of the Worst”; fatalities and life threatening bite cases.

Please thank your Georgia Legislators for advancing our State’s laws regarding Responsible Dog Ownership. The new law, which goes into effect on July, 1, 2012, and video of the conference can be viewed at www.georgiaanimallaw.org, For information contact: info@georgiaanimallaw.org

MORE ABOUT THE LAW – IN TWO RECENT ARTICLES
video here. http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politics-elections/dekalb-dog-attack-may-1296875.html
http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-government/vicious-dog-owners-to-1430910.html
AJC
http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-government/vicious-dog-owners-to-1430910.html
http://www.ajc.com/opinion/dog-bill-step-in-1427366.html

By Claudine Wilkins
Every year around 5 million people are bitten by dogs in the United States. About 800,000 are bitten badly enough to require medical attention. This is the equivalent of having almost everyone in the 28 counties that make up Metro Atlanta bitten, with double the population of the City of Atlanta needing medical treatment. In real terms this is a scary statistic. Imagine all of your neighbors, all of your friends, being bitten in the same year.

How do you tackle this problem? Awareness, Education, and Legislation. The good news is Georgia is moving miles ahead in protecting its citizens from reckless owners and dangerous dogs in two crucial ways: Legislation and Education.
This year the Georgia Legislature and Gov. Deal passed the Responsible Dog Ownership Act. This public safety bill that revamps the antiquated dangerous dog law. It was a tempestuous two year process and the bill was amended several times. Some valuable requirements were removed like microchipping a dangerous dog and sterilizing a vicious dog. The new law defines a vicious dog is one that seriously injures or kills a human. Who would be against sterilizing a dog that could do such harm? After this measure was removed, fifty animal control officers were polled and they unanimously agreed that the measure should have remained. Intact male dogs are involved 70 to 76% of reported dog bite incidents. They were very disappointed to learn the language was removed due to efforts by a lobbyist representing breeders. Most animal control officers cannot leave their post and come to the capital. They don’t have the time or the budget. Lawmakers should reach out to field officers who enforce these laws when amending legislation.

Although the Georgia Animal Control Association would have preferred these requirements to stay in, they understand legislation works incrementally and fully support the new law because it will be much more effective than our current law. The positive changes are many. The new law will be called “the Responsible Dog Owner Act”, recognizing where accountability lies. Definitions of a dangerous and vicious dog were refined. A dangerous dog is one that causes a substantial puncture wound to a person, or aggressively attacks posing an imminent threat of serious injury to a person, or while off the owner’s property kills a pet. Once classified, a dangerous dog cannot be off the owner’s property unless he is under the immediate physical control of a person capable of preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal when necessary or is in a locked cage or crate. Some exemptions were made for working, hunting and predator control dogs.

A vicious dog is one that seriously injures or kills a human and a judge, in some cases, can order euthanasia for a vicious dog. A vicious dog must microchipped, cannot be left unattended in the presence of a minor and cannot be sold or transferred unless it is relinquish to a government facility or veterinarian to be euthanized. A vicious dog cannot be off the owner’s property unless he is muzzled and under the immediately physical control of a person capable to preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal when necessary or is in a locked cage or crate. The owner must maintain a minimum of $50, 000 dollars of insurance. No person may own more than one vicious dog and no person convicted of certain felons may own a vicious dog.

You must be 18 or older to own a classified dog and only one per domicile. Any classified dog must be in an enclosure designed to securely confine the dog or in a locked pen or fence with warning signs. If classified owner moves, he must notify the dog control officer and register in the new jurisdiction within ten days of becoming a resident. The definition of a serious injury was refined and impound procedures are clearer. Most of all, dog owners will be held accountable with stiffer penalties, including high and aggravated misdemeanors and felony provision for the worst offenders.

A team of experts, led by Rep. Gene Maddox, took nearly two and a half years to tweak the bill to fairly address the problem of reckless owners, holding humans responsible for the dangerous acts of their pets. Animal Control, Law Enforcement, Prosecutors and Judges finally have the tools to protect the public and deal with cases, some ending tragically.

And to kick off National Dog Bite Prevention Month, Atlanta will host a “first of its kind” National Dog Bite Investigation, Prevention and Treatment Conference scheduled this Friday, May 4th at the State Bar of Georgia Headquarters. This is a community based problem starting with parents, but professional must unite to make a real change. Who is invited? Lawyers, Judges, Medical Professionals(Doctors, Nurses, Baby & Mother Med. Specialist, Emergency Med. Techs and Emergency Room Med), First Responders, Veterinarians & Technicians, Animal Control Officers, Police, Dog Trainers, Educators, Shelter Directors and local and state Lawmakers.
This comprehensive conference brings together cutting-edge information in dog behavior, bite investigation, legal issues and legislation, accompanied by medical and mental health professionals, to address causes, responses to, and the aftermath of dog attacks.

Please join me and nationally recognized experts, including Children’s' Healthcare of Atlanta Chief (CHOA) of Surgery Dr. Mark Wulkan and Atlanta's own Victoria Stilwell, author and host of television's "It's Me Or The Dog" with their professional colleagues to start the process of rolling back the tide of dog related injuries and make Georgia, and the rest of the nation, a safer place.

By Claudine Wilkins (helped draft HB 685)
When man’s best friend attacks we wonder “are dogs born this way or do owners create this behavior”? Recently we heard the tragic news of Erin Ingram, a DeKalb County 8 year-old who lost one arm and the use of the other when she was attacked by neighbor’s dogs while playing in her front yard and 7-year-old Javon Roberson from Savannah whose face was severely disfigured when he was mauled at a playground.
As an attorney and former prosecutor who has researched dangerous dog issues for twenty years, I’ve had the experience of being on both ends of the spectrum. Autopsy pictures of children mauled to death by dogs are forever seared in my mind.
Some of the most preventable cases are new parents bringing home their newborn without properly introducing baby and the family pet. Two weeks ago, a 2- day-old infant was killed in Pennsylvania. In 2011, three infants met the same fate. Unsupervised dogs are curious, with tragic results. Parents need information on responsible management of infants and dogs, a work currently in progress.
Since 2000, I have trained hundreds of law enforcement officers and prosecutors on this subject. The feedback is overwhelming: “we don’t understand Georgia’s piecemealed law, we need a better one; we need statewide reporting and recordkeeping; we need training; we need an awareness campaign, and community support.”

Our current law has serious flaws. Some law enforcement and prosecutors avoid using existing law and search for other ways to charge reckless owners, the path taken in the Ingram case.
Unlike states with updated laws, Georgia does not require classified (dangerous/vicious) dogs to be microchipped or sterilized. Further, definitions of classified dogs are vague and misunderstood. Our penalties are weak. There is no classification for a dog that attacks a person’s pet. There is no limit to how many vicious dogs a person can have. Georgia’s civil law is deficient compared to laws in other states which provide clear remedies for victims.

So what should Georgians do? Improve legislation. Insist on enforcement. Support enhanced training. Get involved.
Thankfully some Georgia lawmakers realize the need to update our laws. Representative Gene Maddox has sponsored House Bill 685. He is attempting to modernize our law and recognizes where accountability lies calling it the “Responsible Dog Owner Act”. The bill will be heard Wednesday in the non-civil judiciary committee. Hopefully the bill will go the House floor for a vote before crossover day March 7th. Please call your legislator in support.
What next? Demand-and participate in-prevention and awareness campaigns. These programs are vital to dog bite prevention and involve the entire community. Since children are likely to be the victim of attacks, parents and dog owners should teach safe interaction with dogs, the need for dog training, and strategies to keep dogs and kids safe.
For professionals involved in dog bite cases, Please mark your calendar for May 4, 2012, when Animal Law Section and Children’s Health Care of Atlanta are presenting The First National Dog Bite Investigation, Treatment and Prevention Conference. It is a symposium for Lawyers, Medical Professionals, First Responders, Veterinarians, Vet Technicians, Animal Control Officers, Police, Dog Trainers and Legislators..

For more information on this topic, programs and training go to www.georgiaanimallaw.org


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