New Georgia Law Protects Residents from Vicious Dogs

By: Paul Stockman Email
By: Paul Stockman Email

Trent Clark plays in the backyard with his 14-month old dog Nala. Nala is a pitbull, a breed of dog that carries a stereotype of aggressive behavior, a stereotype Clark has broken.

"She's not raised to fight or anything like that. She was raised for a pet, family pet and that's what she is, a big baby," Clark said.

And according to him, bad dogs aren't born.

"It just all depends on how you raise them. Any dog can be aggressive. Any animal can be aggressive because they are animals," Clark said.

Others choose to raise dogs like pitbulls to be aggressive, which led to a new Georgia law known as the Responsible Dog Owner Act.

First lawmakers classified dangerous dogs versus vicious dogs. Dangerous means a dog attacks a human, but it substantially punctures the skin and causes some injury. It also gets a dangerous classification if it kills another animal. Vicious means the animal attacked a human to the point of death or serious injury and must be microchipped.

Either classification means the dog can't be off the property without it's owner.

"Whether he bites anybody or not, once he's off the owner's property and he has been declared, the owner could be arrested," Jimmy Holt said. Hold is the Chief of the Donalsonville Police Department.

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 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.

Both Clark and Chief Holt believe this new law will be a wake-up call for a lot of Georgians.

"I think it will open the eyes of a lot of dog owners, especially pitbulls owners to be more responsible," Clark said.

It could ultimately help dogs keep their title of man's best friend.

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