Prompted by concerns expressed by parents of children severely bitten by dogs, Senator Tom Killion (R-Chester and Delaware counties) has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 798, to better protect the public from dogs proven to have caused severe injury to a person or a domestic animal.
“Under current law, a dog may severely injure someone unprovoked, yet a court could clear the owner of all charges,” noted Killion. “’At trial, ‘vicious propensity’ needs to be proven in order for a dog to be deemed dangerous, despite it causing severe injury. This is an impractical burden and a safety issue, for children in particular. My legislation eliminates that requirement.”
Under current law, a victim, the state dog warden or a police officer may file a complaint with a magisterial district judge charging the dog owner with the summary offense of harboring a dangerous dog. In addition to proving that the dog in question has severely injured a person or domestic animal, it must be demonstrated that the dog has a violent history or propensity to attack. This element of the offense often requires litigating the dog’s personality and temperament.
Senate Bill 798 would require only that victims or authorities prove in court that the dog inflicted serious injury without provocation to secure a conviction. The legislation also raises the annual registration fee for a dangerous dog to $1,000 from the current $500.
Killion drafted the bill after hearing from several Chester County mothers, including Sarah Hermans and Amanda Neill, whose children were severely injured by dogs.
Hermans’ then eight-year old son Damien underwent extensive reconstructive plastic surgery to repair his severed lips and deeply punctured nose resulting from a 2016 dog attack. Despite the unprovoked attack and severe injuries, the court failed to deem the dog to be dangerous.
“The dog law has loopholes,” said Hermans. “Damien testified in court, but that was clearly not enough. If a dog has caused severe injury unprovoked, that is all that should be required to impose safety measures to prevent further harm. This is a public safety issue.”
Neill’s daughter, Paisley, endured a similar trauma. She underwent plastic surgery after being attacked and bitten on the face at the home of a neighbor. At trial, in spite Neill’s testimony and that of a local police officer, the dog owners were found not guilty.
“We took photos of the bites to Paisley’s face and all of her medical records to court, to no avail. It was over before it started” said Neill. “The current state law is insulting to anyone who’s been seriously bitten, not to mention dangerous for unsuspecting people and pets who come into contact with the dog in the future.”
Said Killion, “The injuries these children suffered were horrible, and Pennsylvania’s Dog Law handcuffed the courts from holding these dogs and their owners accountable. My legislation keeps the focus on the attack at hand and will allow authorities to more easily secure a determination that a dog is dangerous. It will better protect Pennsylvanians, particularly children, from dogs that have caused serious injury.”
Senate Bill 798 has been referred to the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.