The Pennsylvania Senate today unanimously passed Senate Bill 798, authored by Senator Tom Killion (R-Chester and Delaware), that would better protect the public from dogs proven to have caused severe injury to a person or a domestic animal.
“Current law requires it be proven in court that a dog has ‘vicious propensity’ for an animal to be deemed dangerous,” noted Killion. “In Pennsylvania, a dog can cause severe injuries without provocation and still not be considered dangerous under state law. That needs to be changed.
Killion drafted the legislation after hearing from several Chester County mothers whose children were attacked by dogs and suffered severe injuries.
Sarah Hermans’ son, Damien, the victim of an attack and criticized current law.
“Removing the loophole of needing to prove a ‘vicious propensity’ when a dog has caused severe injury unprovoked is absolutely necessary,” said Hermans of Tredyffrin. “Often, there are past attacks that are known. If children have been the victims, they, nor their parents will want them to testify.”
“The current dangerous dog law failed my child,” said Melissa Barnes of West Goshen. Her daughter, Meredith, was attacked in 2018. “The dog that mauled her face in an unprovoked attack was cleared of all charges because we could not prove vicious propensity. For the safety of other innocent children and communities across Pennsylvania, SB 798 would prevent such an injustice from ever happening again.”
Amanda Neill’s daughter Paisley was attacked and severely injured in 2015. She also lauded Senate passage of the Killion legislation.
“It is a wonderful step toward protecting people from dogs that have been known to bite. You cannot imagine the horrible feeling of having your toddler bitten, and then the shock and frustration to find out it was by a dog that has a known history of violence,” said Neill.
Molly Carroll Newton of Phoenixville was attacked in May of last year.
“I was, without warning, brutally attacked by a loose dog while on a walk with my five-year old daughter,” said Newtown. “That dog then went on to also attack a neighbor. Under the current dangerous dog law, I was then re-victimized in court twice, losing the case by being burdened to prove that the dog had a vicious propensity to attack. The common sense changes in SB 798 will provide less room for subjective opinions in court, and will protect our children and communities from dangerous dogs.”
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.
Owners of dangerous dogs are obligated to, among other requirements, keep the animals leashed or within fencing, have the dog spayed or neutered and pay an annual registration fee.
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.
“Pennsylvania’s Dog Law handcuffed the courts from holding these dogs, their owners and others like them accountable,” said Killion. “My legislation will refocus the law on the attack at hand and eliminate the unreasonably high standard of proving propensity. It will better protect Pennsylvanians, particularly children, from dogs that have caused serious injury.”
Clockwise from top left: Damien Hermans, Meredith Barnes, Molly Carroll Newton and Paisley Neill were all victims of unprovoked dog attacks. None of the dogs responsible for their injuries were judged to be dangerous under current state law.