Laws protecting against dangerous dogs need enforcement
States are examining their laws regarding dangerous dogs following a dog-fighting indictment of a football star.
CHARGES that Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vitt ran a dog-fighting ring from his property in Virginia have horrified animal lovers, resulting in proposals to toughen laws. The laws, including those in Hawaii, appear adequate only when fully enforced.
The Humane Society estimates that more than 30 percent of dogs in animal shelters are pit bulls, many trained as fighting dogs and then abandoned on the streets. Pit bulls accounted for 2 to 3 percent of the shelter population 15 years ago.
Dog fighting is a felony in Hawaii and nearly all other states. Hawaii's law prohibits owning or training any dog with the intention of engaging in fighting other dogs. Offenders face a prison term of up to five years.
Many municipalities have banned pit bulls, Rottweilers, English bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers. Such an approach is misdirected, as those breeds can be good pets if given proper care.
Virginia and counties in New York and Florida have launched registries of dangerous dogs. Sen. Norman Sakamoto proposed this year that Hawaii's counties be required to maintain such registries, but that would be expensive overkill and was rightly shelved. Virginia's registry was estimated to cost more than $200,000 to set up and nearly $80,000 a year to maintain.
Hawaii, home to more than 200,000 dogs, averages about 150 dog bites a year, according to the Hawaiian Humane Society. The Honolulu City Council earlier this year approved an ordinance that requires medical service providers and veterinarians to report incidents of dog-inflicted injuries to police, who forward the reports to the Humane Society, the animal control contractor, which then much decide whether the dog is dangerous.
Kenneth Phillips, a Los Angeles lawyer who represents only victims of canine attacks, includes Hawaii among 17 states having a "one bite rule," shielding dog owners from civil liability for the first attack.
The state Court of Appeals ruled in 1986 that the Hawaii law requires the plaintiff to prove both the dog owner's negligence and knowledge of the dog's dangerousness or viciousness. Phillips contends that legislators intended that the victim of a dog bite should need only to prove negligence and that the ruling was "one of the most unfortunate court decisions throughout the field of dog bite law."
Honolulu's dangerous-dog ordinance holds owners criminally responsible for their pets' violence. Violators face possible fines of $500 to $2,000 and up to 30 days in jail.
The owner of a pit bull that mauled a Maui woman in 2004 was sentenced to 20 days in jail and fined $150. A judge also ordered the owner to obtained $50,000 in liability insurance and have the dog neutered.