April 1, 2007 in Nation/World

Texas turns attention to dog bites

Lianne Hart Los Angeles Times

HOUSTON – In January, a 10-year-old San Antonio girl was killed by her neighbor’s pit bull. In February, a pair of dogs attacked two Houston girls on their way home from school, dragging one down the street as she screamed for help. Both survived. In March, a 50-year-old woman south of Houston died after being mauled by her mixed-breed bulldog.

Dog attacks make headlines in Texas with alarming regularity, and now legislators are proposing new laws that would impose some of the harshest criminal penalties in the nation on owners of pets that cause serious injury or death.

Under a dog-attack bill sponsored by state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, the owner of a dog that kills someone without provocation could be charged with a second-degree felony punishable by as many as 20 years in prison.

“For those people who are irresponsible in the maintenance of their dogs, if they don’t keep them penned up in the yard and they injure or kill a human, we’ll put the dog down and hold the owner responsible. That’s as it should be,” Wentworth said.

As the law now stands, a dog owner could be charged with a Class A misdemeanor and face as much as a year in jail, said state Rep. Dan Gattis, who sponsored a similar bill in the House.

The proposed legislation also would do away with Texas’ so-called “first bite is free” law, which can give dog owners a pass the first time their animals attack.

Animal welfare groups such as the Texas Federation of Humane Societies support the legislation as long as specific breeds such as pit bulls are not targeted.

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