In fatal dog attacks, owners get harsher punishments

| November 7, 2013

As the saying goes, there are no bad dogs, just bad owners.

A new law in the UK is putting the burden of consequences directly into the lap of the responsible parties. Previously, the owners of a pets involved in fatal dog attacks could face a fine or up to two years in prison. Now, owners can face a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison, a number that’s in line with the sentences for negligent vehicular homicide.

Every year, people die from dog mauling. In the United States, the number of canine homicides hovers around 20 each year. Children and the elderly make up most victims of fatal canine attacks, as they are easiest to prey upon and are the most likely to succumb to their injuries. Some dogs are put down after attacking a person, but canine capital punishment seems hardly enough, especially if the bite was particularly vicious, or if it resulted in the death of a person.

fatal dog attacks

If your dog has predatory tendencies, be sure to take proper precautions and don’t do things like neglect, starve or beat the dog, which may exacerbate ferocity. From Robert Judge.

How to spot an aggressive pet

It can be difficult to tell if a dog is on the attack. Last summer, I watched four dogs playing with a baby calf, happily leaping and running around the property in an image of pastoral idyll. By the next morning, the dogs had killed and partially eaten the calf. According to the ASPCA, a dog in predatory mode doesn’t look like other forms of canine aggression. The stalking and chase may be silent, and it will look like the dog is simply having fun, until it employs the kill-bite and begins to dissect and consume its prey. Even attentive pet owners can easily misread the signs until it gets gory.

fatal dog attacks

Knowing your dog will go a long way in keeping others safe and yourself out of jail. From Tatiana Sapateiro.

This doesn’t however, absolve the owner from liability. Animal behaviorists say that dog owners get warning signals from their dog long before a bite happens. Actions like growling, being overly protective of food or toys, or a history of less serious bites can all be indications of overly-aggressive behavior.

Dogs with strong predatory instincts prey on small animals or chase prey substitutes, like moving cars and people on bikes. Behavior like this should raise flags with dog owners long before an attack turns serious . These owners should take proper precautions, such as confining the dog in a kennel or a fenced in area, or seeking professional help.

What laws can do to help

In the United States the laws that punish the owners of killer dogs are less specific than the UK laws, relying instead on existing statues. For all intents and purposes, the owner of a killer dog will be charged with second degree murder, with the court treating the dog as though it were a weapon. Severe, but non-fatal maulings may get a negligence charge, or may be settled for money in a civil suit. The owner’s insurance policy will often pay for the medical bills for less serious dog bites.

A small body of research suggests that people who choose to own vicious dogs also exhibit antisocial or deviant behavior — that vicious dogs have owners with personality characteristics to match.

Again in the UK, the owner of a Staffordshire bull terrier who attacked and decapitated a Pomeranian was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term after admitting to “owning a dog dangerously out of control in a public place.”

Even the wording of the law makes it clear who’s to blame. Dogs can’t be put on trial, so all laws must target the owner.

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