Texas House ponders vicious dog bill

Texas lawmakers are considering a new “dangerous and vicious dog” bill, but Texas veterinary professionals are opposed to the measure.

The bill makes several changes to the state’s existing law regarding dangerous dogs, including the addition of the word “vicious.” Dogs defined as vicious under the bill would need to be registered, insured for at least $100,000 against potential damages from an attack, and restrained or confined at all times.

H.B. 1982 defines a “vicious dog” as a dog that is capable of inflicting serious injury or death due to its “physical nature and vicious propensity;” is highly aggressive and “appears to a reasonable person to be able to escape from the enclosure,” or behaves in a manner such that the owner or another person believes it will attack.

Texas A&M University professor Bonnie Beaver, DVM, MS, DACVB, said the changes do not improve the original law, and the Texas VMA is opposed to the legislation.

“The current regulation is a very good law,” Beaver said. “The use of the word ‘vicious’ does not add anything to the law that the word dangerous doesn’t cover.”

If the bill passes, penalties associated with dog attacks would also be changed. If the victim of the attack is a person younger than 15 or older than 65, the bill would increase the penalty from third-degree to second-degree felony.

The legislation was introduced soon after 18-month-old Tyson Miller was killed by a pit bull in March. The boy was attacked after he wandered into a yard where the dog was being kept on a chain.

Beaver, who is also executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, said there are several problems with the proposed bill.

One section, which applies to dog owners who live in municipalities of a million or more people, reads: “A person who owns or keeps custody or control of a dog weighing 40 pounds or more shall ensure that the dog, at any time the dog is not on a leash in the immediate control of a person, is kept inside a residence or in a secure enclosure on the premises where the dog is kept.”

Beaver said the problem with this section is the use of the words “secure enclosure.” According to the existing law, such an enclosure must, among other things, be locked and be clearly marked as containing a dangerous dog.

“The dog could not be in a dog park, in a dog show, it couldn’t even be in its own back yard,” she said. “In reality any person who has a dog of 40 or more pounds has the potential of being labeled as the owner of a vicious dog.”

Beaver said the real issue is that the current law has no teeth.

“The problem is not in the law that exists, the problem is in the enforcement,” she said. “The current law would have been adequate in the cases that have come up. ... Municipalities need to step up to the plate and fund their animal control agencies adequately. It’s a matter of priorities, but they choose not to do something.”

And, she said, even with the proper law in place, there is still one thing can’t be blamed on legislation.

“You can’t write this into law, but the biggest problem we run into in children bitten by dogs is that there is no adult supervision at the time of the bite.”

The bill is currently pending further action in the Texas House Committee on County Affairs.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation