Officials in Alabama could soon have the ability to legally declare a pet dog "dangerous" and impose heavy fines or prison sentences if those dogs injure or kill another person.
The bill would create "Emily's Law," named after 24-year-old Emily Colvin, who was attacked and killed by a pack of dogs in front of her home in Jackson County in Dec. 2017. In Colvin's case, a Jackson County judge ordered four pit bulls to be euthanized. A fifth animal that was involved in the attack was shot by police.
Shortly before Colvin's death, a 46-year-old woman was also mauled to death by dogs in north Alabama. Another person was also injured.
The bill is sponsored by Alabama State Sen. Steve Livingston (R-Scottsboro).
"We've lost two lives in north Alabama in the last couple of months due to dangerous dog attacks," Ledbetter said after legislative committees approved the bill, according to Al.com.
The bill creates a legal definition that would allow officials to legally declare a dog "dangerous" and take action.
Here how it would work:
If there is probable cause that a dog caused injury, serious injury or death to a person without being provoked, a law enforcement or animal control officer would be able to impound the dog while a petition was made to declare the dog dangerous.
Then a court would weigh evidence and determine exactly what action that dog did. If the court found the dog had indeed caused either serious physical injury or death to a person without provocation, the dog could be euthanized.
A serious physical injury is defined by Alabama as something that "creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ."
On the other hand, if the court did determine the dog was dangerous (but hadn't caused serious physical injury or death), the owner could be allowed to keep the dog - under strict conditions.
The owner would have to:
- Register the animal annually with animal control or the county health department
- Ensure the dog has been neutered, spayed, and permanently identified either with a tattoo or microchip
- Obtain a $100,000 surety bond covering medical, veterinary or other costs resulting from any dangerous actions of the dog
- Keep the dog in a proper enclosure when it is outside and unattended
- Obtain permission from property owners to keep the dog on the premises
- Provide a notarized affidavit that the dog will be under the control of a person 18 years of age or older when the dog is outside an enclosure
- Pay an annual fee in addition to any other animal licensing fee
- Advise any new owners of the dog's dangerous status, and advise the owners that they would be required to follow the same stipulations
- Allow an animal control or law enforcement officer to enter their property (without a search warrant or court order) to ensure the owner is complying with the law
If after all this, the dog still attacks someone without provocation and causes serious injury or death, and the owner is found to have demonstrated "a reckless disregard" in the incident, the owner could be charged with a Class C felony, punishable by up to 20 years in jail.
Other violations, including failure to surrender the dog or allowing a dangerous dog out of its enclosure could result in misdemeanor charges.
Dogs could not be declared dangerous if the animals were defending themselves or their owner, were merely growling or threatening, were provoked or harassed in some way, or if the person injured was trespassing or otherwise doing something illegal on the property where the attack occurred.
"I think the message we've got to send to people across the state, if they're going to have those type dogs, they need to take care of them," Ledbetter said, according to AL.com. "And they need to be responsible for them so they don't hurt their family or their neighbors. And hopefully, with putting these penalties on this bill, that will take place."
The legislation does not mention any specific breeds, and is now about a quarter of the way through the process to becoming law.