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Stronger law may keep a child alive

May 10, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

Six dog attacks in a single week, including one that sent a man to the hospital and another which killed a horse, signal the need for stronger laws regarding vicious animals in Berkeley County and West Virginia. So far, only luck has prevented a child from being killed.

In the latest incident, on Wednesday a a stray Rottweiler entered a barn and attacked a miniature pony, then turned on Animal Control officers who tried to rescue the pony.

It was one of 74 animal-related calls received by Berkeley County 911 dispatchers since April 1, with 90 percent of those involving dog bites and attacks. Animal Control officers say that the large number may be related to the increased number of dogs in the county. In addition to the 8,000 animals with license tags, there may be twice than many without tags, they say.

There is a sentimental attachment to dogs in American society and many feel canines are still "man's best friend." But the growing popularity of some aggressive breeds as pets has made some changes in state law necessary. As Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith noted, we're not talking about Old Yeller and Lassie any more.

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County Animal Control Officer John Ramos says that local law needs to be changed so that dogs can no longer run loose on an owner's property, unless they're on a long leash, behind a secure fence or attached to an electronic-restraint system.

State law also needs to be changed to make it easier to declare a dog involved in an attack a vicious animal. And just as we noted after a dog attack on a child in Washington County, there should be criminal sanctions that apply to those owners who are negligent in regard to their animals.

If that same person negligently discharged a firearm and injured someone, he or she would be charged. Perhaps if the same penalties applied to a dog attack, owners would be more careful about restraining their animals.

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