Thursday - March 1, 2012 - Atlanta Journal Constitution - OPINION - As an attorney and former prosecutor who has researched dangerous-dog issues for 20 years, I've been on both ends of the spectrum. Autopsy pictures of children mauled to death by dogs are forever seared in my mind.
We heard the tragic news of Erin Ingram, a DeKalb County 8-year-old who lost one arm and the use of the other when she was attacked by a neighbor's dogs (Pit Bulls) while playing in her front yard. Seven-year- old Javon Roberson of Savannah had his face severely disfigured when he was mauled at a playground.(By Pit Bulls)
Some of the most preventable cases are new parents bringing home their newborns without properly introducing the baby and family pet. Since 2000, I have trained hundreds of law enforcement officers and prosecutors on this subject. The feedback is overwhelming:
WE DON'T UNDERSTAND GEORGIA'S PIECEMEAL LAW - WE NEED A BETTER ONE
* WE NEED STATEWIDE REPORTING AND RECORD -KEEPING
* WE NEED TRAINING
* WE NEED AN AWARENESS CAMPAIGN AND COMMUNITY SUPPORT
OUR CURRENT LAW HAS SERIOUS FLAWS AND SOME LAW-ENFORCEMENT AND PROSECUTORS AVOID USING EXISTING LAW AND SEARCH FOR OTHER WAYS TO CHARGE RECKLESS OWNERS.
Unlike states with updated laws, Georgia does not require classified (dangerous/vicious) dogs to be microchipped. Further, definitions of classified dogs are vague and misunderstood. Our penalties are weak. There is no classification for a dog that attacks a person's pet. There is no limit to how many vicious dogs a person can have. Georgia's civil law is deficient compared to laws in other states that provide clear remedies for victims.
So what should Georgians do? Improve legislation. Insist on enforcement. Support enhanced training. Get involved.
Thankfully, some Georgia lawmakers realize the need to update our laws. Rep. GENE MADDOX has sponsored house bill 685. He is attempting to modernize our law and recognizes where accountability lies, calling it the:
"RESPONSIBLE DOG OWNER ACT"
The bill is headed to the House Rules Committee and hopefully to the House Floor before crossover day Wednesday. Please call your stte representative in support.
What next? Demand and participate in prevention and awareness campaigns. They are vital to dog-bite prevention and involve the entire comminity. Since children are likely to be victims of attacks, parents and dog owners should teach safe interaction with dogs, the need for dog training and strategies to keep dogs and kids safe.
Claudine Wilkins, an attorney, helped draft HB 685
http://www.gofundme.com/k958u0 (Erin Ingram)