Three months after a Collier neighbor’s dog attacked her in her own driveway, Elizabeth Walt Russo is still dealing with complications from her injuries, mounting medical bills -- all while trying to change pet liability laws.
She said that even though her neighbors are liable as the dog’s owners, she hasn’t seen a dime from them to help pay her medical bills. A practicing attorney, she dug into the issue and found what she’s calling weakness in the law that bite victims have little recourse if the pet owner has no money.
“Or their money is all tied up in their house, which is homesteaded, and they're judgment-proof,” she said, taking aim at owners of certain breeds of dogs.
That’s why part of her letter to several Florida lawmakers says this:
“I would propose pit bulls and other dangerous breeds have to be registered, and the owner must provide proof of liability insurance much as we do now with cars such that if the insurance is canceled, the State is notified.”
Russo was bitten by what DAS classified as a PIT BULL, which is actually a mix of different breeds but usually involves some kind of American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and English Bull Terriers.
“I still got a nice blood clot on my leg right here; you can still see exactly where the worst bite was,” Russo said. “We don't need pit bulls. We don't need 'em.”
Pit bull advocates, like the Pit Bull Crew, are vehemently against breed specific legislation.
“More and more shelters would be overrun with those types of dogs,” said Jeanette Jolley, who helps run the organization.
Jolley said it’s usually the owners fault if a dog is badly behaved, but Russo isn’t buying the argument. She says pit bulls are behind most of the country’s fatal dog attacks, which a number of other organizations also report.
"WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE WHOSE FAULT IT IS? AT THE END OF THE DAY, YOU HAVE A DANGEROUS ANIMAL. IT'S A PUBLIC SAFETY ISSUE," RUSSO SAID.
Jolley argues that still, dogs should be deemed dangerous on a case-by-case basis, and owners shouldn’t be punished because of the breed of dog they own.
“Any dog, frankly, can be made to be a dangerous or a bad dog. It depends for each owner how you train them, love them, bring them up.”
Still, Russo argues there’s no way a bite from her small dachshund would be nearly as severe as one from a pit bull or Rottweiler.