Previously in Virginia, if a pet dog injured or killed another person's pet, or bit a human, the dog's owner would be forced to appear in court to prove why his or her animal wasn't a "dangerous dog."Pet owners had long criticized the law for shifting the burden of proof on its head. Instead of authorities being forced to prove why a dog was dangerous, pet owners would instead have to prove their pet's innocence. From now on, that is no longer the case. Every year, new Virginia laws take effect on July 1, the mid-point of the yearly calendar. This year, one of those new laws is HB 2381. The law completely overhauls Virginia's dangerous dog statute. Most importantly, police and animal control officers will no longer be forced to issue a court summons to owners whose dogs are accused of biting or injuring others. If an officer determines that a case “consists solely of a single nip or bite resulting only in a scratch, abrasion, or other minor injury,” they now have the latitude to choose not to write a court summons. Likewise, if a dog inflicts a wound on another animal, a licensed veterinarian can determine whether an injury is serious or not.
This is a big deal. Previously, officers were forced to treat all "dangerous dog" accusations equally. Whether a dog mauled a neighbor's cat to death or playfully bit the mailman, police in Virginia were required to issue a court summons. Animal control officers and pet owners were largely in favor of the change. When the bill was before the Virginia legislature, many testified that it made little sense to tie officers' hands and force them to treat all dangerous dog cases the same. Just because a puppy nips someone doesn't mean that they should be classified as a dangerous animal for life. Giving police and animal control officers the discretion to use common sense in these cases will spare many pet owners from having to defend their pets against frivolous accusations. Under Virginia law, any pet determined to be a "dangerous dog" must be registered as such with the state. The registration fee remains $150. Previously, owners had 45 days to file the proper paperwork after their pet was determined by a judge to be dangerous. The new law reduces that window to 30 days. What do you think? Is it a good idea to give police power to let a dangerous dog off the hook? Let us know in the comments below!