- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

The murder conviction imposed Thursday by the jury in the fatal dog-mauling case in San Francisco and the homicide charges brought in a similar case in Wisconsin indicate communities are getting tough with irresponsible pet owners.
"That jury has said that owners are responsible for the behavior of their dogs that the owners will be held responsible. That message is out there loud and clear," said Bob Duffy, executive director of the American Dog Owners Association.
Across the country, communities are increasing penalties against owners of dogs who harm people.
"People are beginning to see that large, unsocialized animals pose a threat … and that their owners bear civil and criminal responsibility when those animals cause injury or death," said John Snyder, program director in the companion-animal section of the Humane Society of the United States.
As many as 1 million Americans require medical treatment for dog bites yearly, and such attacks cost society $1 billion annually, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The Insurance Information Institute reports that insurance firms paid $250 million for dog-bite liability claims in 1996 and $310 million last year.
"The true incidence of bites overall is not known, because dog bites are not reportable. But we do know that by age 18 almost half of all kids have been bitten by a dog," said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists at Texas A&M; University.
Both Mr. Snyder and Mr. Duffy, whose organization advocates stringent laws be applied to vicious dogs and their owners, declined to comment on the second-degree murder conviction of Marjorie Knoller, 46, in last year's death of a neighbor, Diane Whipple.
Miss Whipple, 33, St. Mary's College (Calif.) women's lacrosse coach, was mauled to death by Knoller's two huge dogs a Presa Canario-mastiff mix in the hallway.
Knoller's murder conviction was only the third in U.S. history in a dog-mauling case. Her husband, Robert Noel, 60, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors said Knoller and Noel were both lawyers who knew their dogs were "time bombs," and the state produced a parade of 30 witnesses who said they had been terrorized by the animals.
Also Thursday, two adults from Maulston, Wis., were in court facing charges of homicide and child neglect in connection with the Valentine's Day death of 10-year-old Alicia Lynn Clark, who was mauled by the couple's six Rottweilers.
"You just can't leave young children alone" with a group of dogs, said Ms. Shain Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for the Humane Society, who notes that youngsters are apt to do things that may disturb one or more of the animals, or make them feel threatened.
Far too often, jurisdictions particularly counties and cities respond to the problem of dog bites and attacks by passing legislation banning a specific breed of dog, such as a pit bull terrier or a Rottweiler, said Ms. Shain and her counterparts.
They say breed-banning merely serves to make some people acquire other types of aggressive dogs, noting that any dog can become aggressive through training or treatment.


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