- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

RICHMOND — Lawmakers are proposing tough legislation to punish dog owners whose pets injure or kill after the attack on an 82-year-old widow who was fatally mauled by three roaming pit bulls.

Dorothy Sullivan’s family and some legislators contend Virginia law doesn’t give prosecutors much recourse in cases where dogs kill or maim.

“The horrific nature of Mrs. Sullivan’s death, coupled with the prosecutor telling me he really didn’t have a whole lot legally as means to pursue the case, told me that Virginia law really seemed to be lacking,” said Sen. R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania County Democrat.

He plans to present the Dorothy Sullivan Memorial Bill to the General Assembly when it convenes next month.

Mrs. Sullivan was attacked while walking her small dog, Buttons, in her front yard in Partlow on March 8. Buttons also was killed.

Deanna Large, who prosecutors say owned the pit bulls, is set to be tried tomorrow on a charge of involuntary manslaughter, marking the first time in Virginia a dog owner will be prosecuted on such a charge in a fatal mauling.

Miss Large, 37, who lives down the road from Mrs. Sullivan’s house, could be sentenced to up to 13 years in prison if convicted of the felony and three misdemeanor counts of allowing a dangerous dog to run at large.

Fatal dog attacks are not specified under the state’s involuntary manslaughter statute. Mr. Houck’s bill would add a provision to state law that makes fatal attacks a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500.

If a dog seriously injures a person but does not kill him, such a crime in Virginia is punishable only as a misdemeanor.

The Virginia State Crime Commission has proposed specifying negligent behavior by an animal owner that results in serious harm under the unlawful bodily injury statute, making it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

“There should be an option for the commonwealth to seek a stiffer penalty,” Executive Director Kim Hamilton said.

Mr. Houck’s bill also would make certain dog attacks that result in serious injury a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine.

Under the proposed legislation, the penalties would be harsher for dog owners whose pets previously had been declared dangerous.

The legislation also would allow law-enforcement officials to petition a court to declare a dog dangerous. Only animal control officers currently have such authority.

Owners of dogs declared dangerous would be required to maintain a $300,000 insurance policy, up from the $100,000 required now.

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