- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 8, 2006

RICHMOND — Exactly one year after an 82-year-old widow was fatally mauled by three roaming pit bulls, the Virginia Senate yesterday unanimously passed two identical bills imposing tough penalties on dog owners whose pets seriously injure others.

The bills, drafted in response to Dorothy Sullivan’s death, make dog attacks that result in serious injury a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $2,500 fine. If a dog previously declared dangerous seriously injures, but does not kill a person, Virginia currently punishes it only as a misdemeanor.

Mrs. Sullivan’s daughter said the bills’ passage managed to bring the family a glimmer of joy on an otherwise painful day.

“It’s almost like a sign from Mama to make it easier for us — something positive to focus on today,” Betty Greene said. “It’s like she’s telling us, ‘See? I told you’d it’d be OK — just hang in there.’”

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

Her death sparked outrage by family members and her community, where residents said they had long been terrorized by aggressive, roaming dogs.

The pit bulls’ owner, Deanna Large, was convicted in December of involuntary manslaughter, and the jury recommended she serve three years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for March 29.

Delegate Robert D. Orrock Sr., Spotsylvania Republican, and Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat, sponsored the bills, which passed the House of Delegates last month. Their legislation now goes to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for consideration.

An identical bill, sponsored by Sen. R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat, is pending in the House.

“There are individuals in our society who are using these somewhat aggressive dogs by nature, but who trained them and who abused them so that these dogs become weapons,” Mr. Houck said. “And these weapons in the hands of these irresponsible people have caused death all across Virginia.”

The bills also establish a dangerous-dog registry and make it a misdemeanor for a dog that has been previously declared dangerous to attack or kill another cat or dog.

Mrs. Sullivan’s family worked diligently to change Virginia’s laws after the gruesome mauling. They collected thousands of signatures on a petition supporting Mr. Houck’s bill and sat through hours of legislative hearings.

“Nobody will ever know how much that law will mean to us,” Mrs. Greene said.

Some family members, including Mrs. Greene, planned to visit the grave where Mrs. Sullivan and Buttons lie buried side-by-side in a casket.

The family is hoping the newly passed legislation will help prevent other families from experiencing a similar loss.

“Only Mama could have something good come out of this,” Mrs. Greene said. “She used to say with life, you can’t just take the good without having the bad — it wouldn’t be life.”

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