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Penalties for Fatal Dog Bites Can Be Severe

Published: Jul. 23, 2008 at 9:51 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2008 at 12:55 PM CDT
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By Monica Hernandez
monica@wlbt.net

The Mississippi Animal Rescue League says they're becoming increasingly popular. But Tuesday's fatal pit bull attack is another reminder of how vicious pit bulls can be.

You may remember when a pit bull tried to kill a Lawrence County woman in November. The year before, a teenager was mauled in Simpson County. The list of attacks goes on.

"Perhaps they don't attack more often, but we know the chances of their attack ending up fatal are so much greater than any other breed," said Debra Boswell of MARL.

The organization said pit bulls are more likely to latch on when they bite and stay in attack mode for hours. In fact, according to www.dogsbite.org, pit bulls were responsible for 69 percent of fatal dog bites in 2007.

So who is responsible when a pit bull bites?

"There is no ordinance in the city of Jackson that prevents a person from having any animal, as long as it's fixed on the property, remains on the property, and has not been deemed in the past to be vicious or in violation of our dangerous dog ordinance," said Deputy Police Chief Gerald Jones.

The ordinance says a dog can be deemd potentially dangerous if it has attacked before, and owners have to pay special attention to the dog.

If a dog kills someone in the city of Jackson, the owners can be charged with manslaughter -- but only if they knew the dog was vicious and didn't keep it confined.

The Animal Rescue League says city ordinances need to be strengthened. It wants the city to prohibit people from chaining dogs. It claims that makes dogs more aggressive.

"There's a difference, psychologically, between being on the end of a chain and being behind a fence," said Boswell.

And the Department of Insurance advises you to think twice about owning a vicious breed. Insurance companies may refuse to insure your home because of liability.

"If you have a dog accused of biting someone, you either get rid of the dog or they can cancel your insurance unless you can prove your dog is innocent," said Mike Chaney, state insurance commissioner.

The Animal Rescue League puts down all pit bulls brought for liability reasons. It said it doesn't want to place a vicious breed in the community. But MARL officials point out that any dog can bite if the circumstances arise.