Va. House passes bill relaxing ‘dangerous dog’ law

WASHINGTON — Virginia lawmakers have advanced a bill that could give a second chance to dogs that bite.

On Monday, the House unanimously passed HB 2381, which would give animal control officers more discretion in determining whether the owner of a dog that inflicts a nip or scratch should have to appear in court.

Currently in Virginia, when a dog injures or kills another person’s dog or cat, or has bitten a human, an animal control officer is required to summon the dog’s owner to district court to explain why the animal should not be considered dangerous.

Under the bill, if the person’s injury “consists solely of a single nip or bite resulting only in a scratch, abrasion, or other minor injury,” the responding law enforcement officer or animal control officer would have the flexibility to not require the dog’s owner to appear in court.

Similarly, if the dog inflicted an injury on another animal that a licensed veterinarian determined was minor, the investigating officer would not have to seek a summons.

During earlier testimony, Virginia Newsome, a Loudoun County animal control officer, expressed support for the bill. She frequently sees minor accidents involving nondangerous dogs.

“You can accidentally get bit by your puppy; that doesn’t make it a dangerous animal,” said Newsome, as reported in the Fauquier Times. “We want to be able to give officers that discretion to look at the entire totality of each individual situation.”

“There are certainly animals out there that do bite, and are dangerous,” said Newsome. “Those types of situations do deserve to go in front of a court and have a judge make a decision.”

Currently, if a judge deems a dog dangerous, the owner has 45 days to obtain a dangerous dog registration certificate, priced at $150.

Under the new bill, the owner would be required to get the dangerous dog certificate within 30 days.

The bill now goes to the Virginia Senate for consideration.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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