THE ISSUE: Dog attacks.

OUR OPINION: Take the bite out of attacks by following the law.

Dogs afford their owners with psychological and emotional support. As such, most owners consider their dogs as family members and believe that their loving Fido would never maliciously attack anyone without being threatened.

However, statistics caution that dog attacks are very common and on the upswing across the United States with thousands of injuries and dozens of fatalities annually making encounters with dogs a major public safety concern.

Last year, 35 people were killed by dogs in the United States. As of November 6 of this year, there have been 41 fatal dog attacks across the United States with three occurring in Florida. Most dog attack victims are children or the elderly with a large percentage of the incidents occurring shortly after a dog escapes or is allowed to roam from the owner’s property.

This is precisely the case with Citrus County’s most recently reported dog attack that saw 86-year-old John Garvey of Inverness and his 5-pound, 3-year-old miniature poodle attacked while walking on a neighborhood street by a neighbor’s 60-pound canine.

Garvey escaped the attack with burns from his dog’s leash. However, his miniature poodle needed surgery to treat slashes on its hindquarters and numerous puncture wounds across its body. If this isn’t disturbing enough, even more disturbing is that the attacking dog has a history of getting loose with two other victims being bitten in separate attacks.

Under Florida law, dog owners are not permitted to allow their dog to run at-large on any public street, sidewalk, park or any private property unless given consent by the owner of the private property. When on public property, the dog must be restrained by a person of sufficient strength to control the dog and a suitable leash of dependable strength and reasonable length.

This begs the question as to why the dog had not been labeled dangerous by local animal control officials.

The answer appears to be Florida Statute’s high punitive bar. An animal can’t be labeled dangerous and secured unless there’s a reported injury to a person of multiple bites, broken bones, permanent disfigurement or a wound that requires surgery. Furthermore, there has to be more than one reported attack against another animal while off its owner’s property for a dog to be considered harmful.

Such a high punitive bar serves to encourage lax enforcement and light punishment, which, in turn, only reinforces disregard of the law by those dog owners who are indifferent to their responsibilities and inconsiderate toward their neighbors.

To take the bite out of dog attacks, owners must be responsible neighbors by controlling their Fido in accordance with the law. When that fails, animal control laws must place the victim first and be stringently enforced with heavy penalties imposed.

Public safety demands no less.

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