My in-laws were sitting in their living room a recent Sunday afternoon enjoying the nice autumn weather, forgoing air conditioning and instead opening their large living room window.
Their 15-year-old dog Gidget, a chihuahua mutt mix, was spending her days as she normally would as a crotchety old dog: yapping at dogs and passerby outside.
Suddenly, a pit bull broke through the window screen and ripped Gidget out into the front yard, continuing the violent mauling on the lawn.
My family rushed out the door, along with their other dog Opal, and managed to separate the pit bull from Gidget, but it was too late. The injuries were too severe and Gidget’s life ended.
As of the time I am writing this column, the offending dog is still at large. As it turns out, Prattville ordinance does not call for a dog who kills another pet to be euthanized. In fact, it was not even seized by animal control, which led me to look into other city ordinances as well as Alabama state law.
In 2018, Alabama passed “Emily’s Law” to create a statewide procedure for handling dangerous dogs that attack a person. The law was created in response to the death of 24-year-old Jackson County resident Emily Colvin, who was killed by a pack of vicious dogs in her own front yard in December 2017.
The law is a good starting point – when a dog injures or kills a person, the law creates criminal charges for the owner of the dog if they had knowledge of the dog’s violent tendencies.
Most importantly, it creates a statewide process to have a dog declared dangerous, so that an investigation can take place and dangerous dogs can be found and properly taken care of.
However, the dangerous dog distinction applies only if there is evidence the dog has injured or killed a person, meaning the first time the dog attacks and possibly even kills a person, an owner can very well get off without any charges whatsoever, and adding insult to injury, may not even be liable for the victim’s expenses.
In addition to creating more stringent legislation to adequately protect people, it is also time for the Alabama Legislature to consider tacking on protections to animal companions.
Under the law, dogs and cats are treated the same as any other private property, but despite the price tag of our pets, they are more valuable to us then an inanimate object.
Should the owner of a vicious dog that attacks someone else’s pet be criminally accountable? No, I don’t think so. But they should be liable to cover the costs of the veterinary bills and potentially emotional pain and suffering.
Most importantly, dangerous dogs need to be removed from our communities, whether they attack people or animals. Law varies by city and county — the City of Troy has a clear ordinance providing any dog which kills another domestic animal is to be considered vicious, and any dog deemed vicious is to be destroyed by the animal control officer.
Alexander City has a much less clear-cut ordinance. The ordinance defines a vicious animal as “any animal which is known to have bitten or attacked a person or other animal without adequate provocation or cause; or, additionally, in the case of a dog, one which has been trained as a guard dog or otherwise, to attack persons or domestic animals.” But residents are allowed to own properly registered “vicious dogs” with the understanding the owners are criminally liable for any attack by these dogs.
This ordinance is similar to Emily’s Law in not having ramifications for the first offense.
The vicious dog that killed Gidget is out there somewhere right now, with nobody the wiser of its killer history. If it breaks loose again, as it did in this attack, another person’s animal, or worse their child, could be on the line.
For the sake of our pets, Emily’s Law needs a companion law, and both laws need more teeth.
Jacob Holmes is TPI’s design editor.