Fatal dog attack in Georgia reminiscent of New Haven mauling

Tuesday January 24, 2017

What is Connecticut law on dog bites and “dangerous breeds”? 

The horrific mauling of two young children in Atlanta last week was all too reminiscent of last summer’s attack on a local Connecticut woman. The homeowner in the Georgia case faces criminal manslaughter charges after his pets terrorized a group of children walking to their bus stop. A six-year-old boy was killed and a 5-year-old girl remains hospitalized after emergency surgery.

One of the dogs was a pit bull mix. Last June, a New Haven woman was attacked without provocation by two American bulldogs while visiting a friend. She later died from her massive injuries. These incidents always spark calls for a ban on “dangerous breeds.” But dog lovers say there are no bad breeds, just bad owners.

Under Connecticut dog bite law, communities cannot ban specific breeds. Do you think the law needs to change?

Any dog can attack. Some breeds cause more damage when they do.

The school children in Atlanta were attacked without provocation or warning. Classmates valiantly tried to rescue their friends, but were no match for two strong dogs (a pit bull and a border collie). Adults came running at the sound of screams but were too late to prevent the fatal injuries to Logan Bratz and the critical injuries to his neighbor Syari Sanders.

New Haven resident Jocelyn Winfrey was attacked almost the moment she stepped on the property of her friend on June 20, 2016. The dogs literally tore her apart, biting her head, eyes, neck, torso, arms and legs. The dogs’ owner suffered multiple bites trying to stop the attack. Despite medical attention within minutes, Ms. Winfrey required amputation surgeries and died a week later from the cumulative trauma of her injuries.

In both cases, the dogs were quickly captured, quarantined and eventually put down. While the owner in the New Haven case was not charged with any offense, the owner in Atlanta faces felony charges of involuntary manslaughter.

Is a dangerous breed ordinance the solution?

Dog owners are strictly liable under Connecticut dog bite law for any injuries inflicted by their animals. They are legally responsible whether the bite occurs on or off their own property, and even if the dog is on a leash when it attacks.

Victims of maulings or witnesses to such carnage are not necessarily concerned with criminal charges or civil compensation. They want to prevent it from ever happening to someone else.

New Haven alderman Brian Wingate, who witnessed part of the fatal mauling, advocated for an ordinance to ban pit bulls and other notorious breeds within the city. However, Connecticut’s dog bite statute does not permit cities or counties to discriminate against specific breeds. It would be necessary to first rewrite state law.

Pit bull owners say their breed gets a bad rap. Pit bulls are not inherently vicious – that comes from how they are socialized. But pit bulls are inherently dangerous because of how they are bred. When they do attack, however rarely, they cause great bodily harm or fatality. Same with Rottweilers, bulldogs, Dobermans, Great Danes, wolf hybrids and other large and powerful breeds. Some states and cities have banned certain breeds because of the potential for someone’s guard dog or “sweet family pet” to kill and maim. Other states have refused to banish the whole breed because of the actions of a few rogue dogs or irresponsible owners.

Report bites, menacing behavior and failure to control dogs

The debate over “dangerous dogs” will continue as long as these incidents occur. In the absence of an ordinance, we can still hold dog owners accountable. It is illegal in Connecticut for pet owners to let their dogs roam free. By law, any dog bite must be reported to the local animal control officer. Vicious behavior, such as growling or chasing, should also be reported. Once a dog owner (or landlord) is on notice of a dog’s dangerous propensity, they can’t claim that the animal attacked without warning.

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