The Texas Legislature should change the way the state defines dangerous dogs and update the law to give people who’ve been damaged by them some tools with which to seek recompense.
The legal problem came up recently in the case of Nancy Fry, whose little terrier, Baby, died after being mauled twice by a neighbor’s dogs, which were running loose.
The first dog attacked as Fry walked Baby on a leash through her neighborhood in Bacliff, she told The Daily News recently. The second dog attacked on Fry’s own property as she was attempting to get Baby in a car to go to a veterinarian, she said.
Baby’s back was ripped open and she suffered other injuries so severe that she died after becoming infected and undergoing multiple surgeries, Fry said.
Anybody who loves a pet can understand what an awful experience that was for Fry and her dog, and it got worse.
Fry said she spent several thousand dollars, most of her savings, trying to save Baby’s life. After Baby died, she set out to do what most people in the same situation would — to ensure that someone was held responsible for her pain and suffering and to recover the money the offense against her dog, her property, cost her.
Fry learned pretty quickly that Texas law, which is the only law in unincorporated areas, doesn’t offer much relief for people in her circumstance.
The issue, apparently, is how Texas defines dangerous dogs.
In many states, laws exist that allow a dog to be declared dangerous for attacking another dog, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
But that’s not the case in Texas, where a dog has to have attacked a human or be reasonably believed to pose a threat to humans before it can be found dangerous.
You don’t have to look far to find states that offer better legal tools than Texas does.
Louisiana declares a dog dangerous when on two occasions within 36 months it has caused injury to a domestic animal off the offending owner’s property; Oklahoma has ruled that a dog must be declared dangerous if it kills another dog after previously being found by authorities to be potentially dangerous; and New Mexico says a dog that causes serious injury to a person or a domestic animal is dangerous, according to the Animal and Legal Historical Center of Michigan State University.
Other states also offer owners of dogs that have been attacked by other dogs legal means to pursue monetary damages against the responsible humans.
It’s odd that Texas doesn’t. Although there are all sorts of other things wrapped up in person’s relationship with a pet, it’s also a matter of property rights. Texans should have a clear path to something like justice against people who by their bad action or inaction cause damage to property.
The state’s definition of a dangerous dog should include dogs that attack their own kind, and other animals, and the law should provide financial remedies for people who suffer as Fry did.
• Michael A. Smith