The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

May 4, 2014

Put the bite on dog owners | Make them accountable to attack victims

JOHNSTOWN — Robert Williams of the Hornerstown section of Johnstown was viciously attacked and maimed by two pit bulls. He will carry the scars of that horrible mauling for the rest of his life.

The event has reignited the firestorm that surrounds the breed. Owners and breeders claim that the muscular canines are lovable and loyal companions. Opponents say the dogs are kept for their intimidation factor.

“I really do blame the owner,” Tim Holsopple of Operation Pit Bull told our Justin Dennis for a story last week. Operation Pit Bull is an education and awareness organization.

“Dogs don’t do something just because. There’s always something behind it – either there’s genetics or they’re provoked.”

Williams said the attack by his cousin’s dogs was unprovoked.

“Behavior is what we need to look at, especially in these economically depressed times,” Holsopple said.

“If the dog isn’t raised right or abused, there’s a chance they could become aggressive toward other people or other animals.”

Pit bulls were bred to be fighters – especially against other dogs. The most recent highly publicized case of dog fighting was that of Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback.

“Some of Michael Vick’s dogs are now with families – only a handful were put down,” Holsopple said.

According to CNHI Statehouse Reporter John Finnerty, there are more than 700 dogs classified as “dangerous” that are registered in Pennsylvania. Only two of those dogs are registered in Cambria County.

However, Johnstown police Chief Craig Foust said a majority of dog attacks in the city have been caused by pit bulls.

The state requires owners of dangerous dogs to pay a $500 annual fee, place warning signs on their homes and property and muzzle and leash the dog when it is off-property.

The owners also must carry $50,000 worth of liability insurance.

In Williams’ case, is $50,000 just compensation for a 56-year-old man who may have to go through the rest of his life without the full use of his right arm? Will it even come close to paying for his hospital and rehabilitation expenses?

Should owners of dangerous dogs be required to carry more insurance?

Across the United States, cities and towns have banned pit bulls or increased fines and penalties against owners whose dogs were involved in attacks. However, laws and penalties are only effective when they are enforced.

In our opinion, owners of “dangerous” dogs should bear full monetary responsibility for the victim’s expenses should their pet be involved in an attack. And we would include landlords who rent to people with pit bulls in that “owners” category.

Owning a dog is a privilege.

We trust their owners to act responsibly.

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