House Bill 685 is primarily aimed at dangerous and vicious dogs in areas of concern such as liability for damage caused by the animal, lawful killings of dogs, identification of dangerous and vicious dogs.
The bill does not currently include any sections regarding potentially dangerous dogs.
"At this point in our ordinance we have what we deem potentially dangerous, dangerous and vicious dogs," Debbie Elrod, Bartow County Animal Control director, said. "When it comes to a dangerous dog, if owners opt to try to keep their pets after they've inflicted serious injury onto someone else [and] the animal control board allows them to do that and it was deemed a dangerous dog, they would have to not only meet the requirements as far as keeping the dog confined in the manner it's supposed to be but they have to provide us with a $15,000 insurance policy on that animal so that in the event it was to do anything else ever again there's some sort of help available there."
Under the revisions of the bill, that hefty insurance amount would be increased to $50,000. The definition of a dangerous dog also would be altered.
A dangerous dog is defined in the bill as "any dog that causes a substantial puncture of a person's skin by teeth without causing serious injury provided, however, that a nip, scratch or abrasion shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous; aggressively attacks in a manner that causes a person to reasonably believe that the dog posed an imminent threat of serious injury to such person or another person although no such injury occurs provided, however, that the acts of barking, growling or showing of teeth by a dog shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous; while off the owner's property, kills a pet animal provided, however, that shall not apply where the death of such pet animal is caused by a dog that is working or training as a hunting dog, herding dog or predator control dog."
Although a dangerous dog is one who bites and inflicts a puncture wound, Elrod explained there is a difference in the classification for vicious animals and when an insurance policy must be presented.
"If it's a severe injury [or] causes death or hospitalization, we can deem it vicious. [If it's classified as vicious and] it's voted [in our favor] through the animal control board, that dog can be destroyed," Elrod said. "If they appeal it and the animal control board opts to take it back to a dangerous dog level, that's when they have to provide that huge insurance policy on the animal."
While larger insurance companies such as AllState and State Farm include dog bites within homeowner's insurance policies, Elrod said the department has received calls from people who have to surrender their dog due to a lack of coverage.
"Most [companies], if they find out you've got a dog that's bit, they'll tell you to get rid of it or they'll cancel your homeowner's insurance," Elrod said. "I've gotten calls where someone has to get rid of their dog, even if the dog has never done anything because their homeowner's won't cover it. They don't want that liability."
According to a State Farm press release, in 2010, the company had nearly 3,500 claims and paid more than $90 million as a result of dog bites.
A note at the bottom of the release says that the state of Ohio "has determined that the pit bull meets the definition of a 'vicious dog.' As a result, ... State Farm does not provide coverage under its homeowner's policy in the state for this breed of dog." Although pit bulls and Rottweiler breeds are commonly believed to be the most dangerous breeds, the proposed bill does not discriminate in breeds.
In an effort to raise awareness about dog bites, the American Veterinary Medical Association will host and observe national dog bite prevention week May 20-26.
For more information or to read the bill, visit www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20112012/HB/685.