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When Family Pets Become Dangerous

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for iStock_000016429140XSmall.jpgMany Atlanta residents were stunned and saddened learning of the death of a two-year old boy who was recently malled by the family’s dog. This is not the first time that a household pet of many years, in this case eight years, has attacked and killed a toddler. Our hearts go out to the family of this little boy — as a Fulton County dog bite lawyer, I have represented victims of dog bites and their families and how painful this situation is for all.

The story is heartbreaking and we wonder whether there were any signs or signals along the way that might have led the family to understand the dog’s capability of causing such harm. It is important for dog owners to know how to read these signs.

A neighbor heard the odd sounds of the animal from next door and went to investigate. The scene she found was terrible. The family’s two-year old was lying lifeless having been attacked by the family dog. The dog is reportedly a mixed breed American Staffordshire terrier. This dog is similar to a pit bull.

The toddler’s mom had just gone to the bathroom briefly and contacted 911 immediately on seeing her son. She was understandably, hysterical. There had been no previous issues with the dog as far as authorities are concerned. But vets warn that families need to pay close attention to signs that their family pet could turn on a child or other person unexpectedly.

This tragic loss of life is something that we all need to consider not only in terms of our own children and their safety, but also because if a dog harms another person we can be held responsible. Georgia’s “dog bite law” is codified at the Official Code of Georgia Annotated section 51-2-7 which provides in part that: “[a] person who owns or keeps a vicious or dangerous animal of any kind and who, by careless management or by allowing the animal to go at liberty, causes injury to another person who does not provoke the injury by his own act may be liable in damages to the person so injured.” Those injured by a dog in Georgia may recover monetary damages for their injuries.

Georgia’s dangerous dog law provides that owners are responsible for dangerous dogs defined as “dogs that punture a person’s skin with a bite but do not cause serious injury, or those dogs that kill another owner’s pet.” These dog’s owners must not only apply to register the dog annually, but must secure the dog in an enclosure and post warning signs on their property. If a dog causes harm, the owner must also microchip the dog and maintain “at least $50,000 of liability insurance to cover costs in the event that the dog attacks or damages another’s property a second time.” If that happens, the dog will be
euthanized, and its owners possibly fined and serve jail time.

Sadly, another toddler was killed by pit bulls near Savannah earlier this month. The toddler had found her way through the dog door in the family’s home and went out the the backyard, only to be mauled by the family’s dogs, reportedly seven of them. And recently a youngster was seriously harmed when a pit bull bit her in the face.

Pit bulls are often family pets for years with no incidents of this kind. And several studies have shown that pit bulls are not more aggressive than other breeds, but other studies have shown a greater likelihood for bites from the breed. The experts ask that we avoid stereotyping breeds. Every dog is different. We do know that male dogs that haven’t been neutered are more likely to cause this type of attack. And children are often the targets of dog attacks and should not be left alone with them.

Fulton County police and others will be making a determination as to the dog’s fate. The dog is currently in the county’s custody. Family members were said to be hysterical and very distraught over the death of the little boy. The mom was taken to medical care for treatment due to her shock and emotional distress.

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