Do People Whose Dogs Attack Others Deserve Prison Time?
We've recently written about a couple of cases where dogs attacked humans. In Antioch, California, two dogs went on a rampage, biting four humans and two dogs. In Chicago, there was the case of Cosovic Ahmmed, who threatened to sic his dog on an African-American postal carrier.
Ahmmed and the unknown owner of the dogs in Antioch might want to be very grateful that they're not living in the United Kingdom right now. Lawmakers in England and Wales are working to increase the legal penalties against dog owners whose pets injure or kill humans. If the proposed changes go through, the maximum jail time for someone whose dog kills a person will go from two to 14 years. For a dog attack that injures someone, the maximum will be five years. Service dogs will be given special protection: The owner of a dog that attacks or kills a service dog may see up to three years of prison time.
The push for harsher sentences is in part a response to the death of 14-year-old Jade Lomas-Anderson, who was attacked in March by four dogs belonging to Beverley Concannon. From the beginning, prosecutors acknowledged that it would be very difficult to make any charges stick, and in mid-October, Concannon was given a suspended 16-week jail sentence and ordered to pay costs and fees totaling £165 (US$265.15).
The family has been campaigning for changes in the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 since Jade's death. When the court handed down Concannon's sentence on Oct. 18, Jade's stepfather Michael told the Daily Mail, "I'm devastated and disgusted in the justice system. Today was just about dangerous dogs. I think she should be held responsible for Jade. We have got a life sentence. It has absolutely ripped us apart."
The Telegraph claims that more than 200,000 people are bitten by dogs every year, and that this costs the National Health Service £3 million. Their stats don't break down the severity of the bites, though.
Is this an extreme approach to the problem? It's easy to see how the mauling death of a 14-year-old girl would spark outrage. But tabloid newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Mirror have been furthering the debate all year. The Mirror has referred to Concannon's dogs as a "killer devil dog pack," and both make gleeful references to the fact that she's unemployed, lives on a council estate (the UK version of public housing), and has a past with drugs.
The sensationalism has been cranked up beyond 11 by the press, and a lot of it plays on fears about single mothers and poor people that have nothing to do with dogs. It's hard to disentangle the coverage of her actual misdeeds from all the bigotry that it's soaked in.
And yet, as we see from the stories that we've run recently, owners who don't take care of their dogs, or stoke them with their own personal hatreds, are a real problem. It hurts the dogs and it hurts people. The proposed sentences are equivalent to the punishment that someone would get for killing someone while driving drunk.
What do you think? What is the proper punishment for an owner whose dog hurts or kills someone? Is 14 years in prison an excessive punishment? Let us know in the comments.