Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) says hundreds of people suffer serious and sometimes fatal injuries caused by dog attacks every year. He says it's time to take this issue seriously by strengthening the dangerous dogs law in Ohio.
Samantha Phillips of Vienna recalls the pain and shock she felt when two dogs got loose last June and attacked her and her mother.
“They were running so fast we couldn’t run, we couldn’t grab anything to defend ourselves,” says Phillips. “Zeke jumped up and grabbed my arm and pulled me down…and he kept pulling and pulling and pulling.”
Eventually the owners, Phillips’ neighbors, came out to drag the dogs away. As she recounts the attack, Phillips pulls back the sleeve of her shirt to show the scars left behind.
"I looked down, and I saw the holes in my arm. And I could see the fat in my arm. There was blood running from the wounds and I was in shock,” Phillips says.
Antani says Phillips’ story is not uncommon. That’s why he’s introducing a bill that would stiffen the penalties for the owners.
The bill starts by charging the owner of a dog that carries out a vicious attack with a fifth degree felony. As of now it’s a misdemeanor, which Antani equates to a traffic ticket.
“I believe that if a person attacks you and injures you or kills you it is a felony, it should be no different than a dog. It should be no different than vehicular manslaughter,” says Antani.
The bill would also give a dog warden the ability to arrest someone in certain circumstances. And it does not target any one breed over another.
Antani recognizes he faces an uphill climb with this piece of legislation. It’ll be the fifth time a legislator has tried to create tougher penalties for dog attacks. Last year, the legislation was introduced in the House (HB352) and the Senate (SB195).
But Robert Lober, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Dayton Children’s Hospital, argues this is an epidemic that must be addressed. He says they’re seeing more than 300 kids come in every year for dog-related injuries at his hospital alone.
“We’re talking about facial paralysis in some kids, horrible disfigurement, paralysis of limbs, the need for amputation, and the psychological effects last long after the scars have healed,” Lober says.
Among those young victims is eight-year-old Savannah Coleman, who spent days in the hospital recovering from life-threatening injuries sustained in an attack.
Her mother, Tierney Dumont, says she was indoors when she heard her daughter screaming from the backyard.
“Her little white t-shirt that she was wearing was drenched in blood. I distinctly remember watching the blood drip down her legs and on to her new Adidas that she was wearing,” says Dumont.
Savannah suffered more than a dozen lacerations to her head, ear, and hand, and a skull fracture. The owner of the dog that attacked her, paid a $120 fine.
Groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Cleveland Animal Protective League have testified that they support strengthening dangerous dog laws. However, those groups added that more must be done to help the underlying problem behind dog attacks, which they say can be traced back to the way owners treat their dogs.
One example, is the creation of tethering laws so a dog isn’t tied or chained in one isolated spot for a long period of time. Bills to set limits on tethering have been proposed in the last two general assemblies and haven’t gone anywhere.
Antani understands the road blocks that come up when addressing this issue. He hopes bringing the bill up so early in the new session will mean bringing all parties to the table in order to reach any compromises that are needed.
“Clearly there is an issue with this bill has been introduced in its form over three General Assemblies and has seen little to no movement, particularly in the House, there is an issue and we will figure out what it is,” Antani says.
As she rolls her sleeves back down to cover the scars from her attack, Samantha Phillips calls on support for Antani’s bill.
“My injuries resulted in stitches, I mean some people go through these traumatic injuries and other people die from these attacks,” Phillips says.
Antani is giving groups a week to add their input before they begin holding meetings.