Senate approves stiffer penalties for owners of violent dogs
May 17, 2007

The owners of dogs that violently attack people could face up to 20 years in prison under a bill approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

Written by Liz Austin Peterson, Associated Press

AUSTIN — The owners of dogs that violently attack people could face up to 20 years in prison under a bill approved Thursday by the Texas Senate.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, would charge a dog owner with a third-degree felony — punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a possible $10,000 fine — if the dog makes an unprovoked attack and seriously injures the victim.

If the victim dies, the crime would be a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

If the Texas House of Representatives approves the changes made by the Senate, the measure could end up on the governor's desk by early next week. Otherwise members of both chambers will meet to work out the differences.

Current law calls for punishments ranging from a $500 fine to one year in jail. And for a dog owner to be charged, the dog must have been classified as dangerous from a previous incident — a provision critics call "one free bite." The measure approved Thursday would charge the owner after the first attack.

Republican Sen. Craig Estes unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to charge dog owners with a class A misdemeanor — punishable by a year in jail and a $4,000 fine — instead of a felony.

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh said that punishment wouldn't send a strong enough message to the owners of dangerous dogs.

He pointed to the Senate gallery, toward the husband and daughter of a woman who was attacked by six dogs after getting off her riding lawn mower at her home near Thorndale, about 40 miles northeast of Austin.

"I don't think we can go to the Stiles family and say to them ... that that life is worth a class A misdemeanor," he said.

The dogs that attacked 76-year-old Lillian Stiles had not been declared dangerous. Their owner, Jose Hernandez, was found not guilty of criminally negligent homicide last month. He had faced up to two years in a state jail for the felony charge.


The dog attack bill is HB1355.

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