In the past week, owners of dogs involved in two fatal attacks on children were cleared of criminal charges in Rusk County.
On Tuesday, A grand jury no-billed the grandparents of two year-old Kaden Muckleroy, who died Nov. 10 after being attacked at his grandparents’ home in Henderson, Texas. News footage from the scene of the tragedy showed a number of mixed-breed dogs living in pens and on chains in squalid conditions. Authorities euthanized many of the 35-40 dogs seized at the residence because they were “too far gone medically.”
Late last week, the Rusk County District Attorney dropped criminally negligent homicide charges against Ricky and Christy George, the owners of the dogs that killed 10-year old Justin Clinton. The attorney for Justin’s family, Cynthia Stevens Kent, now holds the distinction of winning the largest known verdict in a case involving a child killed by dogs — $7 million, essentially uncollectible (source: Lawyers USA, October 2, 2010).
It’s difficult to understand why the civil trial went before the criminal trial, or why the Georges weren’t instead charged under “Lillian’s Law” (Health and Safety code Chapter 822.005), which allows for a second degree felony when a loose dog kills a person.
Ms. Kent is using the civil verdict to push legislation banning “pit bulls.” The proposed bill still does not have a sponsor. The dogs’ owner, Christy George, told a local newspaper and KLTV that she is going to work with Justin’s mother on stronger laws against “pit bulls,” saying: “They can be loveable and just as loveable as any dogs…But when they turn, they kill. … There needs to be more laws, and if they need me to step up, I will. Everybody says, ‘Oh, it’s the owners, not the dogs.’ But, that’s not true. That’s absolutely not true.” (source: Longview News-Journal, Jan. 15, 2011).
Actually, in this case, it was the owners. Cynthia Kent herself provided evidence during the civil trial that the dogs didn’t suddenly go on a rampage without warning. If they had, the jury might not have decided 10-2 for Justin’s mother: “… on theories of negligence (both the condition of the fence and the entire area, which allowed the dogs to escape) and strict liability (based upon a finding that the dogs were abnormally dangerous in their class of animal).” Ms. Kent cited three previous bite incidents with the Georges’ dogs (source: Lawyers USA, October 2, 2010, independently confirmed).
Statistics don’t support the perception that dogs shock their innocent owners by “turning” and killing people. A census of all unregistered purebred APBTs plus all “pit bull” -type mixed breed dogs would approach around 7-8 million, making them one of, if not the most, popular breeds or types of dog in the United States (source: Estimate by American Dog Breeders Association, based on ADBA, UKC and AKC registration data).
45 million households own a total of 77 million dogs (source: American Pet Products Association, 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey). Fatal dog attacks are so unusual that it’s impossible to come up with solution that would reduce the deaths from five (2009) or two (2010) in Texas annually to zero (source: National Canine Research Council). Compare this to the number of Texas children who died from being left in hot cars in 2010: 11, several in the Dallas area, according to researcher Jan Null.
Without a trial, we will never know what happened in the Muckleroy case. Given the dogs’ medical and living conditions, it’s a reasonable assumption that they were not trained, socialized or treated like members of the family. Justin died because dog owners showed extraordinarily poor judgment by leaving two dogs with histories of aggression alone in an unlocked gate with a fence less than four feet high (source: Lawyers USA).
A county leash law might give owners an incentive to have better fencing. Investigating animal cruelty might have kept the Muckelroy’s from keeping more dogs that they could safely manage. Local governments had the legal authority to possibly prevent these two tragedies, whether they had the funding or resources to do so is an issue for the local taxpayers. Is it even possible to legislate common sense? Given the state of the Texas budget, it’s unlikely that more money will be made available to local governments to increase enforcement or current laws, much less any new laws.
Next solution: A model solution to spay and neuter pets in rural, low-income areas.