Texas Dog Bite Law to Impose Stricter Penalties

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Many people remember the opening scene of The Wizard of Oz, in which the evil Ms. Gulch complains of being "all but lame from the bite on my leg,"and demands that Toto be handed over to her. In the movie, Ms. Gulch is clearly the villain and Toto is obviously too sweet and well-behaved to be guilty.

In reality, though, dog bite cases can be much more serious-even deadly. And their victims don't fly around on brooms. This month in Texas, new legislation has been enacted to allow increased penalties for dog owners whose pets injure others. These penalties reflect the seriousness of this problem.

"Lillian's Law," named for Lillian Stiles, who died because of complications from a dog bite, increases the severity of the criminal charge for owners whose pets cause serious bodily harm or death. Specifically, serious injury gives the owner a third-degree felony charge-with 2-10 years in prison and as much as a $10,000 fine.

If the victim dies, the owner can be convicted of a second-degree felony, which could mean up to 20 years in the slammer. These penalties may seem severe-until you consider the case that provoked them.

Lillian Stiles, a 76-year-old woman, was gardening in her yard one afternoon this spring, according to an account published by Texas Families against Dangerous Dog Bites. She was apparently riding her lawnmower when her neighbor's six Rottweiler-Pitt-bull mixes attacked her.

Stiles' husband was reportedly inside during the attack, and found his wife dead on their lawn.

Before the introduction of Lillian's Law, there was no legislation in Texas that referred specifically to canine homicide, or cases in which dogs cause the death of humans. The criminal penalties for owners required that a dog already be labeled "dangerous" at the time of the injury caused.

Hopefully, the new legislation will alert dog owners to the potential injuries and deaths their pets can cause. In Lillian's case, the fence meant to restrain the dogs in question had allegedly been left open on the day of the attack-an oversight that could have easily been corrected.

While no one likes to hear about injuries and deaths that could have been prevented, there is usually a small bright spot in any great tragedy. In the case of Lillian Stiles, luckily, her untimely passing was not in vain. Thanks to the newly enacted Texas law, many other potential victims of dog bites may be saved the pain and difficulties such injuries may cause-and Dorothy may just buy a leash.


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