Dog owners should be legally responsible for bad behavior (Opinion)
Two pitbulls get out of the yard and head into the neighbors yard, attacking a little boy and mauling him to death. Wow. It's a shockingly sad and horrific story. Many of us were absolutely floored when we learned that there is no law in New Jersey which would allow prosecutors to charge the dog owners. That's incredible to me. You could be cited for having your dog poop on a sidewalk, but not for killing a 3-year-old?
The challenge with a new law of course is New Jersey will go too far. It would be great if our Legislature could find a balance. Let's say if your vicious dog gets away and enters another person's property causing mayhem, you're responsible.
But if you have dogs for the purpose of home protection and a criminal comes in to cause you harm, there is no liability. Of course, I favor "stand your ground" laws when it comes to firearms as well. You simply have a right to protect yourself, your family and yes, your property from would-be criminals and if the perp gets hurt or killed trying to cause you harm, well that's too bad for them.
As far as a person's dog causing harm outside of your property, either in another's yard or in the public space, yes there should be legal consequences and criminal liability. But there should be a level set that doesn't make every snipe from an aggressive dog illegal. Dogs are dogs, after all, and short of causing serious injury and death, I don't think the prosecutors should be pursuing charges.
I was bitten as a kid while riding my bike after a neighbor's German shepherd got loose and knocked me over and took a bite on my finger. The scar is with me today. But to my knowledge, other than a conversation between my parents and the neighbors, nothing came of the incident. And I'm OK with that.
Truth is, I take some responsibility. Why did I stop my bike? I could have easily outrun the dog, but I was a stupid kid and paused to watch this dog come at me in a bit of disbelief until I was on the ground with my hand in the dog's jaw. The dog owner was close behind and major injury prevented.
I'm not a litigious guy and neither were my parents. We just moved on. But in the case of the 3-year-old who is never coming back, that family can't just move on. And although charges won't bring the little boy back, it would be a clear message to owners of vicious animals. Control your dog or face serious consequences.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Bill Spadea. Any opinions expressed are Bill's own. Bill Spadea is on the air weekdays from 6 to 10 a.m., talkin’ Jersey, taking your calls at 1-800-283-1015.