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Charges brought in Spotsylvania dog attack

The owner of the pit bull that officials say killed a Maltese in a Spotsylvania County neighborhood last Sunday has been charged with two misdemeanors.

Latoya Johnson of Hastings Court in the Lancaster Gate subdivision has been charged with letting her dog run at large and not having a county license for the dog, Capt. William Tydings with Spotsylvania Animal Control said Friday.

Deputies were called to Hastings Court at 11:45 a.m. on Sunday for reports of a pit bull attacking another dog, Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pearce said.

A woman was walking her Maltese—a toy-sized breed known for its long, silky white hair—when the pit bull got out of its owner’s house or yard, according to witnesses.

The woman attempted to keep the pit bull away by picking up the Maltese and calling for help, but the pit pull jumped up, grabbed the little dog from her arms and killed it, Pearce said.

Tydings identified the attacker as a pit bull, which is a generic term used to describe dogs with similar physical characteristics, including a solid build, medium size and short hair. A pit bull is considered one of several breeds, including the Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier and the bull terrier, or a mix of terrier breeds.

Johnson, 32, faces a maximum fine of $250 on each misdemeanor if convicted, said Assistant County Attorney Brandi A. Law, who is handling the case.

Johnson is scheduled to appear in Spotsylvania General District Court on Feb. 28 on the two misdemeanors and a hearing on whether to declare the pit bull a dangerous dog.

DANGEROUS DOGS

The state has a dangerous dog statute that spells out what actions constitute that designation and requirements of the owner once a dog is declared dangerous.

State law distinguishes between dangerous dogs and vicious dogs.

A “dangerous dog” is defined as “a canine or canine crossbreed that has bitten, attacked or inflicted injury on a person or companion animal that is a dog or cat, or killed a companion animal that is a dog or cat.”

If declared dangerous, the dog must be listed on the Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry, which makes some information available online for the public.

The information accessible to the public includes the dog’s name and breed, the owner’s name and address, the jurisdiction where the ruling was made and the act that led to the dog’s inclusion on the registry.

The state veterinarian and animal control officers have access to additional information including the owner’s home, cell and work phone numbers, a photo of the dog and its sex, age, weight, primary breed, secondary breed, color and markings, its microchip or tattoo number, and whether it’s spayed or neutered.

Owners of dangerous dogs must renew their registration annually.

They also must:

Place a specially designated tag on the dog’s collar and keep it on the dog at all times.

Display a sign at the residence stating that a dangerous dog resides there and place a muzzle and leash on the dog any time it leaves the property.

Keep the dog inside the residence or confined in a securely enclosed and locked structure that prevents its escape or direct contact with people or other animals.

Maintain at least $100,000 in liability insurance that covers animal bites or maintain a surety bond of at least $100,000.

Notify animal control any time the owner’s contact information or address changes.

Immediately call animal control if the dog gets loose, bites a person, attacks an animal, or is sold, given away or dies.

A vicious dog is defined as a canine or canine crossbreed that has either killed a person, inflicted serious injury to a person, or continued to exhibit the behavior that got it classified as dangerous.

Serious injury is defined as an injury with the “reasonable potential to cause death” or serious disfigurement, serious impairment or requiring significant medical attention.

Dogs that a court finds are vicious are euthanized.

In both dangerous and vicious dog cases, the court can order the dog’s owner to pay restitution for actual damages.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972

pgould@freelancestar.com

DOG STATUTES

Virginia’s statutes on dangerous and vicious dogs are available online. The definition of “dangerous dog” and the requirements for owners are listed under 3.2-6540.

Details on vicious dogs are under 3.2-6540.1.

Details on the Virginia Dangerous Dog Registry are under 3.2-6542.

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