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Dog owner charged in Spotsylvania attack

MORE: Read more Spotsylvania County news

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, who turns 46 on Monday, 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.


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


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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  • rufus12345

    If she has good homeowner’s insurance, it should pay for the Maltese dog that was destroyed by her pit bull. It is important to tell your insurance agent that you own a dangerous pit bull, so it can be included in your policy.

    • JohnSickel

      I’m curious, what’s the life of a family pet go for?

      • Guest

        Apparently a maximum of $250 in the eyes of Spotsy. Shamefull.

        • Anonymous

          “Guest” – If you read the article, it says that if she’s found guilty of the 2 misdemeanors (running at large and no dog license) she faces a max. fine of $250 on each charge. It’s a FINE – it has nothing to do with what a family pet’s life is worth. And, just so you know, Spotsy’s code is in conformance with the state code. The County doesn’t have the authority to change what class misdemeanor the violation is or the penalty that it carries.

      • Action

        petty cash.

    • Guest

      Won’t pay $10 for a dog tag but will pay extra in homeowners for a Pit Bull, sure……..

    • hawkeye22407

      gee – wonder where YOU stand on pit bull ownership? tell you what, YOU make sure YOU tell your insurance agent if you own a “dangerous child” k?

      • Guest

        Ha ha. I have a few uninsured humans on the loose myself. Defend yourself…

      • Karlina Bittner

        Yeah, I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m pretty sure MY 3 year old isn’t going to rip a dog out of someone’s arms and maul it to death.

      • Jskinfan

        That is the most moronic statement about this issue I have read so far! You get the idiot award!

    • Action

      And chance your homeowners insurance rates rising? Not a chance. Plus that may give the insurance company reason to drop you and prevent you from obtaining further insurance without a very expensive clause.

    • MJC

      She’s a pit bull owner. She doesn’t HAVE homeowner’s insurance!

    • Jason Fraser

      Don’t be daft. Pit bull owners don’t have insurance.

  • T.Carr

    It seems every home in every neighborhood has at least one dog. I wonder how many of them have county tags? How much money would that amount to? How about it William Tydings how often and whose job is it to make sure they do?

  • Guest

    Didn’t state senator houck have some good legislation inacted because of a human death due to pit bull? And then he towed the party line for Ofailurecare and the rest is history. I can’t wait to retire Ed…See ya in class.

  • T.Carr

    #my prior post-point being if all dog owners were aware of expense and responsibility and LAWS on books not enforced just may prevent even one such incident. This incident could have ended much worse with human loss..anybody remember Mrs Sullivan’s death several years ago in Spotsylvania?

    • Mike

      Yes, I remember that case very well. I was at the trial. The dangerous dog laws were written in response to that tragedy. Hopefully, the lady that owns this dog understands the outcome of this situation could have been much worse for the lady that tried to protect her dog from attack. That is exactly what Dorthy Sullivan was doing when she was killed by three pit bulls in Spotsylvania back in 2005.

  • Ashley Bradshaw

    This is incorrect information: 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.”

    There is a specific breed called the American pit bull terrier. There is a reason there are all of the different breeds you have listed.

    Blanketing statements like this are ridiculous and half of the problem regarding “pit bulls”. This could be an American bulldog or who knows, a mut/Heinz 57… Yet let’s call it a pitbull to spice up the story! Do vet records state this is a pit bull? As a notable newspaper, I would hope you fact check yourself before publishing these type of assumptions.

    Terrier breeds? So jack and Parson Russell terrier crosses, they’re pit bulls now too!?

    • MJC

      It is NOT a specific breed, but rather a “type” including the American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, any mix thereof, or any mixed breed in which any of these breeds are part of the mix.

  • plaiddog

    Interesting that no one seems to question the breed of dog when it’s a “hero” or “service dog of the year.” I know three pits, all neutered, that killed small animals. Specifically two cats and one small dog. None were trained to fight. One was trained professionally, lavished with love, walked, socialized, all the stuff you’re supposed to do. And it didn’t hesitate grabbing the cat by the head and shaking it to death while neighborhood kids watched in horror. Of course, I’m “ignorant” because I think that this breed is dangerous. Some folks really do exist in an alternate reality.

    • MJC

      The dog that you claim was the “hero … dog of the year” is a THERAPY dog, not a SERVICE dog. A service dog goes through extensive training to perform a specific task to assist a person, a therapy dog is nothing more than a glorified pet.

      • plaiddog

        Yes, well the grandfather of the 4 year-old-girl killed yesterday confirmed his three dogs are pit bulls. They attacked and killed the child. So I guess it’s confirmed that these were not therapy dogs. Gee, of all the things to nitpick. Kind of a bigger issue at hand. Common tactic: diversion.

        • Jason Fraser

          He’s on our side! Sheesh! Can’t you read?

    • Tony Molinaro

      I saw a Black Lab that lives in a house behind mine grab the neighbor’s cat that got into his fenced in yard and the lab did the same thing. thought it was a chew toy and took it by the scruff of the neck and shook his head. Guess what it does not matter the breed. Just like people, there can be a loose cannon in any breed. I have a pit (Pit Mix however due to the simple minds I no matter what have to disclose hes a pit), he is a rescue, I have had him since he was 8 weeks old. He is a very loving sweet dog. and is with other dogs and kids. And just as a reminder all dogs have animal instincts, chasing squirrels, rabbits, ect. They are all animals of nature. Some are treated really bad and are aggressive but thats not the breeds fault. its the owners.

    • Jason Fraser

      That so-called “service dog of the year” was not a “service dog,” it was a “therapy dog,” in other words, nothing more than a glorified pet.

  • plaiddog

    Another child killed by pit bulls. The owner, the girl’s grandfather, told the police his dogs were pits. Gee, so grandpa “trained” his dogs to be vicious, and then let them around his 4 year-old granddaughter. Or is it the little girl’s fault? She must have made the dogs feel “insecure” and they killed her out of “fear.” Three cocker spaniels could have done this? It happens all the time but the media doesn’t report it? Grandpa’s fault, we should blame him? Or should we blame the people who constantly make excuses for this breed, convince people they are like any other dog, that these dogs are angels? Pit bull advocates are cult members, willing to sacrifice children because of their devotion to this breed.