Los Chavez, NM - On June 6, 2004, Emma-Leigh Chambers-Allen was severely mauled by her neighbor's pit bull. At the time of the attack, Emma was 5-years old. A family friend created a website to share Emma's story and images of her serious injuries. The pit bull broke Emma's jaw in three places, broke her nose, tore out teeth and severed part of her tongue. She received over 200 stitches to her face and lost 66% of her blood in the attack. The website author writes:
"Emma's surgery expenses will cost over 700,000.00 that her mothers monthly salary of about 900.00 will have to cover plus, she must pay for about 800.00 in monthly bills and other stuff and that only leaves about 100.00, and, guess where that goes. Gas, clothing, ect. And that leaves about 0.00 for surgery expenses. if you would like to help you can pray or donate."
Six months after the attack, Emma's parents, Tamara Allen Chambers and Chris Allen, filed a lawsuit against the dog's owner and Valencia County. According to the lawsuit, Chris Allen was inside his ex-wife's home when he was called outside by a child yelling. He found the pit bull standing over his daughter with its jaws locked onto her neck and throat. Allen struck the dog three times with a piece of cement then ran with his daughter to a nearby fire station for help.
The lawsuit claimed that at the time of the mauling, a county ordinance was in place that makes it illegal to keep or harbor a vicious animal. Prior to the attack, numerous complaints had been made to the county's animal control department concerning the animal's vicious behavior -- including that "someday, Shelton's pit bull would attack a child." The lawsuit also targeted the Sheriff's Department as a neglectful party for failing to investigate complaints about the dog.
One year after the attack, Gov. Bill Richardson signed into law new dangerous dog legislation (SB 432). The bill allows felony charges to be applied to owners of dogs deemed "dangerous" or "potentially dangerous" that seriously injure or kill a person or an animal. (The key is that the law applies to "potentially dangerous," dogs, which have not yet committed a serious mauling.) In the instance of a human attack, 3rd degree felony charges apply and for animals, 4th degree.
C. An owner of a dangerous or potentially dangerous dog that causes serious injury or death to a domestic animal, without provocation, is guilty of a fourth degree felony and shall be sentenced in accordance with the provisions of Section 31-18-15 NMSA 1978.
D. An owner of a dangerous or potentially dangerous dog that causes serious injury to a human being, without provocation, is guilty of a third degree felony and shall be sentenced in accordance with the provisions of Section 31-18-15 NMSA 1978.
The law was designed to remove "arbitrary" animal control department decisions by setting forth statewide procedures in the handling of "potentially dangerous" and "dangerous" dogs. Unsurprisingly, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and regional "Mauling" Fanciers opposed the law, demonstrating for the "nth" time that such groups do not support "Punishing the Deed" as widely claimed. Hopefully, New Mexico prosecutors have convicted offenders under this law.
July 2005 AKC Newsletter
"Under SB 432, felony charges can be applied to owners of dogs that are deemed dangerous or potentially dangerous that kill or maim another animal or person. New Mexico fanciers opposed SB 432 because although it does not target certain breeds, its vague definitions and the broad authority it grants animal control officers may leave dog owners vulnerable to prosecution."
It is important to point out that new state dangerous dog laws frequently come at the result of a serious or fatal pit bull attack. For instance, the Luna McDaniel Act - Louisiana (2009), Lillian's Law - Texas (2007), Dorothy Sullivan Memorial Bill - Virginia (2006), Anna's Law - Illinois (2005), Tyler's Law - California (2005), Cody's Law - California (1998) and IC 15-5-12-3 - Indiana (1993). We do not know of any statewide law that was inspired by a Cocker spaniel attack.
06/24/09: Louisiana State Dog Attack Law (HB 155) Wins Final Legislative Approval
03/04/09: 2003 Fatality: Anna Cieslewicz, Killed by Pit Bulls While Jogging
11/09/08: Indiana Attack Victim Responds to Recent Pit Bull Attacks
01/09/08: Lillian's Law - Texas State Dangerous Dog Law