This model letter shows that average citizens can still impact candidates and elected officials.
Richmond, VA - Back in late September, dog bite victims' advocate Bonny Lee sent a compelling letter to the candidates running for Virginia Governor, Glenn Youngkin and Terry McAuliffe. Lee is part of a loose coalition of Virginia citizens (the dog safety committee) who have been attacked by loose dogs or have had their own domestic pets or livestock killed by dogs. Lee has been active in legislative issues in Virginia for a number of years, as one can tell by her well-crafted letter.
Lee comments on the poor civil dog bite laws in the state. Virginia still adheres to the ancient "one bite" rule. Virginia also follows another ancient and inhumane doctrine, called the "contributory negligence" rule, states DogBiteLaw.com. "It says that a person who is even one percent responsible for an accident has no legal right whatsoever to recover compensation for medical bills or anything else. There are only 4 states in the USA that follow this terrible, 18th century rule."
Lee states in the first paragraph of the letter how lacking the criminal dog bite laws are in Virginia as well. It is virtually impossible to obtain a felony conviction against dog owners or rescuers after a vicious attack, including after the horrific mauling death of a person, states the letter. Taken together, the civil and criminal dog bite laws in Virginia place the rights of vicious dogs and their owners over the rights and safety of human beings, the Commonwealth's citizens, states the letter.
In the second bullet point, Lee questions why the Animal Law Unit of the Attorney General's office, a unit that exists to protect animals, has any role in the consideration of human protection. Lee also addressed this issue in a Letter to the Editor back in November 2020 (The rights of human victims of dangerous dogs or their domestic pets is not within the purview of the Animal Law Unit, yet that unit must approve any legislation designed to protect humans and their pets, Lee states.)
Lee's final bullet point dives into some of the outrageous bills that have recently been presented to the General Assembly concerning dangerous dog legislation. "Such as sending dogs deemed dangerous out to other states as long as they didn't border Virginia, or moving dangerous dog hearings to any jurisdiction in the state, forcing victims and attorneys and animal control to travel long distances, a cynical attempt to virtually shut down dangerous dog hearings," states the letter.
Become Active in State Legislation
Lee's letter spells out where the problems are in Virginia state law and who she stands with, the undersigners of the letter. This is a grassroots effort -- there are no paid lobbyists or businesses, such as a nonprofit 501(c)3 or (c)4. This is how change begins. Many people write in and ask us, "How can I get involved?" By doing exactly as Lee has done. Become active in state legislation by contacting elected officials and candidates, as well as by submitting letters to your local paper.
September 27, 2021
Candidate for Governor
Post Office Box 3950
Merrifield VA 22116
Dear Mr Youngkin,
There are problems with Virginia Law that place the rights of dogs over the rights and safety of human beings, the Commonwealth’s citizens. It is almost impossible to obtain a felony conviction against the owners or rescuers after a dog attack, regardless of the extent of human injury, including the terrifying death of the individual. The most widely publicized of these was the death of 90-year-old Margaret Colvin of Virginia Beach, who was mauled to death by a so-called rescue dog. It appears to the public, at least, that Mrs. Colvin’s life was worth only a $750 misdemeanor fine.
We are a loose coalition of Virginia citizens (the dog safety committee) who have either been attacked by vicious dogs or have had their own leashed domestic pets or livestock killed before their eyes. Here are issues that concern us:
- In response to the rising morbidity and mortality from dog attacks, 36 of the 50 United States now have law that apply strict liability to the owners of animals that attack and maim. Virginia is not one of them. We also allow for contributory negligence; that may involve simply getting off of the school bus or being chased into your own yard by a vicious dog. As examples, one of the undersigned spent 27 days in the hospital and another is the parent of a child whose index finger was amputated by a dog. Once more, only misdemeanor fines for the owners, while significant financial, emotional and physical tolls are the victim’s to bear.
- The Animal Law Unit of the Attorney General's office is involved in approval of proposed changes to the dangerous dog statutes we already have. The unit exists to protect animals. While we recognize the need for this office to fight animal cruelty of all kinds, we do not understand why this office also involves Robin McVoy, the incorporating attorney for Ring Dog Rescue, in consideration of improvements to human protection. Ms. McVoy represented the Animal Law unit of the Attorney General’s office at a meeting intended for victims to tell their stories in Henrico, sponsored by the Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters. Perhaps most hurtful to the citizens present is Ms. McVoy's organization's goal to "rehabilitate the image of the Pit Bull dog,” a direct insult to many present as most but not all had been harmed by that particular breed. Why was this allowed to happen? Likewise, should have Michelle Welch, the director of the Animal Law Unit, a former board member in the Virginia Federation of Humane Societies, whose goal is to impose a 90% "save" rate on shelters, regardless of the number of problematic animals that then must be released to the public?
- In the past, bizarre and incredulous suggestions have been introduced into our General Assembly, such as sending dogs deemed dangerous out to other states as long as they didn't border Virginia, or moving dangerous dog hearings to any jurisdiction in the state, forcing victims and attorneys and animal control to travel long distances, a cynical attempt to virtually shut down dangerous dog hearings. Perhaps the more than 600 Americans killed by dogs since 2005, many of them children and the elderly - - our most vulnerable citizens - - will put a damper on the continued efforts by so-called humane organizations, the driving force behind efforts to "save them all,” regardless of the consequences.
If you are elected, we hope you will carefully consider every aspect of any dangerous dog legislation before signing it.
Bonny T Lee, RN
Join State Association
We asked Lee if there was advice she wanted to share with other advocates. Lee recommended joining your state animal control association. "I strongly suggest to others interested that they consider joining their state animal control association if their association has an associate or non-officer category," Lee said. "It has helped me tremendously to not only make friends, but also keep up with pending legislation and encourage victims to call and write to their legislators," she said.
During the 2021 legislative cycle, two professionals that Lee came to know during events at her state animal control association went to bat for victims of dangerous dogs. Kathy Strouse, a Board Member for the Virginia Animal Control Association, and Sharon Adams, who chairs the Executive Committee for the Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters, helped Lee's coalition by supporting legislation that helps prevent changes of ownership before a dangerous dog case is adjudicated.
06/21/21: What Are Pit Bulls Good At? by Guest Writer Boni
05/21/21: Former Owner of Rescue Pit Bull Shares Story After Unprovoked Attack...
01/04/21: Working at an Open Intake Shelter: Deliberate Breed Mislabeling, Aggressive Dogs...