During the Christmas holiday, my wife and our two daughters, ages 9 and 4, went to Big Bear Park to enjoy the warm day with my sister, brother-in-law and their four-year-old son who were here in Franklin from California for a family visit.
The park was quite busy as the sun was shining. My youngest daughter and I went to the upper part of the park to swing and my family drifted up behind us. While we were swinging, two young teenage boys rode up on bicycles along with a mediumsized dog. They occupied the two swings closest to the parking lot. My youngest daughter was in the swing closest to them and I was pushing her. My eldest daughter was next and then my four year old nephew.
The dog was playing with the boys and backed into the path of the swing I was pushing. The dog was startled, came up to me and seemed friendly. The dog then ran behind the swings, came around in a circle and ATTACKED MY DAUGHTER! The dog bit her in the right leg. I managed to pull the swing away and luckily she only had a bruise and teeth holes in her jeans. I immediately told the boys they needed to restrain their dog, at which point they claimed that it was not their dog. I called 911 and reported the incident and Animal Control was dispatched. When they arrived, it was not immediately clear to me what was going to happen. I’ve since learned.
My purpose in writing this letter is to inform the citizens of North Carolina about the lax nature of animal control statutes. I have studied both the Macon County ordinances as well as those of the State. Basically, there is no statute to allow victims of dog bites any recourse to the law.
In Macon County, if a person hits a dog while driving, that person is legally obligated to report the incident. I bet you didn’t know that. But if a dog is brought to the park and ATTACKS my FOUR YEAR OLD DAUGHTER, no charges can be pressed. In this case, the owner of the dog, whoever that may be, not the boys responsible for bringing the dog to the park, paid $100 for the dog to stay at the pound for 10 days and a $25 fine for allowing a dog to roam free. That’s right, $125 for an incident that my daughter is unlikely to ever forget.
Even if the owner of the dog had been charged with all four violations that I found in the ordinance, the maximum fine allowed by the ordinance is $50. If the bite had been worse, that is to say, if the dog had pulled my child from the swing and started shaking her so that blood was everywhere and maintenance had to come and clean up the park, the worst that could happen to the dog is that it is labeled a ‘dangerous’ dog and the owners would be required to keep it muzzled until its death.
I did not start out on that fine, crisp, sunny and warm December day to set out on a study of this state’s animal control ordinances. But I now think that it is my civic duty to inform other citizens about the utter failure that is called an ordinance. This ordinance does nothing to criminalize or otherwise punish a person who allows his dog to bite another human. It is the dog owner’s fault. And, when I say owner, I do not mean some abstruse legal definition designed to obfuscate culpability, I mean “the person who’s in charge of the dog”. Not, “Oh well, the owner isn’t here but, yes, that is Spike’s dog food bowl and, yes, that is Spike’s dog house.”
Fellow citizens and legislators, please take this message as an opportunity to draft some meaningful ordinances that will protect children playing at a public park. And, for that matter, anywhere. Write an ordinance that punishes a person who allows his dog to bite a human.
James Pader — Franklin, NC