Maine politician promises bill to address dine-and-dash behavior
AUGUSTA, Maine––Should dog owners be criminally prosecuted for leaving the scene of an attack injuring a human or another animal?
Oddly enough, no state legislature appears to have addressed hit-and-run dog-walking yet, nor even instances in which dog owners flee with dogs who have attacked a human or another animal while illegally running at large.
But dine-and-dash attacks, as dog attack victim advocates often call hit-and-run bite and mauling cases, have surfaced as a November 2018 political issue in Maine state senate district 15.
Boxer attack raised discussion
Explained Danielle Waugh, of New England Cable News in Newton, Massachusetts, “Last summer, Cynthia Roodman [of Gardiner, Maine] was walking through a parking lot when she noticed a group of six adults and two dogs, both boxers. Both boxers looked at her and lunged. They began biting her ear, head, arms and hip. She remembers thinking she was about to die. The dogs’ owner ran over to them and separated the boxers, but then fled the scene,” along with the five people the owner was with. Roodman was left on the ground alone, bleeding and scared.
“Witnesses to the attack came running toward her and called 911. One person was able to get the dog owner’s license plate as the vehicle left the parking lot. Police tracked down 40-year-old Steven Graitzky of Bowdoinham and seized the dogs.”
“Under state law, he did nothing illegal”
Both boxers were eventually euthanized. Graitzky was fined $250 per dog for allowing them to attack Roodman, “but faced no criminal charges. Under state law, he did nothing illegal,” Waugh said.
Added Kennebec Journal reporter Jessica Lowell, “To date, Roodman’s insurance company has paid out about $4,000 for her medical care; she said her share has been $1,200. Griatzky was ordered to pay restitution, but Roodman said she said she’s not sure she’ll get anything.
“During the last legislative session,” Lowell noted, “state lawmakers approved L.D. 858, “An Act to Strengthen the Law Regarding Dangerous Dogs.” As of August 1, 2018, the law established definitions for nuisance and dangerous dogs, increased the fine and penalties for owning such a dog, and for not following a court order related to that dog,” but the new law includes nothing to prohibit dine-and-dash dog owner behavior.
Humane Society Waterville Area
The provision of the new Maine law pertaining to not following a court order pertaining to a dangerous dog responds to the alleged theft of two impounded pit bulls from the Humane Society Waterville Area on October 24, 2017 by the pit bulls’ owner, Danielle Jones.
The pit bulls remain at large. Jones was allowed to walk the pit bulls just after the Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld a Kennebec District Court order that the pit bulls, named Bentley and Kole, should be euthanized for repeatedly injuring humans and other dogs.
Humane Society Waterville Area executive director Lisa Smith resigned on October 26, 2017. Under new management, about two-thirds of the dogs offered for adoption by the financially struggling shelter are pit bulls.
Politician promises bill––maybe
The lack of legislation responding to dine-and-dash dog owners recently attracted the notice of Republican state representative Matt Pouliot, of Augusta, the state capitol.
Reaching the end of his state house of representatives term in 2018, Pouliot is now in a tight race with Democrat Julia Kellie to succeed Republican district 15 state senator Roger Katz, also a Republican.
Pouliot on October 19, 2018 won a burst of favorable publicity by pledging, if elected, to introduce a bill to make leaving the scene of a dog attack a class C felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The hypothetical bill as yet has no co-sponsors. No other Maine politician, so far, has spoken up in favor of it. But with dog attacks increasingly often doing damage comparable to serious vehicular accidents, the lack of legislation obliging dog owners to take responsibility to the same extent as car drivers has become a glaring gap in public safety law.
For drivers, summarizes the legal information web site NOLO.com, “The penalties for felony hit-and-run can be quite severe. Most states impose fines of between $5,000 and $20,000. And there is very real potential for incarceration as punishment for a felony hit-and-run. Depending on the nature of the accident and the injuries that resulted, in some states a felony hit and run is punishable by up to 15 years in prison.”
Ironically, laws also protect pets and pet owners from hit-and-run driving.
Elaborates another leading legal information web site, LegalMatch.com, “Generally, states consider pets as property. If a pet is injured or killed from your driving, you are required to stop, try to notify the owner, and call the police. If you don’t do either, then you could be charged with leaving the scene of a hit-and-run.”
Occupy Maul Street
The dog attack victim advocacy web site Occupy Maul Street published the first known attempt to quantify dine-and-dash incidents in 2007, at http://occupymaulstreet.blogspot.com/2013/07/pit-owner-dine-and-dashes-becoming.html.
“A variety of techniques can be used during a dine-and-dash,” Occupy Maul Street began, “from blatantly hauling ass, to giving phony names and offering a worthless promise to pay medical and veterinary bills. Sometimes the reckless owner will traffic the animal to another locality to avoid euthanization. There have even been cases where serial dine-and-dashers have plagued a region for months, intentionally siccing dogs on victims while using a pre-planned exit strategy to disappear during the ensuing shock and mayhem.”
“White dog” tactic
This, called the “white dog” tactic, was a favorite ploy of the Ku Klux Klan to discourage racial integration of neighborhoods. Pit bulls trained to attack dark-skinned people on sight would be released from a van near any black people seen in a white neighborhood, would wreak mayhem for a few minutes, and would then either be whistled back to the van or be abandoned as the van occupants fled.
This tactic was used in classic KKK format in Calgary, Alberta, Canada as recently as 2009. Two little girls and two older men were severely mauled. One suspect was apprehended and successfully prosecuted. Several others, though identified by law enforcement, avoided prosecution by fleeing the jurisdiction.
“No legal incentive to stay”
“By fleeing the scene,” continued Occupy Maul Street, “the owners escape financial liabilities, citations/fines, and the possible euthanization of their fur-babies. The crazy legal twist about the dine-and-dash is that there is no criminal penalty for leaving the scene of a dog attack in most cities. The owner is merely looking at the fines from a bite citation even if caught, so there is no legal incentive to stay.”
Electronic searches of the ANIMALS 24-7 archives on fatal and disfiguring dog attacks on humans and other animals indicate that dog owners flee the scene of about one attack in five occurring outside of a home or under other circumstances where the identity of the owner is not already known to the victim’s family.
Nearly half of dine-&-dash cases involve pit bulls
ANIMALS 24-7 identified 556 cases in which the owner of a dog identified as having bitten a person or other animal to serious effect fled the scene, and 464 cases in which the incident was described as an “attack,” presumably more severe than a “bite.”
The dogs involved were identified by breed in 77% of the “bite” cases and 85% of the “attack” cases.
The breed involved was a pit bull in 48% of the “bite” cases and 45% of the “attack” cases, or at about 10 times the rate at which pit bulls occur in the U.S. dog population at large.
Other breeds commonly identified included Rottweiler, mentioned in 11% of the “bite” cases and 12% of the “attack” cases, while making up less than 2% of the U.S. dog population; Labrador, mentioned in 9% of the “bite” cases and 10% of the “attack” cases, while averaging about 5% of the U.S. dog population; and German shepherds, mentioned in 8% of both the “bite” and “attack” cases, while making up about 2.5% of the U.S. dog population.