On February 1, 2010, 5 dogs attacked a mother and her 4 children who were walking to the park, in the city of Fontana, California. The dogs were 4 pit bulls and one mastiff. All 5 family members were injured. One child is on life support and is in critical condition today, and another has 237 staples in a leg. The dogs had escaped from their owner’s backyard, having dug holes under the fence. The attack on this family was not provoked.
The police and prosecutors say they are looking into the matter, and have not decided whether criminal charges will be filed. As far as I can see, however, they don’t have to look very hard to find the criminality here. There were too many dogs, they were of breeds known to be powerful, vicious and dangerous, and the dog run or the fence around the yard was not maintained properly. All of that adds up to criminal behavior, and it should be punished in a manner commensurate with the severe impact on this unfortunate family.
Certainly if you have this many dogs, of these breeds, you have to take extra measures to confine them. Don’t we all know that there are laws against dogs trespassing, against dogs running at large, laws that require dogs to be leashed, and laws that require kennels to be licensed? The responsible dog owner appreciates that more than casual measures must be taken to protect the public from dogs like these — this number of dogs, and these breeds.
Even if the victims live, the owner of the dogs that attacked this family should be prosecuted under section 399 subdivision (b) of the Penal Code, which states: “If any person owning or having custody or control of a mischievous animal, knowing its propensities, willfully suffers it to go at large, or keeps it without ordinary care, and the animal, while so at large, or while not kept with ordinary care, causes serious bodily injury to any human being who has taken all the precautions that the circumstances permitted, or which a reasonable person would ordinarily take in the same situation, is guilty of a misdemeanor or a felony.”
There are studies which establish that a group of dogs is more dangerous than just one of them. Additionally, we all know that dogs which were created for the specific purpose of violence pose a danger of violence. This does not mean that all pit bulls require extermination, but rather that people who own them must devote sufficient time and energy to taking care of them, and keeping the neighborhood safe from them. I don’t have a problem with the dogs, but with their owners. Put 5 dogs like this together, and you have mischievous animals if you don’t confine them effectively; allowing them to dig under the fence is the equivalent of keeping them without ordinary care. I would prosecute this attack as a felony under section 399 subdivision (b) because there are far too many instances of these dogs hurting people in recent years, implying that this dog owner needs to be made an example of.
If a child dies here, the dog owner should be prosecuted for involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter contemplates “negligent acts which are aggravated, reckless and gross and which are such a departure from what would be the conduct of an ordinarily prudent, careful person under the same circumstances as to be contrary to a proper regard for human life [or] danger to human life or to constitute indifference to the consequences of such acts….” Let’s get this straight: it was not an accident that these dogs dug their way out of their owner’s dog run or back yard. It was the owner who put the fence there, the owner who decided it would be cool to own that many pit bulls and a mastiff, and therefore the owner who had to safely confine them at his own peril. By putting up a flimsy fence and not checking to see whether the dogs were digging under it, the dog owner was negligent, his behavior was reckless, it was an extreme departure from how a sensible member of the community would conduct himself, and it indicated a disregard for human life. That would make it involuntary manslaughter if this child dies.