Are Tennessee's Dog Bite Laws Too Lax?

By: Mike McCarthy
By: Mike McCarthy

Knoxville (WVLT) - This latest dog attack has some saying Tennessee's dog laws just aren't doing enough. Knox County Animal Control deemed the dogs that killed Jennifer Lowe dangerous in August. That's after they injured another neighborhood dog. Animal control also says owner Charles Smallwood confined the dogs as required by Tennessee law.

Volunteer TV's Mike McCarthy's been looking into the law all day.

How does it measure up? Another Knox County dog bite victim says they're nowhere near good enough, and she has the scars to prove it.

Her bruises have healed.

"It was black, blue, green, purple, a huge circle with four puncture wounds...1,2,3,4," dog attack victim Lisa McMahan said.

But Lisa McMahan's scars are more than skin deep.

"If I hear a large dog, I'm turning around in all directions to hear where it's coming from," McMahan said.

Last June she walking near her West Knox County home. That's when...

"A black lab came barreling through the invisible fence and into the street and bit me," McMahan said.

She says nothing happened to that dog. Monday, pit bulls killed 21-year-old Jennifer Lowe. She lived with the dogs in this Hardin Valley trailer, and Knox County Animal Control says the dogs were confined as required by Tennessee's Laws.

"It's a joke. It's worthless," McMahan said.

Under the law....

"If the dog's on your property and it's your dog, you're responsible. If it gets off the property, it must be on a leash. Must be on a leash," said Dave Head, director of Knox County Animal Control.

If a dog bites someone and has up-to-date rabies tags, animal control officers have some discretion for what happens.

"If it can't be contained in that area safely, then the dog goes with him," Head said.

But...

"We've got 26 counties that don't even have animal controls or shelters...out of 95 counties," Head said.

"You figure you're going to pay an animal control officer 24,000 dollars, and you've got a vehicle, you're looking at 100,000 a year and the smaller counties are strapped for money," state senator Tim Burchett said.

State Senator Tim Burchett also says the laws are lax, ut...

"We're right in there with other states. These other states are the same thing," Burchett said.

Just this July Tennessee made dog owners civilly liable for attacks on their property.

"It used to be the owner of the property didn't have any liability," Burchett said.

McMahan says her bit marks are proof that's still not good enough. There's exclusions to that change in Tennessee's law. Those include if someone's trespassed or has provoked the dog. Knox County Animal Control also says a court order has to be involved before they can euthanize a dog for attacks. Officers say that's not the case in every state.

We tried to contact People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and some other animal groups, but our phone calls haven't been returned.


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