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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  • by barb Location: nashville on Jan 24, 2012 at 06:10 PM
    while walking my dog.a pit charged us and seriously hurt my dog and bit me. i had to call daily from wisc. to see what was happening. i was told because the man wouldnt open his door nothing could or would be done. my daughter was a witness and went to file a vicous dog report. they finally got the dog and euthed it. to them it was case closed. this was not the first time the man surrendered a dog due to fighting.
  • by Christi Location: Clarksville on Oct 21, 2009 at 10:53 PM
    We have a problem with dogs that are repeatedly loose in our neighborhood. They have attacked smaller animals that they consider prey. The police haven't even bothered to fill out reports for many of these incidents. A small dog was viciously attacked while tied up in its owner's yard by two dogs running loose. The police were called, but no report is available on the incident. Less than 2 months later the same dogs are loose again and attack and kill my cat just steps from my front door. The officer did not even plan to cite the owners until I insisted. A report was done that time, but I feel only because I said I would press this civilly. I would not have even found out about the previous incident if I did not canvas the neighborhood for previous attacks. I have made my position clear by posting a sign and flyers asking for info. and a petition to get these dogs euthanized as they have attacked more than once with escalating viciousness. Both attacks occurred in the early afternoon.
  • by CHARLES H KNAPPEN Location: SEVIER COUNTY on Sep 30, 2008 at 09:31 PM
    MY WIFE WAS ATTACKED ON 09/29/08 ANIMAL CONTROL WAS NEVER CALLED OR AN AMBULANCE WAS NEVER SUMMONS OUR DOG A PEDIGREE WAS KILLED AND MY WIFE WAS BITTEN SHERIFF DEPT. LET THE OWNER TAKE THE ACCUSED ANIMAL HOME WITH NO CHARGES AT ALL I FEEL THAT THE ANIMAL THAT ATTACKED SHOULD BE HELD FOR THE INVESTGATION OF RABIES I ALSO FEEL LIKE THE COUNTY FELL SHORT OF DOING THEIR JOB. WE'VE SUFFERED A GREAT LOSS AND COMPLETELY IGNORED AS VICTIMS OF THIS ATTACK.THE DOGS WERE BEAR HUNTING DOGS AND WERE LET LOOSE. THEY TRIED TO BUST DOWN THE SCREEN DOOR TO GET TO MY MOTHER INLAW THEN PROCEED TO VISCIOUSLY ATTACK MY WIFE AND FAMILY PET. WHAT RIGHTS DO I HAVE IN THIS MATTER AND WHY WAS THE ANIMAL THAT ATTACKED ALLOWED TO LIVE WITHOUT PENALTY OR THE OWNERS AOLLOWED TO GO ON HUNTING A ANIMAL THAT ATTACKED A HUMAN BEING WHERE IS THE END OF OUR SUFFERING AND WHY DOES MY EIGHT YEAR OLD SON HAVE TO CRY HIS SELF TO SLEEP EVERY NIGHT AN ANIMAL THAT WAS RAISED WITH HIM
  • by Al Location: Knoxville on Nov 19, 2007 at 04:10 PM
    I have a pet dog, and he is never off the leach when outside. Any dog that attachs anyone, no matter what the circumstances should be put to sleep. If they attach one they will attack another.
  • by Stacy Location: Knox on Nov 14, 2007 at 12:27 PM
    Yes,and what we law we have in Knox is not enforced.I would hope all citizens of Tennessee would go to www.dogbitevictim.com and do whatever it takes to get stronger laws in Tennessee.
  • by Judy Location: Rogersville on Nov 13, 2007 at 11:22 PM
    The dog laws are not inforced enough. I live in a subdivision in the county. Dogs run loose on everyone property. One dog that gets out is a pit bull, which bit a child last week. There 2 more that get out and one of thos attacked two women that walk each evening. Nothing has been done about either one of these situations. The human soceity says they cannot do anything because it is in the county, the police may be called but still nothing is done. People living in a subdivison having animals dogs or cats should have to keep them up. My cars have gotten scratched up from neighbors cats, the owners have been told about this and showed the damage but the cats are still out, and nothing is done. Animal laws should be more strict.

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