Dog attacks spur General Assembly bills; James City asks state delegation to take up 'alpaca loophole'

Staff Writer

After five dog attacks in three months in the upper end of James City County, Del. Brenda Pogge (R-James City) and State Sen. Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) have proposed two bills in the General Assembly in an attempt to empower victims and curtail future attacks.

In the last three months of 2018, there were at least five dog attacks in James City County alone, Norment said.

“It’s not just a single isolated situation,” Norment said. “You can see between that period of Oct. 12 and Dec. 20 there were five separate attacks, obviously it’s a problem.”

Pogge has proposed a bill, HB 2257, to allow a judge to assess emotional distress damages for victims of dog attacks.

“Brenda and I have received over 50 letters from households in Colonial Heritage, both our staffs have met with several of the residents out there who wanted to share personal experiences with us,” Norment said.

Those experiences include regular harassment by dogs at large and two maulings that killed residents’ pets.

Norment has proposed a bill, SB 1367, that defines the definition of a pack of dogs and enables cities and counties to adopt a local ordinance to prohibit packs of dogs and assess civil penalties as high as $100 per dog found.

While the fines are limited to a “very, very modest amount,” Norment said, he sees the legislation as a pioneering attempt to solve the problem over time.

“Sometimes you have to incrementally work on the legislation,” Norment said. “I think it’s a good starting place.”

The proposal exempts any dog running at large in a pack if it’s engaged in hunting or an organized dog-handling event with its owner.

For Pogge, the personal tales from victims of the attacks helped her craft her proposal.

“I met with the citizens of Colonial Heritage a few weeks ago, a couple of the women whose dogs were ripped to shreds in front of them are still suffering,” Pogge said of a Dec. 18 town hall meeting with residents of the community. “It comforts them knowing there’s more to do, to come to closure on the case and that they are not paying out of pocket for the therapy that they’re going to need.”

Both Pogge and Norment praised James City County Supervisor Sue Sadler for her help and perspective on the issue from the local level.

Pogge has also said she will carry legislation that will change the state definition of livestock after another dog attack was dismissed in Williamsburg-James City County General District Court due to a loophole.

On Oct. 17, 2018, James City County police officers were called to the 100 block of Jolly Pond Road for a dog attack, according to police department spokeswoman Stephanie Williams said.

Three alpacas were injured in the attack — one seriously, according to Williams.

Animal control seized the two dogs, a mastiff mixed-breed and a pit bull mixed-breed, involved in the attack, Williams said.

When the case went to court, it was dismissed due to a loophole in the state definition of livestock, according to Williamsburg-James City County General District Court Records. Animals in the genus of Lama are included in the definition, but alpacas are not.

“This came about from a court case that I attended,” James City County Supervisor Michael Hipple said of the dog attack. “I watched two dogs viciously attack my brother’s animals. If I hadn’t of been there, they more than likely would have killed those animals that day. It wasn’t until we got to court that we found out that there was this technicality.”

Hipple asked his colleagues on the James City County Board of Supervisors to amend their legislative agenda to include a request to legislators to close the loophole.

“They took them all the way down and had them on the throat and was killing the animals when I was throwing rocks and sticks at them,” Hipple said. “Even after going through court and two videos of this, the judge then decided there was a technicality of how the animal is considered. That’s how the two dogs in question were turned back to their owner.”

Hipple’s request was unanimously approved by supervisors at their meeting Tuesday.

Pogge’s bill waits for a referral to a legislative committee as of Friday, and Norment’s bill was referred Friday to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources.

Pogge said she filed a bill to close the alpaca loophole.

“If there’s a technicality, I don’t blame the judge for the technicality, but after watching the attack and watching what happened and hearing the animals screaming while they’re being (dragged) down, it’s something I don’t want to see again and it’s something I don’t want to have happen to any of my neighbors as well.”

Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at srobertsjr@vagazette.com and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.

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