"This is like firing the opening volley that we're coming after the vicious dogs,” Republican Del. Brenda Pogge of James City said Tuesday.
About 50 residents in Colonial Heritage gathered to hear Pogge’s positions on dog laws in the county and to pressure her to act and stymie future dog attacks in the Lightfoot subdivision.
Pogge told the assembled residents she would carry a bill to the General Assembly that would allow victims of dog attacks to seek emotional damages in court.
“What I have chosen to file is a piece of legislation that will give the judges the ability to assess the damages for emotional stress,” Pogge said. “Because that's such a logical and reasonable request, I think that's one we can actually get passed, but I'm going to need your help.”
Pogge asked residents to contact other area legislators, as well as members of the committee where the bill will be assigned. She asked residents to give testimony in Richmond when the time comes, but after the bill is filed and assigned she asked them to email legislators, “So you can start yanking their chain.”
The exact language of the bill has not been hashed out yet, Pogge said. The General Assembly’s Division of Legislative Services has until Dec. 30 to word the bill as Pogge requested.
For residents, the move was a good-faith step in the right direction, but far from what they hoped Pogge would bring to the General Assembly’s six-week session.
Colonial Heritage resident Ralph Thomas said the law as it stands does not properly punish owners of dangerous dogs.
Thomas said the dogs face the consequences far more than the owners: dogs can be euthanized, whereas owners face a small fine, even if they have have multiple dogs deemed dangerous by the court system.
"We need to strengthen criminal penalties,” Thomas said. "What's funny is the way this is written is that it's based on what the dog is declared. Not what the owner is declared...It should be the owner if they're a subsequent offender.”
For Connie Sullivan, the conversation over legislative change is far too late.
Her dog Lucy was killed in 2016 by a dangerous dog. She’s convinced that even after the two dog attacks in the neighborhood there will be more victims if the system doesn’t change.
"I believe there will be future victims,” Sullivan said before pointing to perceived weakness in the state’s code. She said elected officials needed to do more to protect residents.
“When you have people in positions to do something and they don't follow through that becomes a very big problem,” Sullivan said. “Repeatedly, I asked Animal Control to take that dog in. My neighbor who lives right across the street from me could have been killed. That dog should have been taken in two years ago.”
While residents push for more, at least one other legislator in Williamsburg has said he’s looking into the issue.
“At this point, my office is investigating every one of these instances,” Del. Mike Mullin (D-Newport News) said. “We hope to be able to help the community in Colonial Heritage to find a solution to this so that no animal or person is under threat in the near future.”
While the legislative fix could still die in the General Assembly, Pogge promised she’d push her colleagues in the majority and work with other delegates and state senators to pass her emotional damages bill.
“I'm going to do everything I can do to make sure this is passed with a majority in both houses,” Pogge said.
Roberts can be reached at 757-604-1329, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SPRobertsJr.