On June 8, Flower Mound Pecan Acres resident Melanie Brissette took her 13-year old chocolate lab, Beau, on a walk with her daughter, Olivia, and the family’s young rescue Lab puppy, Belle, in her neighborhood. It was Beau’s last walk.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a pit bull running toward us,” said Brissette. “He knocked me down on my back, I hit my head and it attacked Beau. I tried kicking the dog and was screaming for help. Olivia ran with Belle and hid on a porch. The pit bull stood over Beau and I ran to the house where I’d seen it chained in a side yard and the woman came and pulled the dog away.”
Brissette called her husband and they took Beau to the vet, but he was in such pain and he was so old that the only humane choice was to put him down. Brissette’s two children also witnessed the whole attack; the seven-year-old has started getting some therapy.
Following the initial attack, Animal Control arrived in approximately five minutes and took the pit bull into custody from the neighbor, whose home was a temporary housing situation. The dog actually belongs to the boyfriend of the neighbor’s daughter. The couple had been staying at the house to save up money to be able to afford an apartment.
“The pit bull has been deemed ‘dangerous’ and the owner has not responded to Animal Control requests or appeared at the hearing,” said Brissette. “They haven’t apologized or anything. In the meantime, the owner’s being fined for each day the dog is there. Apparently, an owner may request the dog back for a $100,000 fine.”
Dog Bite Prevention Week was May 19 to 25. It’s sponsored by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), along with the Humane Society of America and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to educate people about the dangers of all dogs; not just the visibly vicious ones.
According to the USPS, more than 4.5-million people are bitten annually– and it can take less than 10-seconds for a dog to attack to happen. More than 12,000 pets, pet owners or both suffer from dog bites each day. This spring, a female veteran was mauled by a group of dogs in Dallas and died from that attack.
“In May of 2016 we had 12 reports of dogs biting people, but only four reports of cats biting people and only one of a dog biting a dog,” said Flower Mound Police Captain Wess Griffin. “We had 102 dogs biting humans reported to us for the calendar year 2015.”
Tragically, the AVMA and the American Academy of Pediatrics report that small children, the elderly and letter carriers, in that order, are the most frequent victims.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, dog attack victims now suffer up to $2-billion dollars annually and dog bites make up a third of all homeowners’ liability claims. It’s extremely unfortunate but true; a nice walk in the park can turn into one hundred stitches, a week of intensive care and thousands of dollars in hospital bills for you, a family member or a pet.
Recommendations for walking—with or without a pet—are: carry a dog-attack (or aggressive stranger) deterrent spray. The most effective, UDAP Pepper Power Spray was developed for protection from Grizzly Bears. It contains 10-percent pepper spray and produces a 15-foot protective cloud, not a thin spray. Guard dog security pepper spray is also a powerful deterrent.
However, Protector Dog Spray, Sabre Red Protector Dog Pepper Spray, SprayShield Animal Deterrent Spray and Halt Dog Repellent are Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered dog attack deterrent sprays with a range of up to 15-feet. They temporarily sting and close the eyes of the attacking dog. All effects reverse in just a few minutes leaving no injuries to the attacking dog and the necessary time to escape to safety. They are either pepper- or citronella-based. The deterrent sprays are available at stores, such as Petco, PetSmart or Walmart, or online.
“Walking is no longer safe in our neighborhood,” said Bisette. “Of all of the hundreds of kind people who reached out, a former neighbor with goldens [retrievers] helped us with trying to understand ‘why did this happen to Beau?’ by saying his last service on earth was to keep us safe.”
Flower Mound attorney Chuck Elsey of Elsey & Elsey Law Firm in Flower Mound said
Texas does not have an actual dog bite statute, but instead applies the “one bite rule,” where a person can be held liable for harm inflicted by a domestic animal. The “one bite rule” is based on “common law strict liability.”
Under the “one bite rule, a victim can recover compensation from the owner/keeper of a dog if (a) the dog previously bit a person, or acted as if it might and (b) the owner/keeper was aware of the dog’s previous conduct. Sans both of these conditions the “one bite rule” is not grounds for recovery.
If the “one bite rule” is not applicable, an injured dog-bite party may be able to recover damages based on negligence. The courts have held that an owner of an animal, even one with a non-aggressive past, can be subject to liability for the negligently handling of an animal.
Negligence is the absence of the kind of care a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstances. If a person’s conduct in a dog-bite scenario falls short of the conduct of an ordinarily prudent person, then that person may be held negligent.
To recover under a negligence dog handling claim, a person must prove (1) the defendant owned or possessed the animal; (2) the defendant owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent the animal from injuring others; (3) the defendant breached that duty; and (4) the defendant’s breach was the proximate cause for the person’s injury.
In addition to those causes of action, many local governing bodies like Flower Mound have specific laws requiring dogs to be on a leash and prohibiting them from trespassing on other’s property. In many cases the courts have held that violating such laws can form the basis for liability.
In Texas such a violation creates negligence per se. To prevail on a claim the person alleging negligence per se must show that there was a violation of a statute or an ordinance.
In some cases a person may be entitled to recover damages for injury to themselves and their dog.
The things the Brissette family value most are the fond memories of their loyal companion.