Illinois becomes first state in the
nation to ban felons from owning or possessing unaltered dogs that
could be used as weapons
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Gov. Blagojevich signs legislation
toughening penalties against owners of vicious dogs that endanger
[JUNE 2, 2006]
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich signed new laws Wednesday toughening the
penalties for owners of vicious and dangerous dogs if their pets
attack someone. The laws also have the nation's first restrictions
banning convicted drug dealers and violent offenders from using dogs
as weapons, and include increased penalties for dog fighting.
"Dogs can make great companions,
but if they're not trained well or restrained, some dogs can also
pose serious threats -- especially to children," Blagojevich said.
"We've seen too many people seriously injured by dogs whose owners
allow them to act more like wild predators than pets. I'm pleased to
sign these new laws making it clear that dog owners will be held
responsible for their pets' actions -- especially if the animal has
been declared vicious or dangerous -- and the consequences will be
severe if an owner ignores their responsibility and someone gets
House Bill 4238, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Boland, D-East
Moline, and state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, increases the
criminal penalty to a Class 3 felony punishable by up to five years
in prison if the owner of a vicious dog fails to keep the dog in an
enclosure or fails to spay or neuter the animal and it gets loose
and kills or seriously injures someone. If the owner knowingly
allowed the dog to run loose or failed to take steps to keep the
animal in an enclosure, the offense is a Class 2 felony, carrying a
potential prison term of three to seven years.
The bill also makes it a Class 4 felony, carrying a sentence of
one to three years, if the owner of a dangerous dog has not complied
with orders regarding the dog and the dog inflicts serious physical
injury on a person or other animal. If the owner of a dangerous dog
fails to comply with any order regarding the dog and the dog kills a
person, the owner will now be guilty of a Class 3 felony, punishable
by two to five years in jail.
A "dangerous dog," determined by the Illinois Department of
Agriculture or local animal control, is a dog that poses a serious
threat or has, without justification, bitten a person, but does not
cause serious physical injury. A "vicious dog," determined by
circuit courts, is a dog that, without justification, attacks a
person and causes serious physical injury or death or has been found
to be a "dangerous dog" on three separate occasions.
Dangerous and vicious dog attacks in Illinois have led to serious
injuries and even death.
November, six children were reportedly attacked in the village of
Cary by three pit bulls, and in
2005, a 14-year-old died after being mauled by four dogs near her
home in the northwest town of Erie.
"This bill started nearly a year ago, with the death of a
14-year-old girl named Lydia Chaplin, who lived in a rural area near
my district," said Boland, who sponsored the legislation in the
House. "This is a proposal to take a 'bite' out of the root causes
for violent dog attacks by holding dog owners responsible should
their dog attack. I believe this legislation provides a solution
that promises a better future for both the public and for pets."
"Dangerous dogs are a threat to public safety," said Harmon, who
sponsored the legislation in the Senate. "With this new law, we send
the message that owners of dangerous dogs will face real
consequences if their dogs threaten our children and families."
"The tough new penalties in this law should provide added
incentive for dog owners to do the right thing and have their pets
spayed or neutered," said Dr. Colleen O'Keefe, division manager of
Food Safety and Animal Protection for the Illinois Department of
Agriculture. "Dogs that have been 'fixed' generally are more docile
and less likely to attack. Plus, sterilization helps to control the
pet population, reducing the number of potential strays."
House Bill 4238 also:
Clarifies that pet
owners may be held liable for damages in
civil court if their pet,
without provocation, attempts to attack, attacks or injures
Removes a $50 cap on
the fine that counties may levy on the owners of dogs that are
caught running at large in unincorporated areas. Counties
themselves now may decide the appropriate amount of those fines.
Allows judges to
impose an extended prison term if a defendant, while committing
a felony offense, directed an animal to assault a policeman or
used an animal to further the criminal activities of an
Blagojevich signed into law two
other pieces of public safety legislation, including the pioneering
restrictions on dog ownership by felons.
House Bill 2946, sponsored by state Rep. Jerry Mitchell,
R-Sterling, and state Sen. William Haine, D-Alton, prohibits felons
convicted of forcible felonies, felonies under the Humane Care for
Animals Act, Class 3 felonies under the Illinois Controlled
Substances and Cannabis Act, Class 3 felonies under the
Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act, and felonies
under the Deadly Weapons Statute from owning a dog
that has not been spayed or
The bill also prohibits these felons from owning any dog that has
been declared vicious or dangerous. Additionally, dogs owned by a
felon must have a microchip inserted under their skin for
identification. These prohibitions take effect upon the felon's
release from custody and last for a period of 10 years. Violations
of this law are Class A misdemeanors.
"We in the legislature became aware of the problem of drug
manufacturers keeping dangerous dogs in order to have those dogs
attack law enforcement officers as they perform their duties," said
Haine. "This bill will give law enforcement and prosecutors another
tool to fight these criminals who hold no regard for others."
"This legislation makes sure that felons will no longer be able
to turn man's best friend into a nightmare for law-abiding
citizens," said Mitchell. "I am very proud to be a part of its
implementation, and I think it will make a difference to all of us."
"HB 2946 prevents convicted felons, who already cannot possess
firearms, from using intact or unsterilized dogs as weapons to
terrorize their community," said Ledy VanKavage, director of legal
training, legislation and outreach for the American Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "Unsterilized dogs were
responsible for 89 percent of the fatal dog attacks last year.
Studies have shown that intact canines also are responsible for the
majority of bites nationwide. The ASPCA commends Governor
Blagojevich and the Illinois General Assembly for their proactive
approach to addressing this important public safety issue."
House Bill 4711, sponsored by state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia,
D-Aurora, and state Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, increases various
penalties for dog fighting. Attending a dog fight is now a Class A
misdemeanor for a first offense, carrying a sentence of up to one
year in jail, and a Class 4 felony for any subsequent offenses,
carrying a sentence of one to three years in prison. Bringing a
child younger than 13 years old to a dog fight is now a Class 4
felony for the first violation, and it is a Class 3 felony
thereafter, punishable by a sentence of two to five years in jail.
The bill also permits criminal courts to infer that a dog fighting
violation has occurred if a defendant possesses a dog and dog
fighting equipment, and it requires any evidence seized in dog
fighting cases to be kept and provided to police agencies for
"We've heard a lot about vicious dog attacks in the news
recently, but we haven't heard about one of the underlying causes of
dog attacks -- dog fighting," said Chapa LaVia. "Frequently, dogs
are trained to be vicious by owners who wish to use their animals in
dog fights, and what's worse is that a lot of dog fights have
connections to street gangs. I introduced this legislation to crack
down on this cruel blood sport and to help eliminate an illegal
revenue stream fueling violence in our community. I applaud Governor
Blagojevich for recognizing this severity of this problem by signing
House Bill 4711 into law."
"Strengthening law enforcement's ability to intercede in dog
fighting rings will make our streets more secure," said Martinez.
"Increasing the penalties for exposing children to such extreme
violence will help ensure that children are shielded from such
horror and not encouraged to watch it. I'm confident that our
communities will be safer places to live and raise families when our
concerns about dog fighting violence are alleviated."
House Bill 4238 becomes law immediately. The other two bills take
effect Jan. 1, 2007.