JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Pets are members of the family who we try to protect, but Action News Jax Ben Becker found out current laws that are supposed to protect you and your pet from a dog attack have more bark than bite.
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“He’s a little bit nervous because of the attack,” says Catherine Yelvington. She used to love to take her dog Coco for walks, but now they no longer feel safe.
Yelvington says a neighborhood pit bull got loose and attacked her and her dog. “I felt like I was on the ground screaming trying to get that dog off my dog and nobody was listening,” says Yelvington.
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The attack left Coco with bloodied fur and staples in his neck while Catherine received injuries to her chin, knees and elbows. Plus, to make matters worse, Yelvington had to pay the full cost of both of their medical bills.
Our Action New Jax investigation found that getting medical bills covered can be difficult and so is having someone cited for a loose dog or arrested for a dog attack.
In Duval County, for a simple citation you need one of the following:
-One affidavit with a video of what happened
-Two affidavits from two unrelated adult witnesses from different households
-Officer witnessing the violation
In Yelvington’s case, neighbors heard her screams and two witnesses filled out affidavits with the City leading to the dog owner receiving a citation for $255.
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“You obviously can’t cross-examine a pet,” said Action News Jax law and safety expert Dale Carson who says it’s very difficult to prove a pet owner intentionally used their pet to injure someone or even prove if the attack was simply an accident. “In Florida, the dogs that are a criminal liability for owners are dogs that have a known past for being aggressive.
According to the Florida Department of Health, Duval County received 1,197 dog bite reports since 2018.
As Action News Jax first reported in 2019, a bull terrier mix bit a woman who was running in the Donna Marathon. The dog owner received a citation.
Also in 2019, multiple pit bulls bit a 9-year-old girl. The owner received five citations.
In August a mail carrier was attacked and killed by multiple dogs. The owner is facing misdemeanor charges.
According to the dangerous dogs section of the Florida Statute, a dog owner can face either a First or Second-degree misdemeanor or a third-degree felony charge.
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Becker emailed the state attorney’s office to find out how many dog bite cases have been prosecuted. The answer was none in at least the past 12 years.
“So why have the law on the books,” Becker asked Carson. “There are many laws on the books that are not enforced,” said Carson. “The concern about victims of dog bites isn’t to see the owner of dog to go to jail, it’s to have their medical needs met”
It’s not the case for Coco and her owner who paid a $820.70 vet bill and her own bill of $1603.
“Now I’m terrified to walk my dog,” says Yelvington who is still paying in other ways. “I look over my shoulder no longer a nice pleasant walk with my dog.”
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Florida law says if you are bitten by a dog you have four-years to file a civil lawsuit. However, your dog has fewer rights because it’s only considered personal property and you can only recover the monetary value of the pet if it dies.