The Tennessee House of Representatives has by a vote of 88-4 concurred in a Senate amendment to H.B. 238. Under the amended version, it is a Class A misdemeanor for a person convicted of a violent felony to own, possess, or have custody or control of a vicious dog or a potentially vicious dog.
The bill now goes to Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen for his approval.
Under the final version "vicious dog" is defined to mean any dog that without provocation and off the property of the owner or keeper of the dog, has caused death or serious bodily injury to a person. The bill defines "potentially vicious dog" to mean a dog that may reasonably be assumed to pose a threat to public safety as demonstrated by any of the following behaviors:
(1) When unprovoked and off the property of the owner or keeper of the dog, inflicts a bite causing bodily injury to a person or domestic animal; or
(2) When unprovoked and off the property of the owner or keeper of the dog, on two or more separate occasions, chases, menaces or approaches a person or domestic animal in an aggressive manner or apparent attitude of attack.
This bill also states that a person will be able to raise an affirmative defense to a charge of having a dog that is not properly microchipped by presenting competent veterinary evidence that the dog was microchipped. This bill increases the time within which a person who is charged with having an un-spayed, un-neutered or un-microchipped dog may show compliance, 7 to 30 days from the date of the charge.
The provisions limiting ownership or possession of vicious or potentially vicious dogs by violent felons are modeled on a 2006 Illinois law. The idea is dogs may be less likely to be used and abused by fighters or others involved in criminal activity. Also, the new law, if approved by the governor, will give law enforcement tools to investigate criminal activity. A suspect with a history of violent crime who has a dog deemed to be vicious or potentially vicious in violation of this new law, gives police and prosecutors probable cause for searches or other investigation that can aid in efforts to stop animal fighting or abuse and other associated crimes such as illegal weapons and drugs.