Illinois passed a law effective January 1, 2007 that bars certain felons from â€œknowingly own[ing], possess[ing], hav[ing] custody of, or resid[ing] in a residence withâ€, â€œunspayed or unneutered dog or puppy older than 12 weeks of ageâ€ or â€œany dog that has been determined to be a vicious dogâ€ under the Stateâ€™s new dangerous or vicious dog law. Â§720 ILCS 5/12-36
"Vicious dog" means a dog that, without justification, attacks a person and causes serious physical injury or death, or any dog that has been found to be a "dangerous dog" upon 3 separate occasions. Â§510 ILCS 5/2.19b
"Dangerous dog" describes a dog that is loose and â€œposes a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to a person or a companion animalâ€. A dangerous dog is also a dog that â€œwithout justification, bites a person and does not cause serious physical injuryâ€. Â§ 510 ILCS 5/2.05a.
The law applies for 10 years from the release from prison or jail to anyone convicted of felonies including cruelty to animals and drug crimes.
It certainly cannot hurt to ban these felons from owning unspayed/unneutered or vicious dogs. Dogs that are not spayed/neutered tend to be more aggressive. In fact, 91% of fatal dog attacks involve dogs that have not been spayed/neutered. Research cited in a 2000 Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association Â study indicated unsterilized dogs are 2.6 times more likely to bite.
Thus, the spay/neuter provisions, in particular, may have some effect on the ability of gangs and other criminals to fight dogs or at least breed or train them for fighting. Chicago police have reported a dramatic increase in dog fighting. Dog fighting is now a favored form of gambling by gangs.
The new lawâ€™s effectiveness will depend on enforcement against gangs and other dogfighters. The standard to be declared a â€œvicious dogâ€ under Illinois law is high, though. It is unlikely a dog owned by a dogfighter or drug dealer will be declared dangerous 3 times. The risk of keeping such a dog would be too high. Nonetheless, the law may affect the ability of many to keep â€œmeanâ€ dogs as status symbols.
It is no secret that having a â€œmeanâ€ dog has become a status symbol with some young men. The hip hop culture has certainly promoted the image of a â€œmeanâ€ dog as desirable. Interestingly, a just released study suggests people with â€œviciousâ€ or aggressive dogs tend to have engaged in some illegal activity. Moreover, those owners with vicious dogs who had been cited for failure to register or keep the dog confined on the premises are more than 9 times likely to have been convicted of a crime involving a child, 8 times more likely to have been convicted of drug crimes, and 3 times more likely to have been convicted of a domestic violence crime. These owners were compared with people with less aggressive dogs that have been licensed.
The study involved researchers from the University of Cincinnati and was published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Illinois, at least, has started the process of trying to save dogs from the cruelty of felons intent on using them for fighting or symbols of a violent counterculture.
by Laura Allen for the Animal Law Coalition