Maddox’s dog bill signed into law

Published 11:40 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012

GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL signed the Georgia Responsible Dog Owner Act on May 3 in Atlanta. Witnesses included, left to right, Atlanta attorney Claudine Wilkins, State Representative Gene Maddox, Cindy Wiemann and Davis Cosey of the Georgia Animal Control Association.

Special to The Post-Searchlight

On May 3, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law the “Georgia Responsible Dog Owner Act,” which was the signature piece of legislation for retiring State Rep. Gene Maddox.

“I was thrilled to be there to see the governor sign this bill. I’ve been working on it for the last two-and-a-half years,” Maddox said.

The Georgia legislator’s efforts were spurred by the death of 5-year-old Cheyenne Peppers, who was killed by dogs in her backyard in Thomasville, Ga., in 2009.

At the urging of Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell, Grady County Sheriff Harry Young, Decatur County Sheriff Wiley Griffin and representatives of the Georgia Animal Control Association, Maddox began work crafting the new law and guided it through the legislative process.

“At one point on the last night I wasn’t sure if we were going to get it out of the Senate or not,” Maddox said.

Officials say the new law addresses deficits in Georgia’s antiquated Dangerous Dog laws. The law holds owners of dogs responsible for the actions of the dogs.

“If we have saved one life as a result of this law, then our work was not in vain,” Maddox said.

Under the new Georgia law, a dangerous dog is one that causes a substantial puncture wound to a person, or aggressively attacks, posing an imminent threat of serious injury to a person, or kills a pet while off the owner’s property.

Once classified, a dangerous dog cannot be off the owner’s property unless he is under the immediate physical control of a person capable, when necessary, of preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal or is in a locked cage or crate. Some exemptions were made for working, hunting and predator control dogs, according to Maddox.

The law defines a vicious dog as one that seriously injures or kills a human, and in some cases, a judge can order euthanasia for a vicious dog. Under the new Georgia law, vicious dogs must be microchipped, cannot be left unattended in the presence of a minor and cannot be sold or transferred unless it is to be relinquished to a government facility or veterinarian to be euthanized.

Owners of vicious dogs must maintain a minimum of $50,000 dollars of liability insurance, and no person may own more than one vicious dog. The law further stipulates that persons convicted of certain felonies are prohibited from owning vicious dogs.

Maddox points out that you must be 18 or older to own a classified dog and only one per domicile is permitted. Owners of classified dogs must notify animal control and register within 10 days of becoming a resident.

A dog owner could face at least a year in prison and at least a $5,000 fine if the dog injures someone on a second occasion. An owner would be guilty of a high and aggravated misdemeanor on the first offense.

On May 4, the day after the law was signed by Gov. Deal, Maddox was honored at the first National Dog Bite Investigation, Treatment and Prevention Conference presented by the Georgia Bar, cosponsored by Children’s Health Care of Atlanta, Georgia Veterinary Medical Association, Prosecuting Attorney’s Counsel, among others.

Also in attendance was Atlanta attorney Claudine Wilkins, who helped Maddox in the drafting of HB 685.

According to officials, every year around five million people are bitten by dogs in the United States. About 800,000 are bitten badly enough to require medical attention.

“This is an important piece of legislation, and I appreciate Gov. Deal signing it into law. It took a lot of hard work and I am proud to have gotten it through the General Assembly before my term is up,” Maddox said.

Maddox, who has served since 2005, will not seek reelection when his term expires Dec. 31, 2012.

This article originally appeared in The Cairo Messenger and is re-used with permission.