October 3, 2014

"In complete disregard of the unfortunate truth that not all dogs are like the beloved Lassie, a vicious dog has been granted a pardon by the highest court of this State."

Wrote Justice Allen H. Loughry Jr., dissenting from an opinion by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, that let a pit bull terrier off on a technicality.
The dog’s troubles stem from a biting incident last year when an animal control officer responded to a complaint about Major and another dog at the home of Bluefield resident Estella Robinson, according to the court’s opinion. A municipal judge directed that the city kill the dog, citing a city ordinance that authorizes the destruction of dogs deemed “vicious, dangerous or in the habit of biting or attacking persons.”

Ms. Robinson, who last year pleaded guilty to having a dangerous animal, claimed that the municipal court’s death sentence clashed with a state dog regulation that says only circuit and magistrate courts may decide the fate of an allegedly dangerous canine. The state’s highest court agreed with her.

“A municipality seeking an order to kill a vicious or dangerous dog must do so in circuit or magistrate court,” wrote Justice Menis E. Kethum in the opinion....

Justice Loughry said he loves animals — recalling his “fond memories of [his] childhood companion and faithful dog, ‘Bozo,’ — but said he’s not blinded to “the sad reality” that some dogs are dangerous and vicious.
Bozo... Lassie... Either a court has jurisdiction or it doesn't. Everyone knows some dogs, like some people, are heartless bastards, but if the state wants to deprive the worst of us of life or liberty, it has got to follow the right procedures.

Rereading that last sentence, I see 2 important points I must make.

1. When a dog is a heartless bastard, it's almost surely the fault of the person who raised it (not necessarily the current owner). And maybe when a person is a heartless bastard, it's also some other person's fault. Who deserves to die, when it's heartless bastards all the way down?

2. Loughry decorated his opinion with remarks about Bozo and Lassie, but he had his analysis on the jurisdictional issue too:
While the majority acknowledges the statutory authority of municipalities to enact ordinances, it cavalierly disallows the enforcement of such ordinances in municipal courts simply because a statute allows for counties to seek the destruction of vicious dogs in either magistrate or circuit court... [W]ill the majority’s ruling be relied upon in the future to strip municipal courts of their power to enforce other ordinances, such as those involving assault and battery and hate crimes, merely because there are statutes that also authorize the prosecution of such matters in either magistrate or circuit court?
The West Virginia legislature could easily fix this problem and make the municipal court's power explicit, but now they'll have to do it while the dog lovers are staring right at them. Loughry attempts to rebalance the empathy:
Will the confusion created by the majority effectively sanction future and potentially fatal attacks by vicious dogs upon unsuspecting children as they walk to school within a city’s limits? Will an elderly couple be mauled by a vicious dog in their front yard as they rake leaves?
And I see 2 follow-on points after #2, supra:

1. It almost sounds like the dogs are reading the opinion and deciding to rampage. There was never a judicial opinion so clear that it wouldn't confuse a dog. Or, really, no judicial opinion, not even the most confusing absurdities of a jurisdictional kind, would confuse a dog. (This is the iconic cartoon that depicts how a dog experiences the laying down of the law.)

2. I love Loughry's selection of victims for his what-if questions: the unsuspecting children walking to school and the elderly man and wife raking leaves in their own yard. And the dogs are just "vicious." There are plenty of people who — nice and not-so-nice, engaged in wholesome activities or not — get bitten because  they do something that scares a dog who's generally more or less reining in his beastly propensities.

40 comments:

Bob R said...

How did the case get this far? Why didn't they just go to the proper court as soon as the issue was raised? Dog double jeopardy?

Anonymous said...

Re: "the municipal court’s death sentence clashed with a state dog regulation that says only circuit and magistrate courts may decide the fate of an allegedly dangerous canine."

I understand they "Claim" this, and the court agreed, but does the law in question actually use the word "only" or is it an interpretation?

Schorsch said...

Individual and breed temperment can overwhelm a good dog owner's efforts. I'm a biologist, and I spend my days trying to encourage very "simple" animals (insects) to behave under laboratory conditions. Even their tiny personalities frustrate my desire for consistent results.

While I have yet to discovery politics or law the insects understand, I keep my judicial decisions in re my dog simple: "Good dog!" or "Bad dog!"

Anonymous said...

More importantly: where does The Puparrazo stand on this?

Anonymous said...

And maybe when a person is a heartless bastard, it's also some other person's fault.

Only if you accept a priori that people are by default good, and that only evil is an aberration while goodness comes naturally.

Which is nonsensical.

Bob Ellison said...

Yeah, dogs can be jerks, too. I have three of them right now, and one is an angel, one is a ditz, and one is going through personality-control issues.

Bob Ellison said...

Chickens, by the way, can also be jerks. We have twelve hens and one rooster. The rooster is huge and has impressive claws, but he's really a nice guy. Crows a lot, but doesn't attack. He's a little henpecked.

Most of the hens are nice as well, but one of them (can't tell which 'cause they're all Rhode Island Reds) keeps attacking me when I go in the coop. I don't think she means to be evil; she just does what comes naturally to her.

David said...

Cats. Don't forget cats. Cats always want unequal time. If you are a bird a cat is a dangerous terrorist. Who will protect the birds from the cats? The silly dogs rarely do.

Anonymous said...

Everyone remembers Lassie but no one remembers the Son of Sam's neighbor's dog. That was a dog who could get things done.

sojerofgod said...

"Well everyone knows cats are the handmaids of Satan"
-Homer Simpson

Bob Ellison said...

Alpacas, on the other hand, can be difficult. One's noisy and spitty, another's quiet but won't take any crap from anyone, including the nearby ram.

Geese, on the third hand...

tim maguire said...

The article is annoyingly silent on the details of the "attack." But if the statute declines to give authority to the municipal court, then how is it confusing for this court to deny jurisdiction to the municipal court?

I had to laugh at "Will an elderly couple be mauled by a vicious dog in their front yard as they rake leaves?"

"I will keep trotting out my parade of horribles until somebody agrees I'm right and gives me what I want."

bleh said...

I think of a vicious dog as a weapon that, unlike a sword or gun, the owner can't actually control. That's how the authorities and the courts should view them too.

The fact that owners have a sentimental attachment to them doesn't change that.

Anonymous said...

Like unsuspecting children and elderly people didn't have it coming.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

@Bob Ellison, if you can't tell them apart, how do you the hens aren't taking turns at attacking you?

In the big city, the dogs are generally friendly and the people are mean. In smaller towns and rural areas, the people are friendly and the dogs are mean.

Fernandistein said...

When a dog is a heartless bastard, it's almost surely the fault of the person who raised it (not necessarily the current owner).

"People like Robinson are legally allowed to force their “pets” to endure such stressful and inhumane situations that it is no wonder dogs act out."

Bob Boyd said...

"And maybe when a person is a heartless bastard, it's also some other person's fault. Who deserves to die, when it's heartless bastards all the way down?"

Courts do take personal history of human perps into account in sentencing.
Sometimes all you can do is break the chain.

Bob Ellison said...

Left Bank of the Charles, that is a very good question. Maybe I should put electronic tags in them and a camera on the coop. The Secret Service could probably help.

Kelly said...

Dogs can be assholes, mine is a major one. I never trusted her around children of any age or even most people. There is a reason why some dogs are "rescues". I know why mine was, many times I was tempted to dump her somewhere. They're animals in the end, although people with purse dogs may not realize that.

Fernandistein said...

tim maguire said...
The article is annoyingly silent on the details of the "attack."


See the link I posted...

Anonymous said...

He would have an opinion on this matter.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

with a state dog regulation that says only circuit and magistrate courts may decide the fate of an allegedly dangerous canine

I think we may need the text of the statute, but on the face of it this seems pretty straightforward--either the text of the law confines that power to courts higher than municipal or it doesn't. The fact that this case got this far suggests the text says something about the power belonging in the circuit and magistrate courts and doesn't address municipal courts, leading to the ambiguity being adjudicated. I am not a lawyer but I would think there should exist standard rules for interpreting situations like this where the text does not specifically address one court's jurisdiction (or situation) despite specifically addressing other related courts' jurisdictions (or situations)--what is the standard interpretative method (if one exists) and why could that not simply be applied here?

gerry said...

Individual and breed temperment can overwhelm a good dog owner's efforts.

Schorsch's 07:44 observation is completely accurate.

My wife, who is an expert in these matters, would also agree.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

tim maguire said...The article is annoyingly silent on the details of the "attack."

On March 6, 2013, the City of Bluefield's Animal Control Officer, Randall Thompson, responded to [Petitioner] Estella Robinson's residence at 1025 Wayne Street in Bluefield, West Virginia in reference to a complaint of a dog running at large and another dog having inadequate shelter. Id. at l. Upon Officer Thompson's arrival, he met with the [Petitioner] and inquired if the dog that was tied would bite and the [Petitioner] advised him that it would. Id. The dog then broke loose from its chain and attacked Officer Thompson, biting him on both of his hands. Id. The officer sustained injuries serious enough to require medical attention. Id.

dreams said...

We'll see if the law is ultimately the law in this case.

http://cnsnews.com/mrctv-blog/craig-bannister/judge-irs-obamacare-rule-arbitrary-capricious-and-abuse-discretion

Bob Boyd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bob Boyd said...

"It is a fact of common knowledge that when a dog has once acquired the habit of egg-sucking there is no available way by which he may be broken of it, and that there is no calculable limit to his appetite in the indulgence of the habitual propensity. And generally he has a sufficient degree of intelligence that he will commit the offense, and return to it upon every clear opportunity, in such a stealthy way that he can seldom be caught in the act itself.
What else was there reasonably left but to kill the animal?"

Mississippi Supreme Court, Hull v. Scruggs, 2 So.2d 543, 1941.

http://www.inversecondemnation.com/inversecondemnation/2009/12/to-kill-an-eggsucking-dog.html

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ok, I think I may have it.

W Va Code § 19-20-20 says Upon satisfactory proof before a circuit court or magistrate that such dog is vicious, dangerous, or in the habit of biting or attacking other persons or other dogs or animals, the judge may
authorize the humane officer to cause such dog to be killed.

So it doesn't say anything about municipal courts.

The City of Bluefield has Ordinance § 4-49 says No person shall own, keep or harbor any dangerous animal known by him to be vicious, dangerous, or in the habit of biting or attacking persons, whether or not such dog wears a tag or muzzle, and upon satisfactory proof that such animal is vicious, dangerous, or in the habit of biting or attacking persons, municipal judge may order any police officer or the animal control officer to cause such animal to be killed.

So on the one hand you've got a state law that mentions only circuit and magistrate courts when discussing who has the power to kill dogs, and on the other hand you've got a city statute that gives that power to a municipal judge. I can understand that conflict, and the argument would seem to be about what the state law needs to make explicit and how much leeway to give city or county law which doesn't exactly align with state law (and what level of scrutiny should be applied to conflicts between them, etc).
If I'm correct that this is the actual question before the court it seems wrong to focus so much on, you know, dogs.

iowan2 said...

Dogs that bite sould be immediately restrained, then led behind d the barn and shot.
It's an animal for Christ's sake

Skeptical Voter said...

Iowan2 may well have grown up in rural America where sentiment does not always control dealings with animals.

A vicious dog is a problem and a danger not only to strangers, but also to the owner and his or her family. I'm aware of a case in my neighborhood where a pair of Rottweilers escaped from their owner's yard, and while roaming around attacked and killed a miniature poodle being walked by a 12 year old girl. The owners argued against destruction of the Rottweilers saying they were "really good dogs". The owner's argument prevailed. Sixteen months later one of the Rottweilers attacked and killed the owner's two year old granddaughter. Karma can be a Rottweiler b#tch. Iowan2's solution to such problems is correct.

Birkel said...

Althouse:
Who deserves to die, when it's heartless bastards all the way down?

Somewhere in the wilderness The Crack Emcee is answering that question. The answer is "white people".

David said...

Kelly said...
Dogs can be assholes, mine is a major one. I never trusted her around children of any age or even most people.


My dog is as sweet as they come. Has never bitten anyone in 9 years, greets everyone as a friend. But she likes to play with small toys, pretend to attack them and carry them around in her mouth.

No dog is reliable around a infant or very small child. If there is an infant or small child around I restrain the dog. That's an invariable rule. I cringe when I see the cute videos of dogs interacting with babies.

Mary Beth (the commenter) said...

Two can corso dogs in Michigan attacked and killed a jogger in July. The dogs had bitten people before.

The owners are facing second degree murder charges. (And are in the US illegally.) This article has an explanation from animal control as to why they didn't do anything about the dogs after previous attacks. It doesn't make sense to me and I think they (animal control) should also be held responsible for the man's death.

In the original news story about it, a neighbor quotes the owner as saying that all of his animals are aggressive.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Dogs that bite sould be immediately restrained, then led behind d the barn and shot.
It's an animal for Christ's sake"

This.

The Crack Emcee said...

"Everyone knows some dogs, like some people, are heartless bastards,..."

Huh? What are you talking about? It's a fucking dog. What's next? Thoughts on their banking habits?

I can't shake my head this violently without risking trouble:

Stop making me do it,...

The Crack Emcee said...

"Dogs that bite are dogs."

FIFY.

Do you guys really not get this? I can (kinda) understand why whites don't get race, but the idea that dogs aren't people? That they aren't "assholes" because they can't form such thoughts, and biting is one of those things they do because A) they have a mouth full of teeth and B) they don't have hands?

Is everyone really so juvenile they can't help but anthromorph canines?

Next you'll be telling me sharks are suffering "really bad moods" when they attack,...

The Crack Emcee said...

I, for one, would (almost) never kill a dog for being a dog - or any other animal for that matter. I think, if you get bit, it's usually your own fault for not respecting the animal AS AN ANIMAL. (All these people talking as though dogs possess human characteristics are a fine example of the problem.) Why kill any animal for being an animal? Because you got hurt? Sorry, but the dog can't be an idiot:

Only a human can do that,...

Bob Ellison said...

Talons and spurs. That's what a rooster has, not claws. Been bugging me all day that I wrote "claws".

tim maguire said...

Thanks Ferdinande and HoodlumDoodlum. Sad to say, but it does sound like this particular dog needs to go. If it's the owner's fault, then the owner should be punished as well. But in addition to, not instead of.

tim maguire said...

FYI David, you are teaching your dog that the baby is an opponent, an enemy. You are teaching it to be hostile to infants.