Augusta Co. Family Backing Bill to Change Definition of Dangerous Dog

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Joyce and Mark Bentz's dog, Sidney Joyce and Mark Bentz's dog, Sidney
Sidney, a 7-year-old German Shepherd-Hound mix Sidney, a 7-year-old German Shepherd-Hound mix
Joyce (left) and Mark (right) Bentz Joyce (left) and Mark (right) Bentz
59th District Delegate Mark Fariss 59th District Delegate Mark Fariss
Yvonne Griffin, personal injury attorney Yvonne Griffin, personal injury attorney

A bill making its way through the state’s General Assembly would change Virginia’s definition of a dangerous dog. This proposed bill would allow law enforcement more leeway to decide which dogs are a danger to their community.

It’s getting the backing of Joyce and Mark Bentz, an Augusta County couple who says the change could have saved their dog from being put down.

The Bentz family made the difficult decision last week to put down their seven-year-old German Shepherd-Hound mix after a judge declared it dangerous due to prior reports of a nip and a small bite.

“We were shocked, it was so quick,” said Joyce Bentz. “We couldn't say anything, we couldn't give our side. All the judge focused on was he had two bites.”

“I don't believe that the dog's history is something that should have resulted in the dog being put down or declared a dangerous dog,” said Mark Bentz.

Joyce Bentz still talks about her companion, Sidney, in the present tense.

“He is a great dog. He is one that's been easy going, has always rolled with our lifestyle,” Joyce Bentz said.

Sidney has been by Joyce and Mark’s side since they brought him home from a shelter in 2009. Now Sidney's bed is empty and his partially chewed bone and water bowl wait for a dog that won't come home, all because of a bite.

“He just went and kind of went to the leg, grabbed the leg, and, I admit, the bite was not pretty,” Joyce Bentz explained.

A bill in the General Assembly would give more leeway to animal control officers to review each circumstance. Dogs would not be considered dangerous for a single nip, scratch, or minor bite.

“I just hope that it makes the judicial system run smoother and gives the ability of the animal wardens to take action they deem as necessary,” said 59th District Delegate Matt Fariss (R).

Personal injury attorney Yvonne Griffin says she handles about three to four dog bite cases a year.

“The major part of this is the fact that they have given the dog the benefit of the doubt for those little, sometimes... things that happen with a dog, that don't inflict major injuries,” Griffin said.

The Bentz family believes this change to the law could save other owners from going through the loss of their dog.

“This law would have definitely preserved Sid's life because it would have given, we hope, the animal control officer the leeway to assess the situation,” Joyce Bentz said.

The bill passed unanimously in the house. It is now being reviewed by the Senate.

The Bentz family is working to educate their neighbors about the dangerous dog law - even handing out flyers explaining Sidney's story.

The proposed bill is below.

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