Virginia Unveils Dangerous Dog Registry

Ginger is one marked mutt in the state of Virginia.

The female Australian Cattle Dog mix is among nine dogs featured on the state's newly unveiled Dangerous Dog Registry, an online database that allows residents to monitor threatening pets living inside the state.

In Ginger's case, a scrap with a neighbor's dog prompted local animal control to declare her a dangerous stray and require her owners to register the animal.

"Another little dog was walking in front of the house at the time," Jennifer Daly, Ginger's owner, told ABC News. "Ginger took off after her like a squirrel."

The Web site was mandated by the state's general assembly in 2006 and was prompted by a pair of high-profile fatal maulings -- one of a toddler, the second of an 82-year-old woman.

The registry, described by the state as "similar in concept to the Sex Offender Registry," requires local officials to provide various information about a pet if the animal is ruled dangerous.

Beyond registering the dog, pet owners must take additional strides to protect neighbors from possible attacks, including posting signs, confining animals in proper enclosures and outfitting their pets with special tags and markings.

That's not all. Owners of dogs marked dangerous must maintain a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance for the animals and must provide renewed insurance information to the state every year as long as the dog is alive. The animal must wear a muzzle if not on the owner's property.

Citizens Split on Registry

Though only nine dogs across the state have been registered since the Web site launched about a month ago, the state expects the number of offending dogs to climb as local animal control officers familiarize themselves with the new registry, according to Elaine Lidholm, a spokeswoman for Virginia's agriculture and consumer services department.

Lidholm acknowledged a split opinion about the new policy, which took more than a year to travel through the Virginia Legislature.

"About half of the people are saying this doesn't go far enough. The other half is saying the sate has overstepped its bounds," Lidholm told ABC News. "The opinions are divided and they're diametrically opposed."

Lidholm also said she had heard from some residents who said they would euthanize a dog before being required to register the animal.

More than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly 800,000 bites require medical attention, half of which result in trips to the emergency room. About 12 Americans die each year due to dog attacks.

Canine-friendly organizations like the American Kennel Club and the American Humane society have voiced support for the Dangerous Dog Registry in that it is not breed specific.

"I'm eager to see the results a few years down the line," said Adam Goldfarb, a spokesman for the American Humane Society, who said his organization favored the registry's structure over blanket, breed-specific bans.

"The dogs aren't on here randomly or because of their breed," Goldfarb said. "They're on here because they either attacked someone or the owner showed themselves to be irresponsible. It's fair to inform community residents where the dangerous dogs are."

Lisa Peterson, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club, said well over 100 local communities and counties across the country have banned certain breeds, most commonly pit bulls. The American Kennel Club also supports the Virginia measure because it offers dogs "fair process" from local officials before a decision is made to add an animal to the registry.

But the organization raised concerns that a first offense may be a bit of a knee-jerk reaction for a designation that comes with such a broad range of pet owner restrictions.

Daly, whose house pet Ginger earned the scarlet letter for an isolated scuffle with a small dog, understands the purpose of the registry but said the lifetime nature of the status goes too far.

"Being a fairly young dog, with her having that label now, we can't take her to school and we can't take her anywhere to get trained," Daly said.

"Now, she's just sort of a labeled dog. There's no chance of parole," she said. "Life is a long sentence."

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