Bites worse than barks?


Crimes that involve dogs aren’t treated too differently from those that involve humans. When Blackberry, a 9-year-old Labrador, attacked a neighbor dog, police collected details from witnesses and medical experts. A court date was arranged for August 16. And the defendant, Crozet resident Rich Olin, began thinking about his defense.

“The vet said that Blackberry has a low thyroid, and that could be associated with aggression in some dogs,” says Olin, who adds that Blackberry has not been a problem since. “I’m hoping to get a note from the vet, and that might help the case.”

In 2007, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services launched an online registry for dangerous dogs, where convicted owners must list their home address and dog’s name. Since 2008, Albemarle County Police have arrested 38 people for possession of a dangerous dog, peaking last year at 12.

“There are no trends that we see as it relates to vicious or dangerous dogs,” says Sergeant Darrell Byers. To his knowledge, he adds, there are no dogfighting rings in Albemarle County.

The dangerous dog registry lists 11 Albemarle County owners and one Charlottesville owner. Albemarle’s dangerous dogs are scattered, save for two neighboring pooches in Scottsville. (They were separate incidents.) They have names like “Moose,” “Trina,” and “Cappuccino.” And, if convicted for possession of a dangerous dog, Olin will add Blackberry to the list.

“We were pretty surprised that she attacked this dog,” says Olin. “It was really pretty vicious.”

Olin, however, does not mean “vicious” in legal terms. The Albemarle County General District court will hear evidence and determine whether Blackberry is “dangerous” or “vicious.” If the former, then the Labrador will be required to wear special tags and remain confined while on her owner’s property—either indoors, or in an enclosure. Outside Olin’s property, Blackberry would have to remain leashed and muzzled at all times. If it’s the latter, then the dog will be euthanized.

“I’d certainly understand if it was a dog that attacked a person,” says Olin. He adds that a dog versus dog fight shouldn’t mean the death penalty for his pooch. The court will take up Blackberry’s case later this week.