In 2002, according to the latest available statistics, a total of 485 domestic dog attacks were reported to the Zoonosis Control Division of the Texas Department of Health.
On Nov. 26, 2005, 76-year-old Lillian Stiles was riding a lawnmower in the front yard of her home in Milam County when she was attacked and mauled to death by a pack of six mixed-breed pit bull/Rottweiler dogs. The dogs had broken free of their pen behind a three-foot fence a few hundred yards away. Their owner, Jose Hernandez, was later found not guilty of criminally negligent homicide.
Since the attack, Lillian’s daughter, Marilyn Shoemaker, and her father, Jack Stiles have fought to pass Lillian’s Law, the legislation introduced in the House as HB 1355 by five authors (Gattis, Anchia, Naishtat, Delisi and Rose) and in the senate companion bill as SB 411, sponsored by Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso.
HB 1355 would charge a dog owner with a third-degree felony if the dog causes serious bodily injury to a victim in an unprovoked attack. A third-degree felony is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a possible $10,000 fine. The crime would be a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, if a victim dies a result of an unprovoked attack. The law also requires a dog owner to secure their dogs on their property even if the dog has not been declared dangerous.
On April 25, the House voted unanimously to pass HB 1355. On May 17, the Senate did the same for SB 411. On May 21, the final bill was passed 135-5 and sent to the Governor, who signed it June 15.
The effective date is September 1, 2007.
Lillian’s Law negates the “first bite” rule, which puts the onus on the victim of a domestic animal attack, and places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the dog owner if an attack is not on the owner’s property, the animal is not properly secured and warnings are not posted.
While this will never make up for the terrible loss suffered by Jack, Marilyn and so many others, it may at last give closure to the victims and their families and prevent similar injury in the future.
~by Keith Huntsman