Florence dog attack leads to first “Emily’s Law” investigation

FLORENCE, Ala. – A tragic 2017 dog attack in Jackson County changed the way the Alabama court system punishes owners of vicious animals. “Emily’s Law” was passed by the state legislature this past session and went into effect on June 1st. The first investigation under this new law is happening right now in Florence.

Late last week, police say Rose Holt was in her yard when two pit bulls attacked her. Investigators say they escaped their enclosure just two houses away.

Capt. Brad Holmes

“This is something we in law enforcement have dealt with for a number of years, and our answer prior to “Emily’s Law” is that generally speaking a dog bite or a vicious attack is a civil matter,” explained Captain Brad Holmes with the Florence Police Department.

According to Capt. Holmes, they are conducting the first “dangerous dog investigation” in the state.

“Emily’s Law lays out a clear course now for us to be able to prosecute cases; for us to be able to determine whether or not an animal is dangerous before an attack happens.”

Holmes says if a citizen feels unsafe after contact with an animal, Emily’s Law allows police to investigate even before an attack happens. They then bring their findings before a judge.

“The court has one of two options,” said Holmes. “The court can decide the animal is not dangerous and return it to its owner, or and this is prior to an attack, a court can determine that the animal is dangerous and if the court decides that, then there are a number of things the owner has to do.”

Those guidelines are specifically outlined in the law:

  • The dog must be spayed or neutered.
  • The dog must be microchipped.
  • The dog must be kept in a locked pen that not only has four sides, but a top and a concrete bottom (or fencing that extends at least 2 feet into the ground).
  • The owner must pay an annual $100 dangerous-dog registration fee.
  • The owner must secure a $100,000 surety bond that provides coverage for dog bites, injuries, or death caused by the dog.

Capt. Holmes went on to say, “If during, or prior to the case going to court, the owner signs a release to Animal Services the case stops and the animals are humanely euthanized. This set of events does not preclude the victim(s) from seeking a civil claim against the dog owner.”

Under the new law, criminal charges apply only after a judge has deemed the animal as a danger and it attacks, or the owner knew the animal's tendencies and didn’t take proper precautions to keep it confined. Both incidents can lead to felony charges.

Rose Holt is still recovering in the hospital from numerous bites.

Holmes added, “This specific case involves two dogs, one of the animals is in the custody of the Florence/Lauderdale Animal Shelter. The second animal which was shot during the attack by a bystander, has been transported outside our county for treatment and efforts will be made to transfer that animal to our custody upon completion of treatment.”

A date has not yet been set for a hearing with the dog's owners.