Animal people throughout the Metroplex have mobilized to help Steven Woods, a veteran disabled by an IED in Iraq, and his pit bull, Mimi. The outpouring for this deserving man is extraordinary but unfortunately the charges, and lack of resources to fight them, are not.
The story is now well-documented in the media. Woods and and his attorney, Randy Turner, told Dallas' Channel 33:
"In July, one of Woods' neighbors was bitten by a pit bull. His finger was injured. Investigators looked for the dog. Steven let them see Mimi. 'Three months later they seized Mimi and took her down,' said Randy Turner, Steven's lawyer. 'This time the victim went down there -- initially he said that is not the dog -- but then he changed his mind and said (Mimi) is the dog.'
Turner, who accepted Woods' case pro bono, tried to prevent Mimi from being declared dangerous, but the inconsistencies of the case and two-day trial failed to convince the judge to send Mimi back home. Now Turner has been trying to help his client meet the City of Fort Worth's dangerous dog requirements.
Turner is not failing to appeal because his client lives on disability, or because he does not believe he can win. Turner is not appealing because as he said in an e-mail, "I can’t appeal this ruling because of Loban v. City of Grapevine which held that, although the law provides for an appeal, there is no court in Tarrant County that has jurisdiction to hear the appeal." Higher court challenges to Loban have failed. Therefore, the decision is final.
Dangerous dog requirements are not designed to help people keep their dogs; they are designed to make people get rid of them. Few would disagree that when a dog has seriously injured a person without provocation that it should be destroyed. Pit Bull fanciers are probably more vocal than most in agreeing that dogs aggressive to people need to be euthanized.
However, state law allows a dog to be declared dangerous without harming or even touching another person or animal. Cities may -- and do -- pass even more stringent requirements. A dog can be declared dangerous, vicious or aggressive for acting menacing, or even chasing a cat. Minor or accidental injuries can be met with euthanasia as surely as major injuries.
Even if a dog owner can afford to take a case to trial, the requirements for keeping a dangerous dog in cities such as Fort Worth are too costly for most owners to meet. When Randy Turner put out the call for help, his client needed to come up with $500 annual registration fee, more than $500 in boarding fees, purchase $100,000 of liability insurance, put up a six-foot enclosure with a top, and spay Mimi. Otherwise, he will have to leave Mimi at the shelter to be euthanized.
At this writing, supporters appear to have raised enough money to get Mimi out of the shelter, but the authorities need to inspect Steven Woods' house.
Most people don't think of their dogs as being vicious or potentially dangerous, so they think that the law applies to someone else. Certainly Steven Woods, cuddling up with Mimi and his cat on the sofa, never envisioned ending up in court. Most people think that the justice system will serve them -- that if they are innocent, they will be made whole, and that if the judge makes a mistake there are always appeals.
Fort Worth's ordinance is new as of August, 2009. Cities regularly revamp their animal codes in Texas, and most people don't bother to read them or show up to city council meetings. Because most citizens think that the laws apply to someone else, they don't ask about unintended consequences or how to ensure due process when animal control officers and judges are human and make mistakes.
Read more about Steven Woods and Mimi and how to help: