In Virginia, the question of whether or not Rover is as mean as he looks is a mouse-click away.
The Dangerous Dog Registry of Virginia, an interactive Web site operated by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, became operational July 1 after legislation from this year's General Assembly session warranted the monitoring point due to various attacks and deaths that were caused by dogs.
With an estimated 4.5 million Americans bitten by dogs each year, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the agency feels registries like this address the problem better than some pieces of legislation that have been drafted to ban certain breeds of dog such as rott- weilers and pit bulls.
HSUS issues specialist Adam Goldfarb says the larger purpose of a Dangerous Dog Registry is to identify animals with documented incidents or problems and is not to be a profiling service of problematic breeds.
"They are to inform a community of where the dangerous dogs are," said Goldfarb.
"Of course, it won't identify every dog because the dog has to commit a certain act to be considered or qualify, but it can be useful or informative for people who have their own dogs or have small children. If they see one of these dangerous dogs running loose, they may take things a little more seriously than they would if this was just a regular dog running loose."
The decision on what dog is listed actively on the Web site comes down to investigations launched locally by animal control officers or other law enforcement officials, according to information from the Virginia Web site.
Once a dog is placed in the registry, the animal must wear a specific tag on its collar and must also wear a tattoo or have an electronic identification chip placed under its skin.
The owner is also required to to keep the dog in a state-approved dwelling, post a sign on the property, have the dog spayed or neutered, and obtain a liability insurance policy valued at $100,000.
Goldfarb says all of the stipulations are relatively easy to obtain, except for the insurance policy.
"Our studies have shown that some insurance companies can turn you down for a homeowners policy just by the breed of dog you have," he said.
"For the most part, these steps are not excessive. These are dogs that have shown themselves to be dangerous by attacking someone or through repeated irresponsible behaviors from their owners."
Moreover, Goldfarb says the ultimate choice comes down to the breed of dog the owner chooses to own and if they plan to take the necessary steps in attention, training and care of the dog.
"When a person chooses to have a dog in their life, they have to be responsible for that dog. If their dog is determined to be a threat by the authorities, the public has a right to take steps to make sure it doesn't harm anyone."
If the problem becomes excessive, and the owner has not taken the proper, state-ordered steps to keep the dog confined or out of areas where it can get into trouble, other drastic steps have to be taken into account, Goldfarb said.
"After each situation is studied on an individual basis, there are some attacks that are so violent and severe, the dog needs to be euthanized," said the humane society official.
"There are other cases where it is borderline and the situation and the dog needs to be looked at and maybe given a second chance. Look at the factors like behavior modification or having an owner be more responsible."
The Dangerous Dog Registry of Virginia can be accessed at www.vdacs.virginia.gov/animals/dogs.shtml.