Wednesday, 29 February 2012 10:56

When Dogs Bite

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When Dogs Bite

What can happen if my dog bites someone?  I have been asked that question numerous times over the years.  I will try to cover the most important facts in this brief article. Hopefully you will never be placed in this situation.  After all…you are in control and as long as you pay attention to your dog’s behavior this will only be something you hear about that happens to other people and their dogs!

First, when a dog bites a person, three things happen simultaneously.  A requirement to place the dog into a rabies quarantine to ensure that the dog could not transmit rabies to the bite victim; next, a determination is made on whether there is a justification for processing criminal charges (yes, it can be against the law for your dog to bite); and, finally, should the dog be declared a “Dangerous Dog” and either regulated or euthanized.  I’m going to skip the rabies quarantine as that is a fairly simple process and is usually done while the dog remains at home.  Don’t forget your civil liability too!  That is when the victim might sue you in civil Court.  You can lose your home over a dog bite.

Criminal Charges

Under County ordinances, it is illegal for a person to “fail to prevent” their dog from “biting or attacking” a person “engaged in lawful activity” (SDCC 62.669.1).  Therefore, depending on how the bite occurred, it could be a violation of law.  As an example, if a person is walking down the street and your dog is at large and bites the person, which is not only a leash law violation, but also a public protection from Dog’s violation.  On the other hand, if a bad guy breaks into your home and your dog bites him, there is no violation because the victim was not “engaged in lawful activity.” Be sure you don’t confuse someone entering your property to approach your front door with an “unlawful act”.  Just because someone comes onto your property that doesn’t mean you can hit him over the head with a base ball bat and it doesn’t give your dog permission to bite that person! These are both misdemeanors which could get you 6 months in jail and a $500.00 fine. But it can get worse!  If your dog has bitten previously or you should have known your dog had a propensity to bite and he bites again causing substantial injury, under State law you could be charged with a felony.

Dangerous Dogs

County ordinance specifies that when a dog bites or attacks a person (engaged in lawful activity), twice in a four year period, that dog can be declared to be a “Dangerous Dog.”  If, after investigation, it appears that the circumstances justify moving to declare a dog dangerous, the owner will be notified of the intent to do that and provided an opportunity for a hearing to determine whether the department can prove the allegation.  If proven at hearing, the department normally imposes certain specific terms for the continued ownership of the dog.  These terms typically include a requirement to maintain liability insurance; approved fencing; altering; special licensing; muzzling the dog when in public; and other similar requirements.  However, in severe cases, especially when the owner has demonstrated an unwillingness or inability to safely keep the dog, the dog may be ordered to be euthanized.  Luckily, this is rare.

The bottom line?  It is your responsibility to keep your dog safe and not put your dog in a position where he/she thinks he/she must protect you or your property.   If your dog bites someone, it is probably your fault.  You either failed to take precautions or you placed your dog in a no-win situation.  So be your dog’s guardian, and protect your dog.  That’s your job!

Dawn Danielson, Director

County of San Diego Department of Animal Services

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