- Created on 08 August 2010
- Last Updated on 17 March 2014
- Written by Fred M. Kray
- Hits: 1809
Dangerous dog laws are overbroad
A dangerous dog investigation can be initiated by the Sheriff's Department, Health Department, Code Enforcement, Animal Control or some other government entity. It just depends on how the state, county, or municipal law is set up. The purpose of "Dangerous Dog" laws is to protect the public from dogs that pose a threat to the safety and welfare of its citizens. The problem is that the law they are enforcing was usually written after a particularly bad dog bite incident and is over inclusive. These laws often ensnare dogs that are not dangerous, but because of a neighborhood feud or over inclusive definition they become involved in the dangerous dog process.
In many jurisdictions, a dog must euthanised if it severely injures or kills a cat or other domestic animal.
Dog kept without visitation
Further, such dogs are routinely immediately impounded by the government with no right of visitation pending the classification process and any appeals. This puts a lot of pressure on an owner to settle the case and accept a dangerous dog designation (assuming the penalty is not euthanasia) just so they can get their dog back home. This happens more often than not. Most clients just cannot bear the thought of their dog being at animal control or the shelter for the time it takes to go through the entire classification process and appeal which could take years.
That is one of the reasons that getting the dog back through a Writ of Replevin is imperative. Once the dog is back home, it really is of no moment to the owner how long the appeal takes. Some dangerous dog laws envision the dog being held by the owner, particularly when the injury caused is minor. If the dog caused a severe injury to a person, Replevin will not be an attractive option to the judge or the government attorney.
what stage are the proceedings?
The first thing you need to know is what stage in the proceedings are you getting involved in the case?
The normal progression of a dangerous dog case is (it will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction):
1. Dog is seized after complaint of dangerous dog behavior;
2. Government advises owner it is initiating Dangerous Dog Investigation;
3. Internal governmental decision is made to declare the dog dangerous;
4. Owner may request hearing to contest classification;
5. Informal Hearing is held before animal control, hearing officer, Code Enforcement Board, Dog Classification Board, or other entity (usually held within a short time-21 days);
6. Board makes finding to uphold classification of dangerousness;
7. Owner has right of "appeal" to the court system-usually only a record review, but sometimes a de novo hearing in county court.
Obviously, you can get a case at time within this system. I would say most frequently I get a case after the "Informal Hearing" where the dog has been declared dangerous. But you must review the applicable law to see where you are and what options are left open. I have also gotten a case the day before the "Informal Hearing" and getting it continued was a major problem.
owner must be objectively counseled
It is crucially important that you accurately counsel the client on what the law is, what kind of leeway exists penalty wise for the particular offense involved, how other cases have been treated, and what, if anything, you can do to help. In order to give this advice, you need to know whether there is any chance that there are due process or procedural issues that you can argue to overturn a finding of dangerousness. More often than not, it is in the client's best interests to accept a dangerous dog designation, pay the fine, and properly confine the dog. In cases where euthanasia is the penalty, it's fight or the dog dies.
If a dog has killed a child, the facts are clear and there was no provocation, there is not much you can do legally to save the dog, unless there are due process violations, or other problems with the way the legislation was passed. Before counselling the client, you need to know how likely it is that you will prevail on those issues (a very difficult thing to quantify). Obviously, the more severe the injury, the less likely you are going to be able to resolve the case. In such cases, a decision has to be made by the client early on, to what extent they are willing to fight the classification. If the client wishes to "go all the way" they need to be advised of the cost and likelihood of sucess. It is normal for the client to be emotional at this point, and want to pull out all the stops for defending the dog. As time and money goes on, this can change. I make it a point to talk about this issue many times during my representation. Also, things can change during representation: a new case decided, a new government attorney. As you gain more of an understanding of the constitutional issues, you may be better able to understand your legal arguments.