A “dangerous dog law” is a law that sets forth what conduct of a dog and owner shall be illegal (including things like the dog being off leash, trespassing or being at large), establishes consequences for dog and owner, and provides reasonable rights of notice and hearing before the imposition of penalties.
This type of law can cover the entire range of unacceptable behavior, everything from biting to trespassing, running at large, or being walked without a leash. It is up to the particular jurisdiction to decide what the dangerous dog law should outlaw.
These laws may exist on the city, county and state level. They may contemplate court actions or local “dog court” hearings. Every city, county and state should have a dangerous dog law that provides sufficient protection to the community.
A dangerous dog law can exist side-by-side with the irresponsible dog owner law which is provided in the next section.
The following is a model dangerous dog law by Attorney Kenneth Phillips, the author of Dog Bite Law.
Model Dangerous Dog Law
by Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, author of Dog Bite Law (dogbitelaw.com)
This statute / ordinance and its sections shall be referred to as the Dangerous Dog Law.
For the purposes hereof, the following terms mean:
Animal control authority: an entity authorized to enforce the animal control laws of a city, county or state, whether acting alone or in concert with other governmental authorities. In those areas not served by an animal control authority, the sheriff or municipal law enforcement shall carry out the duties and have the privileges of the animal control authority under this Dangerous Dog Law.
At large: a dog that is not under restraint as defined below.
Dangerous dog: a dog that in this jurisdiction or another jurisdiction has (a) engaged in or has been trained to engage in exhibitions of fighting; (b) attacked a person or domestic animal without justification causing serious bodily injury or death; (c) behaved, on two or more occasions, in a manner that a reasonable person would believe posed an unjustified threat of serious injury or death to a person or domestic animal; or (d) committed a nuisance three or more times.
Nuisance: a dog that (a) damages, soils or defecates on private property other than private property owned or occupied by the dog’s owner, or on public walks and recreation areas unless such waste is immediately removed and properly disposed of by the owner; causes unsanitary, dangerous or offensive conditions; (b) causes a disturbance by excessive barking or other noise-making; or (c) chases vehicles, or molests, threatens, attacks, or interferes with persons or other domestic animals while the latter are on public property, irrespective of whether the dog is on private or public property.
Owner: a person who (a) has a right of property or custody of a dog provided that the right is not merely temporary; (b) keeps or harbors a dog other than temporarily; or (c) knowingly permits a dog to remain indefinitely on or about any premises occupied by that person. If the owner is under the age of eighteen, that person and his or her parents or guardians shall be deemed the owner for the purposes of this Dangerous Dog Law. If a dog customarily returns daily for a period of 7 days to a place, the occupiers of that place shall be deemed to be harborers and not temporary harborers.
Restraint: a dog shall be considered under restraint if it is (a) within the real property limits of its owner and securely confined thereon by a physical fence; or (b) on public property or a common area of private property and secured by a leash or lead no more than 6 feet in length being held by a person capable of controlling that dog. A dog that frees itself from its owner’s real property limits, a leash or lead, and a dog that is in a vehicle in a manner that would not prevent escape or contact with other persons or animals shall be considered to be not under restraint. In the event a dog is found running at large or not under restraint, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that its owner, harborer or keeper permitted it to run at large and consented thereto.
Serious bodily injury: laceration to or avulsion of the face of a human being, laceration to or avulsion of another area of a person’s body requiring sutures, broken or dislocated bone, permanent nerve damage, partial or total loss of use of a part of the body for a significant period of time, or disability of fifty percent or more for a significant amount of time.
Trespass: the presence of a dog upon real property owned or occupied by another where the latter has not consented explicitly or implicitly to the dog’s presence. The intent of the owner of the dog, and whether the dog is under restraint, shall be immaterial.
Vicious dog: a vicious dog is one that has been declared or found to be dangerous or vicious by the animal control authority or court of this jurisdiction or another jurisdiction.
2. Owner Responsibility
a. Every dog shall be kept under restraint at all times.
b. No dog shall trespass.
c. No dog shall cause a nuisance.
d. Every dog shall be identified at all times by a microchip or tag that states, at a minimum, the name and address of the owner of the dog.
e. A dog kept for the primary purpose of protecting livestock from predatory attacks shall be exempt from nuisance regulations when performing such duties on premises owned or controlled by the owner.
f. In determining whether a violation of any of these provisions has occurred, it shall not be a defense that the dog owner was free from negligence or had taken reasonable measures to ensure compliance.
g. A dog that that has been declared or found dangerous by the animal control authority or court of another jurisdiction shall be conclusively presumed to be dangerous in this jurisdiction. A dog that that has been declared or found vicious by the animal control authority or court of another jurisdiction shall be conclusively presumed to be vicious in this jurisdiction. No dog that has been declared or found to be dangerous or vicious in another jurisdiction shall be permitted to be present in this jurisdiction. As used in this section, “dangerous” includes “potentially dangerous.”
a. Any dog that is not under restraint shall be impounded by the animal control authority, and may be taken up by any resident provided that any resident who takes up a dog shall deliver it to the animal control authority within 24 hours of taking it up.
b. When a dog is not under restraint and its ownership is verified by the animal control authority, the animal control authority may exercise the option of serving the owner with a notice of violation in lieu of impounding the dog, provided that no such notice was served on the owner during the preceding 12 months.
c. Any dangerous dog may be impounded by the animal control authority, and shall be impounded if the dog is not under restraint. Animal control officers shall be entitled to enter private property for the purpose of impounding a dangerous dog. If a dangerous dog is injured or killed during an attempt to impound it, neither the animal control authority or any of its agents or employees shall be liable in damages therefor.
d. Immediately following the impounding of a dog, the animal control authority shall notify the person identified on the dog’s microchip or tag. The animal control authority shall have no obligation to determine the identity of the owner of a dog that does not have a microchip or tag that complies with this Dangerous Dog Law, provided that a general description of the impounded dog and the time and location of impounding are reasonably available to a person inquiring at the office of the animal control aurhority or on its web site.
e. If the impounded dog is not a dangerous dog, the animal control authority shall inform the dog’s owner of reasonable conditions whereby custody of the dog may be regained.
f. Dogs not claimed by their owners within a period of five full days in which the shelter is open to the public shall become the property of the county.
g. To claim a dog, the owner must pay the appropriate impoundment fee, fine, penalty or license fees, must attach to the dog a tag that complies with this Dangerous Dog Law, and must produce proof of current vaccination against rabies.
h. If the impounded dog is a dangerous dog, the animal control authority shall petition the court for a hearing for the purpose of determining whether or not the dog in question should be declared vicious.
i. If a dog is a dangerous dog as defined in section 1 hereof, and has not been impounded, any person, the district attorney, city attorney or the animal control authority may petition any court having jurisdiction in the county where the owner resides, or where the dog is owned or kept, for a hearing for the purpose of determining whether or not the dog in question should be declared vicious.
j. After the petition is filed, the owner of the dog shall be given notice as in civil cases that if the owner does not appear before the court and show cause why the dog should not be declared vicious, then the dog shall be declared vicious without the requirement of a hearing.
k. At the hearing to determine whether a dog is vicious, the court may admit all relevant evidence, including incident reports and affidavits of witnesses. There shall be no jury. The court may find, upon a preponderance of the evidence, that the dog is vicious and, upon such finding, shall make the orders authorized by this Dangerous Dog Law.
l. In the event that the animal control authority finds dogs to be suffering, it shall have the right forthwith to (a) remove or cause to have removed any such dogs to a safe place for care at the owner’s expense, or (b) euthanize them when necessary to prevent further suffering. Return to the owner shall be in the discretion of the animal control autority, and may be withheld until the owner shall have made full payment for all expenses so incurred.
m. A determination that a dog is not vicious at a certain point in time shall not prevent a determination that it is vicious at another point in time based on the dog’s subsequent behavior.
n. Disposal of a dog by any method specified herein does not relieve the owner of liability for violations and any accrued charges.
4. Vicious Dogs
a. Whenever a dog has been declared vicious, the court may make any order it deems appropriate, including, but not limited to, the destruction of the dog, but no court may order or permit the dog to be taken out of the jurisdiction.
b. If it is determined that a dog found to be vicious shall not be destroyed, the court shall impose upon the owner the conditions and penalties stated herein.
c. The dog shall be properly licensed, micro chipped, and vaccinated at the owner’s expense, prior to release to the dog’s owner or custodian.
d. The dog, while on the owner’s property, shall, at all times, be kept indoors, or in a securely fenced yard or enclosure from which the dog cannot escape, and into which children cannot trespass. It may be required that the dog be kept in an enclosure which is enclosed on all sides, with a top and a cement floor, and which is locked by a padlock. The yard or enclosure must be inspected and approved in writing by the animal control authority prior to release of the dog to its owner.
e. The dog may be off the owner’s premises only if it is (a) muzzled in a manner that its teeth cannot touch anything outside the muzzle, and (b) restrained by a substantial leash, not exceeding six feet in length, while the leash is held by an adult capable of restraining and controlling the dog. At no time may the dog be left unattended, even if muzzled, leashed or tied, while off the owner’s premises.
f. The owner of the dog shall immediately notify the animal control authority in the event the dog (a) is at large, (b) has committed an attack on any person or animal, (c) has been sold or otherwise disposed of, (d) has died, or (e) resides out of this jurisdiction.
g. The dog must complete an obedience course at the owner’s expense within 60 days after release of the dog to its owner. The course shall be a course approved by the animal control authority.
h. The dog must be spayed or neutered at the expense of the owner or custodian prior to the release of the dog to its owner.
i. When off the owner’s premises, the dog must wear a bright yellow collar or its leash must be bright yellow. The leash or collar must (a) be visible at 50 feet in normal daylight, and (b) state “Vicious Dog” in black lettering at least one inch in height, and repeated on the leash or collar at intervals of no more than two inches. The coller or leash may be provided by the animal control authority at the owner’s expense.
j. The owner of the dog shall be required to maintain general liability insurance covering property damage and bodily injury caused by the dog, with a combined single limit of $300,000.00 per occurrence, and may be required to show proof of such insurance within 30 days after the court has made its determination.
k. All fines and all charges for services performed by the animal control authority pursuant hereto shall be paid prior to the release of the dog to its owner, or the dog shall be destroyed.
l. The owner of a dog which has been determined to be vicious shall pay a fine not to exceed $500.00 for each separate basis upon which said determination was made. Said fine shall be paid to the animal control authority for the purpose of defraying its costs.
m. The owner must give written notice of the vicious dog determination to United States Post Office (local branch) and all utility companies which provide services to the premises where the dog is kept. The owner shall provide a copy of such notice to the animal control authority within 30 days after the court determination that the dog is vicious.
n. At least five (5) days before the dog is returned to the premises of the owner, the owner must give notice to the victim, if the victim lives or normally travels within 500 feet of the owner’s premises, stating where the dog will be kept in the future, and the date when the dog shall return to the premises. Additionally, the written order of the animal control authority shall be attached to said notice.
o. The owner of the dog shall post one or more signs on the premises at a location(s) approved by the animal control authority stating that a vicious dog resides on the premises. The size, wording, color, number and placement of the signs shall be determined on a case by case basis by the animal control authority.
p. The owner of a dog which has been determined to be vicious may be prohibited from owning, possessing, controlling, or having custody of any dog for a period of up to three years, if the court finds that (a) the owner previously was in possession of a dog that was determined to be vicious, (b) the owner was in possession of more than one dog declared to be vicious, (c) the owner violated, three or more times, one or more ordinances or statutes that prohibit a dog from running at large, trespassing, creating a nuisance by defecating, being off leash, being unmuzzled, or being in a dog park in violation of a rule of that dog park, or prohibit cruelty to animals, or chaining or tethering a dog, or (d) ownership or possession of a dog by the owner would create a significant threat to the public health, safety, and welfare.
q. Penalty for first offense: The failure of an owner to comply with any of the conditions imposed by the court is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not exceeding $1,000.00 or by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 6 months, or by both such fine and imprisonment. If serious bodily injury results from any such failure, it shall be a felony punishable by a fine not exceeding $10,000.00 or by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 3 years, or by both such fine and imprisonment. The court must order restitution as part of the sentence for any conviction hereunder.
r. Penalty for second or subsequent offense: The penalties specified for a first offense under this Dangerous Dog Law may be tripled upon conviction of a second or subsequent offense. The minimum penalty for a second offense shall be a fine of $1,000.00. The minimum penalty for a third or subsequent offense shall be a fine of $2,500.00 and imprisonment for 3 months. The minimum penalty for a second offense causing serious bodily injury shall be a fine of $5,000.00 and imprisonment for 1 year. The court must order restitution as part of the sentence for any conviction hereunder. Upon conviction of a second or subsequent offense causing serious bodily injury, the court must order the defendant to surrender to the animal control department all dogs owned by defendant, and enjoin the defendant from owning, harboring or keeping any dog for a period of 3 years.
s. No dog that is declared to be a vicious dog shall be sold, given, transferred, or adopted-out, but shall instead be either euthanized or maintained by its owner in the manner set forth herein. Any provision in a contract, bailment agreement, or other document that gives any prior owner, adoption group, rescue group, shelter, keeper, harborer, custodian or third party an ownership interest in such a dog, or the right to take custody of or reclaim such a dog, shall be void and unenforceable.
The owner of a dog which is expected to weigh more than 30 pounds when fully grown shall provide proof that the owner is insured by a policy of liability insurance which provides coverage for canine inflicted injuries, with a policy limit of at least $50,000 per occurrence.
[NOTE: The following section is appropriate only where the Dangerous Dog Law shall be enacted as a state statute.
[6. Local Laws
[Nothing in the Dangerous Dog Law shall be construed to prevent a city or county from adopting or enforcing its own program for the control of dangerous or vicious dogs provided that such provisions are equally or more restrictive upon dogs and their owners than the provisions hereof.]
a. The penalties stated in the Dangerous Dog Law are in addition to the penalties and remedies provided in other civil and criminal laws applicable to this jurisdiction.
b. Upon conviction of a violation of section 2 or 5 of the Dangerous Dog Law, the owner of the dog shall be fined $100 for the first violation of any provision hereof, $500 for the second violation, $2,500 for the third violation, and $5,000 for each and every subsequent violation.
c. Upon conviction of a violation of section 2 or 5 of the Dangerous Dog Law, the owner of the dog may be sentenced to confinement in the county jail for one day if it is the first conviction, up to 6 months if it is the second conviction, or up to one year if it is the third or any subsequent conviction. A single act which violates more than one provision of section 2 or 5 of the Dangerous Dog Law shall be treated as one conviction for the purposes of sentencing.
d. If the violation of section 2 of the Dangerous Dog Law results in serious bodily injury, the fines and penalties set forth herein may be tripled.
8. Relationship to Other Laws
This Dangerous Dog Law shall not limit the civil and criminal liability of the owner and custodians of the dog. The definitions herein apply only to this Dangerous Dog Law and are not intended to affect any other law or court decision. [Include the following if the jurisdiction has enacted the Irresponsible Dog Owner Law: This Dangerous Dog Law shall not limit or affect any prosecution or conviction brought or made under the Irresponsible Dog Owner Law.]