California Dog Maulings Have Skyrocketed

The number of Californians going to emergency rooms with serious dog bites is 70% higher than it was 20 years ago. Dog bite fatalities in the state rose 70% in the same period, and hospitalizations for dog attacks doubled.

An article in the Sacramento Bee presents a thorough analysis of California’s skyrocketing dog bite problem: A Record Number of Californians Are Visiting Emergency Rooms for Dog Bites, by Phillip Reese (California Healthline, January 25, 2024,

It mentions two of my most important messages about what I call the “Shelter Dog Problem”:

Another potential explanation [for the sharp rise in injuries and fatal attacks] is the popularity of breeds some people say are aggressive. Kenneth Phillips, one of the nation’s most prominent lawyers specializing in dog bite litigation, pinned much of the blame on pit bulls, which have become one of the most popular breeds in America. ‘Every study always comes up with the same conclusions, which is that this is the dog that does the most damage,’ he said.

Phillips said animal shelters are increasingly under pressure to euthanize fewer dogs, meaning people wind up adopting more aggressive dogs without knowing it.

I am prosecuting one such case involving the East Valley Shelter of the City of Los Angeles. Three weeks after an animal control officer impounded a pit bull as “vicious,” the shelter staff gave it to a man and his 14-year-old daughter without telling him about the dog’s bite history; 99 days later, it chewed off his mother’s right arm and made her left arm 80% permanently disabled. The reason it happened was because the city required the shelter to adhere to a nice-sounding policy called “no-kill” that in reality hurts people, kills people, and makes people justifiably afraid of getting dogs from public shelters.

Here is what I told the judge in that case:

Good-hearted people who are looking for a pet and come to a shelter to give a dog a forever home must be treated with honesty. We have a right to the whole truth about something we take into our homes to share with our children, spouses, and parents. If someone gives us something dangerous, we have a right to a warning about it. Our government is responsible for protecting us from dangerous dogs, not putting them in our homes.

Fortunately, California enacted a law requiring public shelters and private rescues to give potential adopters of a dog a written disclosure of its bite history and the circumstances of each bite. Assuming the law is followed, it should reduce the number of Californians who are injured by a shelter dog. For more: “Truth in Pet Adoption Law” Compels Disclosure of Dog Bites.

If you were bitten by a dog in California: California Dog Bite Law or contact Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips by clicking “Contact” above.