Courts and the Media Misunderstand Dog Bite Law (Again)

Dog bite news can be hard to follow because it can be so disappointing and so inaccurate.

Disappointing: in Pennsylvania, a state appeals court voided the conviction of a woman who was found guilty of harboring a dangerous dog after being bitten by one of her own pit bulls. They were attacking each other, she tried to separate them, and one of them mauled her arm, which required 27 stitches. When the dog Warden convicted this woman, she appealed the conviction and won. The court said that the dog’s “protective and defensive instincts were entirely understandable, even expected,” and therefore decided that the attack was provoked. (Matt Miller, Woman Bitten by Her Own Pit Bull Shouldn’t Have Been Convicted of Harboring a Dangerous Dog: Pennsylvania Court, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2019/08/woman-bitten-by-her-own-pit-bull-shouldnt-have-been-convicted-of-harboring-a-dangerous-dog-pa-court.html.)

Why is this disappointing? First of all, why fight to keep a dog that inflicted such injuries on you? I am sorry the woman hasn’t gotten the message that pit bulls are inherently vicious, especially toward their owners, the children of their owners, and the parents of their owners. Second, when two dogs are fighting and an owner tries to break up the fight, how could that arouse a dog’s protective and defensive instincts? Mauling the owner is an instinct? Third, wasn’t it the other dog that was provoking the dog that bit this pit bull owner? How disappointing that the court got it all wrong! (See my video, Provocation Is a Limited Defense.)

Even more disappointing: the decision of the Rock Hill, South Carolina animal control department following a pit bull attack on a five-year-old boy. The family pit bull attacked the child and bit him on the face. The boy’s father had to choke the dog to make it let go. When animal control arrived on the scene, they decided to quarantine the pitbull at home, with the boy. The reason: there are too many pit bulls in their shelter already. (Fox 46, “Pit Bull Quarantined at Home after Attacking Five-year-old,” http://www.fox46charlotte.com/news/local-news/pit-bull-quarantined-at-home-after-attacking-5-year-old.) How disappointing that they haven’t figured out that they need to euthanize all those unwanted pit bulls. Shelters across the country are overflowing with them; at any one time, just under half of all the pit bulls in the USA are in shelters, up for adoption, or being offered for sale. (See Pit Bulls: Facts and Figures Facts and Figures.)

Now for the fake news. I keep reading headlines like this: “The Department Of Transportation Says Delta Has To Let Pit Bulls Fly.” (Heidi Lux, at https://www.good.is/Culture/government-ban-pitbull-delta-airlines.) No, that is not what the Department of Transportation said. They said that any dog which an airline finds to be dangerous can be barred from a flight, and that no dog will be allowed on a flight unless it is a service animal or emotional support animal. In other words, ordinary pit bulls who are not service animals or emotional support animals can continue to be banned. The headline was fake news, pure and simple. 

Here’s more fake news of a different sort, more accurately referred to as “click bait.” In pushing their spot entitled, “Pit Bulls Banned in Gary Colorado Animal Shelter Need Your Help to Adopt Them,” a television station summarized it as follows: “NBC and Telemundo owned stations are teaming up with hundreds of shelters across the country to host Clear the Shelters . . . .” But when you get to the article itself, it doesn’t mention NBC or Telemundo. (https://www.ksnt.com/news/pit-bulls-banned-in-geary-co-animal-shelter-needs-your-help-to-adopt-them/.) The summary was written to give the false impression that NBC and Telemundo were doing something or at least were going to be mentioned in the article.

When I began doing dog bite cases back in the early 1990s, I realized that dog attacks are very different from other types of harm, presenting unique issues. In the three decades I have been handling these cases (my law practice is 100% devoted to representing dog bite victims), I’ve seen so many mistakes made by courts and people, some of the mistakes resulting in terrible harm. You should always consult dogbitelaw.com for accurate information about dogs and the law.