Topic:
ANIMALS;
Location:
ANIMALS - LEGISLATION;

OLR Research Report


May 03, 2001

 

2001-R-0438

VICIOUS DOG LAWS IN OTHER STATES

 

By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst

You asked what California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas are doing to protect people from vicious dogs.

SUMMARY

All of these states have laws on dangerous dogs. In general, a dog is considered dangerous if it bites someone or engages in threatening behavior off of its owner's property. California, Illinois, and Ohio have additional provisions regarding vicious dogs, i.e., dogs that cause severe injuries or that were previously determined to be dangerous and continue to attack people.

Massachusetts and Rhode Island allow local officials, upon complaint, to seize a dog that has attacked a person and order its confinement or destruction. New York has similar provisions, and also imposes civil and criminal penalties on the owners of dogs that bite people.

The remaining states have more extensive provisions. In California, Florida, Oklahoma, and Texas, the owner of a dangerous dog must register it with the animal control authority (which can be an agency with specific animal control responsibilities or the local law enforcement agency). Ohio requires registration of all dogs. In Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas, the owner must keep the dog in a secure enclosure when at home and on a leash when away from home. In Illinois these requirements only apply to vicious dogs. Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas require the owner to carry liability insurance to cover claims arising from the dog's behavior. Florida and Ohio regulate the sale of dangerous dogs. California, Florida, and Texas have additional provisions regarding dogs (whether or not previously determined to be dangerous) that bite or otherwise attack people.

New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas specifically allow municipalities and counties to adopt additional local laws. Municipalities in California and Ohio have done so under their home rule powers.

CALIFORNIA

Dangerous and Vicious Dogs

California's Food and Agriculture Code has provisions on potentially dangerous and vicious dogs (Cal. Food and Ag. Code. 31601 et seq.).

A potentially dangerous dog is one that has, without provocation:

1. engaged in behavior off of its owner's property twice in the last 36 months that required a person to take defensive action to prevent bodily harm;

2. bitten someone causing an injury; or

3. injured or killed a domestic animal on its owner's property twice in the last 36 months.

A potentially dangerous dog must be registered with the local city or county. It must be kept indoors or in a yard that is fenced so that it cannot escape and children cannot enter. When the dog is off its owner's property, a responsible adult must keep it under control and on a substantial leash.

By law, a vicious dog is one that:

1. was previously determined to be potentially dangerous and that continues its aggressive behavior or whose owner fails to comply with the law;

2. has inflicted severe injury or killed a person without provocation; or

3. has been seized for as a result of its owner's violation and subsequent conviction of a Penal Code violation regarding dogs.

The local animal control department can destroy a vicious dog. If it does not, the court must impose conditions on its owner to protect the public.

Biting Dogs

The Civil Code has additional provisions on biting dogs. If a dog has bitten people two or more times, an individual, district attorney, or city attorney can file a suit to determine whether the dog or its circumstances have changed since the bites so that it is no longer a danger. If the dog has been trained to fight, attack, or kill, this suit can be filed after the first attack. After holding a hearing, the court can issue any order it considers necessary to prevent further attacks, including the removal or destruction of the dog (Cal. Civil Code 3342.5).

FLORIDA

Florida has a comprehensive law regulating dangerous dogs (Fla. Stat. 767.12). It also has penalties for the owners of dogs that bite or otherwise attack people (Fla. Stat. 767.13).

In Florida, a dangerous dog is one that has:

1. aggressively bitten, attacked, or endangered or has inflicted severe injury on a person on public or private property;

2. more than once severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off its owner's property;

3. been used or trained for dog fighting; or,

4. when unprovoked, chased or approached a person on public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, if the actions are attested to in a sworn statement and investigated by the appropriate authority.

Investigation

An animal control authority must investigate reported incidents involving any dog that may be dangerous. He must, if possible, interview the owner and require an affidavit from the person who wants to have a dog classified as dangerous. The owner of any dog that is the subject of this investigation that is not impounded with the animal control authority must confine it in a securely fenced or enclosed area pending the outcome of the investigation and resolution of any subsequent hearings. The address of where the animal resides must be provided to the animal control authority. The dog cannot be relocated or sold pending the outcome of the investigation and hearings.

Hearings

After the investigation, the authority must determine whether there is sufficient cause to classify the dog as dangerous. It must give the owner notice and an opportunity for a hearing before making its final determination. The owner may request a hearing within seven days after receiving the notice. If requested, the hearing must be held as soon as possible, but not more than 21 days and no sooner than five days after receiving the owner's request. The owner can appeal to the court a determination that the dog is dangerous.

Registration and Enclosure

Within 14 days of a final determination that a dog is dangerous, its owner must register it with the county. The person obtaining the registration must be at least 18 years old and the registration must be renewed annually. The dog must be vaccinated against rabies and permanently identified by a tattoo on the inside thigh or electronic implantation. 

The owner must keep the dog securely confined indoors or in a securely enclosed and locked pen or structure, designed to prevent young children from entering and to prevent the dog from escaping. The premises must be posted with a notice at all entry points that informs children and adults of the presence of a dangerous dog on the property.  The owner may exercise the dog in a securely fenced or enclosed area that does not have a top, without a muzzle or leash, only if it remains within his sight and only members of the immediate household or adults are allowed in the enclosure when the dog is present. When being transported, such dogs must be safely and securely restrained within a vehicle.

Sale of Dangerous Dogs

Before a dangerous dog is sold or given away, the owner must provide the new owner's name, address, and telephone number to the authority. The new owner must comply with all of the requirements of the law and

implementing local ordinances, even if the animal is moved from one local jurisdiction to another within the state. The owner must notify the local animal control officer that the dog is in his jurisdiction.

Attacks

Florida has separate provisions for cases of dogs attacking people, depending on whether the dog was determined to be dangerous. If a dog not previously determined to be dangerous causes severe injury to or death of any human, it must be immediately confiscated by an animal control authority, and placed in quarantine, if necessary.

In any case, the owner has 10 days to request a hearing, which parallels that for determining whether a dog is dangerous. If the owner does not request a hearing during this period, the dog must be destroyed. If the owner appeals, he is responsible for paying all boarding costs and other fees.

If a dog that was declared dangerous attacks or bites a person or a domestic animal without provocation, the owner is subject to a fine of up $1,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both. If such a dog causes severe injury to or death of any person, the owner is subject to a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to five years, or both.

If the owner of the dog had prior knowledge of the dog's dangerous propensities, yet recklessly disregarded them, he is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable by a fine of up to $500, imprisonment of up to 60 days, or both.

ILLINOIS

Illinois has separate provisions regarding dangerous and vicious dogs (510 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/15). In addition, the owner of any dog who attacks or injures a person without provocation in a place where that person may lawfully be is liable to that person for the full amount of damages the dog causes (510 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/16).

Dangerous Dogs

A dangerous dog is one that approaches a person in an apparent attitude of attack and in a vicious or terrorizing manner on the streets, sidewalks, or other public places. An owner commits a public nuisance if he allows a dangerous dog to leave his property when not controlled by a lease or other recognized control method. An individual, the state animal control agency, or state's attorney can file suit to enjoin a person from keeping a dangerous dog or to require that it be kept on a leash whenever off of the owner's property. If the court issues such an order and the owner violates it, the dog may be destroyed.

Vicious Dogs

Under the law, a vicious dog is one that:

1. has been found to be a dangerous dog on three occasions;

2. attacks or bites, without provocation, a person or another animal;

3. has a known propensity to attack without provocation and injure, or otherwise endanger the safety of people or domestic animals; or

4. has a trait of and a reputation for viciousness, dangerousness, or unprovoked attacks, unless handled in a particular manner or with special equipment.

Owners must enclose vicious dogs with a fence at least six feet high that prevents children from entering and the dog from escaping. The enclosure must be locked and designed with secure sides, top, and bottom.

The dog must be kept in the enclosure at all times, other than to go to the veterinarian or to comply with court orders. For these trips, the dog must be on a leash that is no more than 3 feet long and have a tensile strength of 300 pounds. The dog must be under its owner's control.

If the court or law enforcement agency has found a dog to be vicious, and it is not enclosed, it must be impounded. The owner has seven days to appeal the impoundment. If he does not, the dog may be destroyed. A vicious dog cannot be returned to its owner unless a local or state animal control official approves its enclosure.

These provisions do not apply to guide, guard, or police dogs if they are inoculated against rabies and are performing their duties. The dog's owner must notify the state animal control agency of changes of address. In the case, of guard dogs, the owner must also inform the agency of where it will be stationed.

MASSACHUSETTS

By law, a person can file a complaint regarding a dog with a vicious disposition or that has bitten another animal with the selectmen of a town, animal control official, or county commissioners. The official must investigate the complaint and issue orders he considers necessary to constrain or dispose of the dog. The dog's owner can appeal an order to the court within 10 days of the order. Failure to comply with an order issued by the official or the court is punishable by a fine of up to $25 or imprisonment for up to 30 days for a first offense, and a fine of up to $100 or imprisonment for up to 60 days for a subsequent offense. If the court finds that the order was issued without proper cause or in bad faith, it must reverse the order (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 140 157).

NEW YORK

Confinement and Destruction of Dangerous Dogs

By law, if a dog attacks a person who is peaceably conducting himself in a place where he can lawfully be or the person witnesses such an attack, he can destroy the dog without penalty. The same is true if the dog attacks a guide or service dog. Alternatively, the person can file a complaint with the local dog control officer and the court. If the officer believes the dog is dangerous, he must file a complaint with the court. The court must determine whether there is probable cause to believe the dog is dangerous. If the court makes this determination, it must order the dog control officer to seize the dog.

The court must then hold a hearing. The court cannot find a dog to be dangerous under certain circumstances, such as when the dog is protecting itself or its puppies or the injured person had previously abused the dog. If the court determines that the dog is dangerous, it must order the officer or the owner to destroy the dog or order its owner to securely and permanently confine the dog. As part of a confinement order, the court can require that the owner securely chain and muzzle the dog so as to prevent it from biting. It can further order that the dog be under restraint when (1) inside an enclosure with anyone other than its owner and (2) outside of its enclosure, which can only be for the time needed to defecate, urinate, or go to the veterinarian. If the owner does not comply with the order, the officer must destroy the dog, either on or off its owner's premises.

Biting Dogs

Additional civil and criminal penalties apply if the owner negligently allows his dog to bite and injure a person. For a non-serious injury (or an attack on a guide or service dog) the penalty is a civil fine of up to $400. For a serious injury to a person, the fine is up to $800. If a dog that has previously been determined to be dangerous seriously injures a person, the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to 90 days, or both. If such a dog kills a person without justification, the owner is subject to a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both. He is subject to this penalty even if the dog escaped through no fault of its owner. These penalties are in addition to those described above, but do not apply if the dog was coming to the aid of a person who was the victim of robbery or certain other crimes. These laws do not restrict the injured person's other rights under common or statutory law (N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law 121).

Local Laws

Counties and municipalities can adopt more restrictive local laws, which may provide for fines and imprisonment (N.Y. Agric.& Mkts. Law. 124). The attorney general has held that such laws could require owners of pit bulls to (1) register them with the county, (2) maintain liability insurance, (3) muzzle them in all public places, and (4) post a “dangerous dog” notice on the property where the dog is located (Op. Atty. Gen. (Inf.) 91-75).

OHIO

Under Ohio law, a dangerous dog is one that, while off its owner's premises and without provocation, has (1) chased or approached a person in a menacing fashion or an apparent attitude of attack, or (2) attempted to bite or otherwise endanger any person. A vicious dog is one that has killed or injured a person or killed another dog. Pit bulls are considered vicious dogs by definition (Ohio Rev. Code 955.01).

Before any dog is sold, the seller must give the buyer, upon request, a description of the dog's behavior and propensity. The seller must give the buyer a certificate that describes the dog. If the seller learns within 10 days after the sale that the dog is dangerous or vicious, he must provide a form describing the dog's behavior to the buyer, the local dog warden, and local health district (Ohio Rev. Code 955.11). A first offense is punishable by a fine of up to $100. A subsequent violation of failure to provide notice is subject to a fine of up $250, imprisonment for up to 30 days or both.

When a dangerous dog is on its owner's premises, the owner must either keep it on a tether or in an enclosure with a secure top. Vicious dogs must be confined in such an enclosure. When off the owner's premises, the owner must keep the dog on a leash and muzzle it. Each owner must carry at least $100,000 in liability insurance to cover the damage the dog may do. No one can surgically silence a vicious dog or own a vicious dog that has been surgically silenced (Ohio Rev. Code 955.22).

The penalty for violating these provisions depends on whether the dog was determined to be dangerous or vicious. For a dangerous dog, the penalty for a first offense is a fine of up to $250, imprisonment for up to 30 days, or both. For a subsequent offense, the penalty is a fine of up to $500, imprisonment for up to 60 days, or both. The court can order the offender to send the dog to obedience school or have it destroyed.

If the owner of a vicious dog violates these provisions and the dog kills or seriously injures someone, it must be destroyed and the owner is subject to a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for six to 18 months, or both. For other violations, the penalty is a fine of up to $1,000, imprisonment for up to six months, or both (Ohio Rev. Code 955.99).

OKLAHOMA

Registration

Under Oklahoma law, a potentially dangerous dog is one that bites people, without provocation, on public or private property. A dangerous dog is (1) one that had been found by an animal control authority to be potentially dangerous and that continues to bite, attack, or threaten people or (2) any dog that severely injures a person, e.g., breaks a bone or bites a person so that he requires stitches (4 Okla. Stat. 44). A dog is not considered dangerous if it hurts a trespasser, someone who is hurting it, or someone who has hurt it in the past (4 Okla. Stat. 46).

Owners must register dangerous dogs with the city or county, which can charge a $10 registration fee. Dogs can only be registered if the owner shows that he has (1) a proper enclosure in which to keep the dog and (2) insurance of at least $50,000 for any injuries the dog may inflict. The enclosure must contain at least 150 square feet for each adult dog. It must be designed to keep the dog in and children out and have secure sides and top. The owner also must post notices warning children of the dog's presence (4 Okla. Stat. 45).

Confiscation

Owners must keep dangerous dogs on a leash and under the supervision of someone at least 16 years old when the dog is outside of the enclosure (4 Okla. Stat. 46).

An animal control authority must confiscate a dangerous dog if:

1. it is unregistered;

2. its owner does not carry the required insurance;

3. the dog is not kept in a proper enclosure; or

4. the dog is outside of the enclosure and not properly restrained.

Violation of the last provision is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both (4 Okla. Stat. 47).

Local Laws

Municipalities and counties can impose additional restrictions on dangerous dogs, but the regulations cannot apply to specific breeds.

RHODE ISLAND

If a person or member of his family has been assaulted by a dog outside of its enclosure, or reasonably fears such an assault, he can petition the court for review of the dog's behavior. The dog's owner must appear in court and if the court determines the allegations regarding the attack are true the owner must confine or kill the dog. If the owner does not do so, he is subject to a $25 to $100 fine and anyone can kill the dog.

If, after the court decision, the dog hurts livestock outside of its owner's premises or hurts a person anywhere, the owner is liable for triple damages. If the court determines that a dog is dangerous and has assaulted a person or killed a domestic animal, it may order the dog detained or destroyed (R.I. Gen. Laws 4-13-19). In addition, cities and towns can adopt their own ordinances related to the destruction of vicious dogs (R.I. Gen. Laws 4-13-15.1). The law specifically allows the towns of Middletown and Portsmouth to adopt ordinances imposing a $100 to $200 fine on the owner of any dog that assaults another person (R.I. Gen. Laws 4-13-1.1).

TEXAS

Registration

Under Texas law (Tex. Health & Safety Code 882.001 et seq.), a dangerous dog is one that:

1. injures a person in an unprovoked attack that occurs in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept, which was reasonably certain to prevent it from leaving the enclosure on its own; or

2. commits unprovoked acts outside the enclosure that cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and injure him.

The animal control authority may investigate the report of such an attack. If it does and determines that the dog is dangerous, it must inform the owner of this fact. The owner has 15 days in which appeal to the courts to contest the determination.

The owner of a dangerous dog must register it with the local animal control authority and restrain it when it is outside of a secure enclosure. To be registered, the owner must (1) have the dog vaccinated against rabies, (2) carry at least $100,000 of insurance to cover the injuries the dog may inflict, and (3) keep the dog in a secure enclosure. The owner must pay an annual $50 registration fee and must comply with any additional local laws. If the owner moves, he must inform the animal control authority in his new home and pay a $25 fee.

Alternatively, the owner can transfer the dog to the animal control authority within 30 days of learning that it is dangerous. (The owner can learn this by knowing of an attack or being informed by the animal control authority or the courts.) If the owner does not comply with these requirements, the authority must seize the dog and impound it at its owner's expense.

Violations of any of these provisions is subject to a fine of up to $500. A subsequent offense is punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, imprisonment for up to 180 days, or both.

Attacks

The owner must notify the animal control authority any time a dangerous dog attacks a person. If the attack is unprovoked, the owner is subject to a fine of $500. If the attack causes serious bodily harm or death, the penalty is a fine of up to $4,000 imprisonment for up to one year, or both. In addition, for either offense, the owner is subject to a civil fine of up to $10,000.

In cases where the attack causes serious bodily harm or death, the court must hold a hearing to determine whether to order the dog's destruction. The court must order the dog's destruction if it caused the death of a person. In the case of a non-fatal attack, the court can order the dog's destruction, except under certain circumstances, such as when a dog was defending someone.

Local Laws

Municipalities and counties can adopt more stringent requirements, so long as they do not apply to specific breeds. Violations of the local requirements carry the same penalties as violation of the registration requirements.

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