Los Angeles County Considers Allowing Animal Control, Not Judges, to Label Dogs as Dangerous

Posted by Stephanie Ulmer, Guest Blogger on July 29, 2011

Los Angeles County supervisors passed a first vote July 19th, to let animal control officers have the right during administrative hearings to decide when a dog should be labeled as dangerous or vicious. Current law allows only a judge to make such a declaration. The definition of a "vicious" dog is one who has been trained to fight or who severely injures or kills someone without provocation. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Department of Animal Care and Control claims that the changes to the county code will save money in legal expenses and make it easier to protect citizens from potential dog attacks.

When a dog is found to be "potentially dangerous" or "vicious," the animal may be confined, muzzled or dressed in a fluorescent yellow collar visible from 50 feet away. The owner can also be fined and/or ordered to attend obedience classes with their pet. In a rare case, the dog can be euthanized.

The Times did note that there are critics of the new policy, such as citizen Eric Preven, whose mother had her two chocolate Labrador retrievers impounded. Preven said that he felt an administrative hearing was unfair to pet owners, asserting that judges are "impartial and neutral," while a hearing officer may not be, because they could also be working at the same place holding the impounded pet. The appearance of neutrality appears compromised in this scenario.

The new ordinance, which requires a second vote in order to become law, allows the Department of Animal Care and Control "to consider prior attacks that happened outside the county’s jurisdiction when deciding whether to label a dog ‘vicious.’" Hearing officers "will be able to consider not just bites, cuts and fractures caused by a dog, but serious illnesses, such as a heart attack, brought on by a dog attack." The law will allow dog owners to appeal an administrative finding to a Superior Court judge, but only if they do so within five days of the finding.

It is understandable that the county may want to save money and time during this economic downturn, but is it really a good idea to allow them to take such short cuts when it may come down to a animal’s life? What if an owner is not notified in time of an administrative hearing? Will there be allowances for a continuance if need be? And the five day appeal window seems awfully short. Hopefully a great deal of thought, research and reflection will be undertaken before a final vote on this matter.

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