Dealing with Aggressive Dogs: Community Solutions That Consider Each Dog, Not Their Breed

Across the country, many cities, counties, and even states, are
attempting to address the problem of aggressive dogs in ways which are
ineffective, and worse, can unfairly punish dogs who have never acted
in an aggressive manner. These jurisdictions are doing this through the
passage of laws that attempt to restrict or ban certain breeds of dogs.

Breed-specific
bans and restrictions are extremely problematic. Dangerous dogs can be
of any breed, or of mixed breeds. Such bans are not only difficult to
enforce, but they also unfairly penalize those dogs and guardians who
are behaving in accordance with the laws, while doing nothing to
address one of the root causes of dangerous dogs – irresponsible
guardians. In addition, such bans can embroil a jurisdiction in costly
litigation based on claims brought by guardians of banned breeds
asserting violations of constitutional protections. Fortunately, other
communities are handling this issue in much better ways – by adopting
responsible laws that focus on the behavior of individual dogs and
their guardians, not their breed.

One successful example of such a case-by-case, dog-by-dog approach can be found in Multnomah County, Oregon. This jurisdiction, like many others, has chosen to incorporate a multi-level classification system for problem (potentially dangerous and dangerous)
dogs with differing requirements. Their law provides for hearings and
authorizes the discretion not to classify a dog when the dog’s behavior
was due to “the victim abusing or tormenting the dog, or was directed
towards a trespasser or other similar mitigating or extenuating
circumstances that establishes that the dog does not constitute an
unreasonable risk to human life or property.” In addition, once a dog
is classified, then different types of requirements or restrictions
may  take effect depending upon the specifics of each case. These can
include such things as guardians education and dog training for less
serious cases, to secure enclosures and other safety measures to
protect the community when there is a greater risk. Also, and important
to note, dogs may be declassified as potentially dangerous or dangerous after a certain time period without additional violations.

Not
only are laws like the one in Multnomah County, Oregon inherently more
fair, they are, according to a county official, quite effective -
showing low rates of recidivism.

If your community is
grappling with the problem of dangerous dogs, encourage them to follow
the examples of communities across the country who have adopted fair,
effective laws, treating each dog and owner individually, while at the
same time protecting all members of the community – both those with two
legs and those with four.

Besides the Animal Legal Defense
Fund, there are many other groups and resources available to help guide
your community through this process, including:

A copy of this article was published in The American Dog magazine, Spring 2009.



Dangerous Dog Ordinances Overview
Multnomah County, Oregon

Benefits

  • Case-by-case, dog-by-dog system
  • Not breed-specific
  • Low recidivism rate
  1. Authorizes the classification of individual dogs as “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” as determined by specific types of behavior.

    “Potentially dangerous”:
    Level 1: A dog at large is found to menace, chase, display threatening or aggressive behavior or otherwise threaten or endanger the safety of any person.
    Level 2: A dog, while at large, causes physical injury to any domestic animal.
    Level 3: A dog, while confined so as not to be at large … aggressively bites any person.
    Level 4 behavior is established if:

    1. A dog, while at large:
          (a) Aggressively bites any person; or
          (b) Kills or causes the death of any domestic animal or livestock; or
    2. A dog classified as a Level 3 potentially dangerous dog that repeats the behavior in division (C) of this section after the owner or keeper receives notice of the Level 3 classification.

    “Dangerous” dog classification when:
     - A dog, whether or not confined, causes the serious physical injury or death of any person; or
    - A dog is used as a weapon in the commission of a crime.

  2. Discretion not to classify a dog when the behavior is result of “the victim abusing or tormenting the dog, or was directed towards a trespasser or other similar mitigating or extenuating circumstances that establishes that the dog does not constitute an unreasonable risk to human life or property.”
  3. Once a dog is classified, then different types of regulations/restrictions may take effect depending upon the level, including such possibilities as secure enclosures, muzzling, education, special training, insurance, dangerous dog facilities, etc.
  4. Dogs may be declassified after certain time period without additional violations.
  5. Program utilizes volunteer attorneys from local communities to act as hearings officers for hearings.

For a copy of this code, visit: http://www2.co.multnomah.or.us/counsel/code/ch13.pdf (PDF)

Interview with a county spokesperson (10/06)

Tags: breed bans, breed specific legislation, BSL, pit bull bans

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