What to do if your dog is in danger of being declared vicious, or if your dog has bitten someone who is now suing you


ALDF Suggests: What to do if your dog is in danger of being declared “vicious,”or if your dog has bitten someone who is now suing you

It is a matter of great concern if your dog is in danger of
being euthanized for alleged viciousness.
If your dog has been impounded, be sure to request a hearing date so that you
will have a chance to convince the judge or hearing officer that your dog is
not incorrigible and that you are a responsible guardian. It is advisable
to have an attorney present with you at the hearing. ALDF offers suggestions
for finding an animal law attorney to assist you.

You may want to bring friends, neighbors, your veterinarian
or other concerned parties to testify on your and your dog’s behalf. If your
dog was seized in error, be sure to bring witnesses who can testify that your dog
was elsewhere when the incident occurred.

Temperament testing can be a useful way of providing an
independent assessment of your dog’s disposition and may be helpful to your
case. Various organizations offer temperament testing. One such organization
that offers testing nationwide is the American Temperament Test Society.

The hearing officer may order that your dog be euthanized,
even if s/he is not really a danger to the community. In order to save your
dog’s life, it is wise to make it clear to the judge and/or hearing officer
that you are willing to accept certain restrictions. Agree to any restrictions the judge requires, even if you believe they
are not necessary. Such restrictions may
include the following:

  • Confinement to a fenced-in area,
    or inside the home. Also may require improvements to existing fences.
  • Leashing and/or muzzling when the
    dog is outside the home.
  • Obedience training.

In preparation for the hearing, write a polite letter to the
hearing officer/judge assuring him/her that you will faithfully abide by any and all
restrictions if your dog is returned to your custody. List some of the
restrictions specifically and present copies of the letter to the officials
attending the hearing.

Also, have your dog spayed or neutered. In addition to
showing the judge or hearing officer that you are a responsible guardian, this
may make your dog calmer and less likely to wander.

As a last resort to save the life of your dog, you may want
to consider relocating your dog to a good home in another state or county. If
you don’t know of a good home where your dog will be taken care of in a
responsible and loving manner, check with your local shelter for rescue groups
out of the area or check the directory section of World Animal Net.

What if you are sued?

If your dog has been accused of biting and you are sued, a
familiarity with the rules governing dogs and their guardians is essential
before responding to legal action. In most states, you, as the dog’s guardian,
are financially responsible for damages caused by your companion animal. For
information on the laws that pertain to dogs in your state, see: http://animallaw.info/statutes/topicstatutes/sttodd.htm.

Laws in some states impose “strict liability,” meaning that
the guardian is responsible, regardless of whether s/he was in any way responsible for the incident and injury. The
effect of such statutes may be mitigated by the conduct of the victim–i.e. if
they were trespassing, or teasing, tormenting or provoking the animal. Such
defenses will vary according to the state in which the incident occurred and
the theories under which you are sued. For information on states with strict
liability statutes, see:


For information on judicial options (case law) pertaining to dog bites, see:


Prevention is the best policy!

  • When
    walking your dog, keep him/her on a leash.
  • Keep your dog in an enclosed yard
    or indoors with you.
  • Never
    allow your dog to roam the neighborhood.
  • Always
    have current license and rabies vaccination tags on your dog’s collar.
  • If you think your dog might injure
    someone, don’t allow people to approach, your dog; post signs on your property, and
    never let your dog be the one to be the “greeter” when visitors come to your
    front door.

Note: Portions of this
article were provided by longtime ALDF attorney member, Amy Blaymore Paterson.

For definitions of "dangerous" and/or "vicious," please visit Dogbitelaw.com. This website was developed by an attorney (Kenneth Phillips) and it is devoted to the law regarding dog bites.

For a full discussion
of your legal rights and responsibilities as the guardian of a companion
animal, an excellent resource book is "Every Dog’s Legal Guide: A Must-Have
Book for Your Owners," by Mary Randolph. Written
for non-lawyers, it’s a helpful book on a variety of legal issues relating to
canine companions. It’s available for purchase from Nolo Press.

For information on breed ban legislation, see ALDF’s “Community Solutions That Consider Each Dog, Not Their Breed.”

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