Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Arizona's Horrible New Dog Bite Law

Arizona just passed a well meaning, but horrible, dog bite law. There are a number of serious defects... For example:

My concern would be, for example, what about a dog at a daycare that gets in a fight with another dog. Or what about a dog at an off leash park. It is hard to determine which dog provoked the attack. There is a lot of grey area. What about a little fluffy 5 lb dog that has a fit when on a leash, barking and growling. It gets loose and charges at a big Great Dane and nips it on the heel causing no injury. The owner of the fluffy dog is now guilty of a felony? Seriously?

Or, if a dog is off the owner's property, and at a daycare, veterinarian's office, or in training, bites another dog, the person responsible for supervising is personally responsible the way I read this. Even if it is another dog owned by the same person. Now it is legally an "aggressive dog".

Imagine this, two dogs fight in the home and there are injuries. That makes one or both dogs "aggressive dogs" the way I read this. ""Aggressive dog" means any dog that has bitten a person or domestic animal without provocation or that has a known history of attacking persons or domestic animals without provocation".

So, if that dog bites a person or another animal off the owner's property, then it is a felony. I think that you'd have to make sure your dog wasn't the one formally blamed for any unprovoked bite. I think this is a serious can of worms for rescue, vets, trainers, kennels, daycares, friends who house sit your dog, and those who go to off leash parks. I know it is supposed to deal with dogs that get loose but this defines a seriously low threshold for defining "attacking". If a dog scuffles with another dog, no bruises, lacerations, broken bones or internal injuries result. That dog is technically now forever an "aggressive dog" the way I read this.

I oppose criminalizing normal dog behavior. Adolescent dogs will go on power trips and fight other dogs, normally it is just a lot of noise and saliva. Owners need to work these issues through. But, if you criminalize dogs from being dogs, then they will isolate these dogs, or give them away to shelters. Isolated dogs then become dangerous dogs. Shelter dogs will become dead dogs. 

Dogs also do lots of posturing. Two dogs will stand side by side, stiff, sniffing butts, sometimes hair up along the back. One dog makes a wrong move and the dogs will get in a scuffle. Which dog caused the fight? Who is to say? 

Based on the definition in this law, every healthy wolf in a wolf pack would be considered vicious, because they scuffle to establish rank. Dogs do the same thing, regardless of size. 

The only way to deal with this is to define the severity of the attack, define what is considered provocation, define what is allowed when it comes to fighting, assess damages related to the severity of the attack, and then provide ways for people to remedy the situation in ways that won't pour more dogs into shelters or isolate them at home to brew into truly dangerous dogs. I think you also have to exempt dogs that are in a vet's office, training class, off leash park (people need to accept risk, not try to legislate it away), kennels, daycares, dog show / obedience events, and grooming facilities.

I'm making the point that anyone's dogs could be labeled as "aggressive". Let's say your dog gets in a fight at your home with a friend's dog that comes to visit. The friend takes her dog to the vet because it had a puncture wound on an ear. Vet says it is fine, gives the dog an antibiotic, and all is well. But a record is now on file about your dog. Technically your dog is now an "aggressive" dog. From that point, all it takes is one scuffle off the premises and then you can be accused of a felony. So, this first fight happened in the home, and you haven't had a chance to even write down your side of the story. So, the first threshold is crossed regarding this law. Now, the dog, 5 years later, is off your premises at the vets office, it slips away from the vet tech, and gets in a fight with a dog there. It results in a minor puncture wound on the other dog, but the owner of that dog is angry about it and complains to animal control. Now, the veterinarian is charged with a felony. Is that the format for a good dog law?

Here is Ian Dunbar's web page, just a sample article... or this...

Why didn't we have any public hearings? I see no evidence that vets, rescue groups, breeders, groomers, animal control officers, trainers, kennel operators, or the general public were invited in any meaningful way to give input.

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