Wednesday, May 04, 2011

  1. Clarifies definitions. Terms like “potentially dangerous,” “dangerous,” “bite,” “serious injury,” and “provocation” must be clearly defined, based on objective, observable behaviors, not subjective perceptions. In the case of “potentially dangerous” and “dangerous,” definitions must clearly distinguish between normal dog behaviors and abnormally aggressive behaviors. Laws should also be uniform throughout the country.
  2. Specifies exceptions. References to bites should clarify situations in which a dog may reasonably be expected to bite (for example, defending itself or its pack; when it has been injured, if it is being teased or tormented, etc.). The model dog bite law adopted by the American Veterinary Medical Association does an excellent job of defining such exceptions. Its provisions should be incorporated into all dog bite laws.
  3. Distinguishes between mouthing/nipping, bites, and life-endangering attacks. Mouthing or nipping is not the same as a bite, which is not the same as an attack that kills or seriously maims. A dog that nips someone may need training, but does not deserve the same punishment as a dog that kills or severely maims a person.
  4. Targets deeds, not breeds. Breed-specific legislation doesn’t get at the root of the prob lem: the need for proper training and supervision. Any breed is safe when properly trained and supervised; any breed can have abnormal specimens; and any breed can be modified to make it more aggressive. Banning some breeds just encourages people to switch to others.
  5. Requires sworn affidavits. A fair law requires complainants to submit sworn affidavits and allows the dog's owner to confront the accuser and obtain reasonable proof of the claims. It is unjust to allow anyone who has a gripe against someone to "get even" by anonymously reporting that person's dog.
  6. Establishes an impartial appeal process. A fair law specifies a process for appealing the case to an impartial third party (not the enforcement agency). If you’re unjustly arrested for a crime, you don’t present your case to the chief of police; you have a hearing in court. The same separation of powers should apply to dog law.
  7. Protects owners’ rights in confiscations. A fair law requires a warrant and hearing before a dog can be seized.
  8. Provides for rehabilitation. A fair law allows for rehabilitation when appropriate, expunging a dog’s record if the dog has completed training and there are no repeat incidents.
  9. Establishes burden of proof. A fair law clearly delineates who has the burden of proof and what standard of proof applies.
  10. Matches penalties to the seriousness of the behavior. Penalties should distinguish between threats to people and threats to other animals. These two types of threats are not of equal seriousness—and penalties should reflect this difference.
  11. Provides options other than euthanasia. A fair law reserves euthanasia or exile for only the most serious cases—dogs that kill or severely maim.  In other cases, owners who are willing to take reasonable protection measures (e.g., keeping the dog in a secure kennel, using a leash and muzzle), should be able to keep the dog.
  12. Solicits public input. To ensure that a law will address all relevant concerns, lawmakers should hold public hearings before the law is passed, soliciting testimony from dog owners, professional dog trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, groomers, and breeders. Any time a law is changed, it’s an opportunity to look at all parts of the law to see what else could benefit from a change—and the testimony of those who will be most affected by the law is critical to create a law that’s fair to all parties.

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