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:
Dangerous Dog Ordinances Overview
Multnomah County, Oregon
- Case-by-case, dog-by-dog system
- Not breed-specific
- Low recidivism rate
- Authorizes the classification of individual dogs as “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” as determined by specific types of behavior.
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:
- A dog, while at large:
(a) Aggressively bites any person; or
(b) Kills or causes the death of any domestic animal or livestock; or
- 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.
- A dog, while at large:
- 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.”
- 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.
- Dogs may be declassified after certain time period without additional violations.
- Program utilizes volunteer attorneys from local communities to act as hearings officers for hearings.
Interview with a county spokesperson (10/06)
Tags: breed bans, breed specific legislation, BSL, pit bull bans