Dangerous Dog Ordinances Can Be Vicious and Dangerous – Like People

Bruce Wagman

Over the years I have been practicing I have probably handled a dozen cases in which I was hired by the owner-guardians of a dog who had bitten someone, whether that someone was a person or another dog or cat.  These cases seem to be getting more common these days, but that is just an anecdotal observation and it may simply be that I am seeing more of them because I have done some and people look for someone who has experience with them. 

For whatever reason I am seeing them, I can say that I like working for the dangerous dogs.  There are a number of aspects of these matters that make this so.  First, the cases always start off with my putative client (the dog) being designated as either “dangerous” or “vicious” under the applicable local ordinance, and being sentenced to death.  The part I like is the immediate challenge of starting with an adverse and unjust ruling and having the strong motivation to try to overturn it; and as a lawyer fighting for animal protection, I am accustomed to being the underhuman and taking on those types of conflicts.  Second, and maybe most exciting, is the potential payoff for all involved.  That is, if we win, a life is truly saved – and one I can meet and pet.  The dog is always loved, or the humans would not be paying a lawyer to try to save her.  And in most cases, the dog is not guilty of anything but a single transgression; in other words, these cases do not usually involve multiple offenders, but dogs who have had one or two incidents that have led them to be determined fit to die by our society’s summary dismissal of animal life.  The cases involve innocents and (usually) errors or aberrations that certainly do not deserve death.  Third, the cases are “fun” from a litigator’s point of view because they are quick mini-trials without the restrictions of the rules of evidence or formalized procedure.  (This has its downside too, of course.)  So they are good practice for young lawyers, and a pleasant exercise for seasoned litigators.  Fourth, the cases are usually relatively self-contained and time-limited.  In most situations, the hearing resolves the issue to the extent that the human clients are satisfied.  The time between the designation of the dog and the hearing is usually less than a month, and the decision is usually delivered shortly thereafter.  It is true that these cases have the potential to last for years, if they leave the administrative process and go through the courts, but that is the rare one.    Continue reading