IN THE DOG HOUSE
By Gary Redenbacher, Esq.
The moment my twins were old enough to vocalize their desires, they begged incessantly for a puppy. That puppy’s playful exuberance combined with its sharp teeth caused far more tears than falls, bumps and parental reprimands, but at the end of the year what were my little rugrats most thankful for? That’s right, the hound. We love our dogs. And being a rural community, we have them in greater abundance than our city slicker neighbors. But as much as dogs are man’s best friend they also create problems, so it is no surprise that laws have emerged to contain these problems. The three chief problems are the three B’s: biting, barking and bowels. Both Scotts Valley and the County (which governs the San Lorenzo Valley) have fairly similar laws regarding dogs.
Just as with humans, dog love is blind. Who amongst us has been victimized by that famous utterance, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite.” My brother was recently bitten after being thusly assured as he strolled through his neighbor’s house. The neighbor’s first reaction was not to apologize or otherwise assuage my brother’s aching ankle, but to demand, “What did you do to him?” Many of us well remember the vicious dog attack in San Francisco a few years back that left a young woman dead. The owners were not contrite but instead placed blame on the victim. The point is, we love our dogs and many refuse to believe that they are anything short of perfect.
The insurance industry, however, has no such illusions. (They don’t want to pay for the damages so are always looking for ways to lessen their liability.) According to at least one insurance study, pit bulls, Rottweilers, Presa Canarios and their mixes are responsible for 74% of attacks in the study; including 68% of the attacks upon children (usually bitten in the face), 82% of the attacks upon adults (usually bitten on the leg), 65% of the deaths, and 68% of the maimings. Considering that these breeds are a small proportion of the dogs in society, one can see the disproportion in the attacks. In more than two-thirds of the cases, the attack was the first known dangerous behavior.
Whenever these statistics are trotted out, there is an immediate outcry from pit bull owners that their dog is loving. Nevertheless, the courts are packed with cases where the owners are shocked that their dog attacked someone. As much as we love our dogs, you can never know when Fifi is going to assert her inner angst. Indeed, there is even a case of a 4 pound Pomeranian attacking and killing a baby. This is why local governments nearly always have leash and roaming laws. In our valleys dogs are not allowed, for the most part, to roam and must be on a leash except in fenced places.
Many people wrongly believe that their dog is entitled to one good bite before they have to pay the big bucks. This is incorrect. A dog owner in California is strictly liable for damages caused by his dog. There doesn’t have to be a showing of negligence or anything else other than that you owned the dog, the dog bit the victim and the victim suffered injury. There are a few obvious defenses, such as protecting the family home from an intruder.
Barking is another problem. There is a truism that no dog owner hears his own dog barking. Thus, there are laws outlawing habitual barking. If your neighbor refuses to believe that Fido barked for six hours last night, there are legal steps to halt this. The better first step, however, is to contact your neighbors and politely ask about keeping their dog quiet. A bark collar that administers a small shock can be effective, but many dog owners hate the thought of their dog getting zapped. Plus, bark collars aren’t perfect. A friend of mine bought a bark collar for his Shepherd who quickly learned that he could only bark two or three times before getting a shock. But when the Shepherd ran down to visit a neighbor dog through the fence, he repeatedly got zapped while the neighbor dog barked.
The final “B” stands for bowels, as in problems when a dog relieves himself. Health departments discovered years ago that it’s difficult for other than professionals to maintain sanitation when there are many dogs, so laws limit how many dogs can be kept at a residence. This number ranges from 1 to 4 depending upon where you live and the zoning of your home. Meanwhile, most everyone knows that allowing your dog to poop on other than your own property is not merely uncouth, but illegal. Other health concerns remain, especially rabies. All dogs must be vaccinated for rabies (and licensed). Meanwhile, Scotts Valley requires you to report to the health department if your dog bit someone and if you’re in SLV, the County requires that you quarantine your dog for 10 days.
We love our dogs, but if we want to avoid a confrontation with the law it is wise to pay attention to the three B’s.
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