LEGALESE — Dangerous and Vicious Dogs

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Author’s note: This is not an actual dangerous or vicious dog. This is my pound puppy playing with his toy and thinking he is fierce. He’s actually cute and sweet.

In my last column, I talked about what the law required of responsible dog owners.  In this column, I’m going to talk about what the law has to say about dangerous and vicious dogs.

According to Georgia law, a dangerous dog is a dog that “(A) Causes a substantial puncture of a person’s skin by teeth without causing serious injury; provided, however, that a nip, scratch, or abrasion shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous under this subparagraph;

(B) Aggressively attacks in a manner that causes a person to reasonably believe that the dog posed an imminent threat of serious injury to such person or another person although no such injury occurs; provided, however, that the acts of barking, growling, or showing of teeth by a dog shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous under this subparagraph; or

(C) While off the owner’s property, kills a pet animal; provided, however, that this subparagraph shall not apply where the death of such pet animal is caused by a dog that is working or training as a hunting dog, herding dog, or predator control dog.” GA. Code 4-8-21 Definitions (Georgia Code (2018 Edition))

So let’s break this down a little.  It means that a dog is dangerous if it bites someone without causing serious injury, however, a little nip doesn’t count.  A dog is also considered dangerous if it attacks someone even if that person doesn’t actually get hurt.  Just barking and growling doesn’t count as attacking.  Also, a dog is considered dangerous if, when it is outside of it’s own yard, it kills someone else’s pet.  This doesn’t count if it is a hunting, herding, or predator control dog.

A vicious dog is something else.  The code says that a vicious dog is “a dog that inflicts serious injury on a person or causes serious injury to a person resulting from reasonable attempts to escape from the dog’s attack.” GA. Code 4-8-21 Definitions (Georgia Code (2018 Edition))  A serious injury is “any physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death; results in death, broken or dislocated bones, lacerations requiring multiple sutures, or disfiguring avulsions; requires plastic surgery or admission to a hospital; or results in protracted impairment of health, including transmission of an infection or contagious disease, or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.” GA. Code 4-8-21 Definitions (Georgia Code (2018 Edition)).  There are exceptions for serious injuries if the dog inflicting them is a police dog or a military dog acting while on duty.

If you own a dog that has been designated a dangerous dog, you can’t take your dog off your property without it being on a leash no longer than six feet long.  You have to be able to control your dog – that is, you have to be strong enough to restrain your dog – so that you can ensure your dog won’t interact with any other people or animals.

If you own a dog that has been designated a vicious dog, in addition to the above, the dog has to be muzzled, and can’t be left alone around minor children.

If you violate these rules, you are guilty of a misdemeanor of a high an aggravated nature, and your dog can be euthanized at your own expense.

In any case where a law enforcement officer or an animal control officer believes that a dog is a threat to public safety, the dog can be impounded until an investigation is completed and a hearing is held.  You can challenge the designation of your dog as a dangerous or vicious dog by requesting a hearing as well.

I don’t believe any dogs are dangerous of vicious by nature, but training or neglect or personality can get in the way of nature, and unfortunately, we have to protect the population at large sometimes.

Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice.  it is being offered for informational purposes only.  

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