LEGALESE — Responsible Dog Ownership

My family recently got a dog for the first time.  We love our dog, Lincoln, tremendously. While the rest of the family is researching how to ensure he has the proper nutrition and veterinary care, I’m making sure we are in compliance with the law.  I want to be good dog owners in all respects.

Every municipality has local dog ordinances, and you should check where you live.  Every city, county, and town is going to have its own specific rules about leashes and that sort of thing.  Some places require that dogs be on leashes all the time.  Some say its ok if dogs are off leash if they are under verbal command.  Some say its ok if they are on your property, even if it isn’t fenced in.  Check with your local ordinances.  If you don’t know where to find it, call your local animal control.  Believe me – they’d rather take a call from someone wanting to do the right thing than someone steaming mad because they think their neighbor didn’t.

Some laws are state-wide.  Sadly, there were enough instances of it happening to inspire the legislature to pass a law saying that you can’t abandon a dead dog on public property or in a dumpster.  It also ought to go without saying, but apparently doesn’t since there is a law about it, that you can’t release a dog on public or private property with the intention of abandoning it.  It makes me heartsick that there have to be actual laws about these things.  Just act right, people.

If your dog gets off your property, either with or without your permission, and then damages someone else’s property, you are liable for the damages.  That is true whether the property in question is someone else’s dog, someone else’s chickens, or someone else’s porch furniture.  It doesn’t matter what it is, if your dog did it, and it wasn’t in your yard, you are responsible for fixing it.

Once more, it ought to go without saying that you can’t be cruel to or kill or maim a dog for no good reason.  The code section here goes on to define what a ‘good reason’ is. A good reason is, and I’m going to quote here, to “[d]efend his or her person or property, or the person or property of another, from injury or damage being caused by a dog; or (2) Kill any dog causing injury or damage to any livestock, poultry, or pet animal.” GA. Code 4-8-5 (Georgia Code (2018 Edition)).  That said, it’s a lot like self-defense or defense of property with people – you can’t use it as punishment after the fact, it’s only to stop the act from happening in the first place, and it has to be done as gently as possible.  I’ll quote again:  “The method used for killing the dog shall be designed to be as humane as is possible under the circumstances.” GA. Code 4-8-5 (Georgia Code (2018 Edition))  There are exceptions for law enforcement, animal control officers, and veterinarians, who can euthanize dogs under different circumstances.

If your dog is in heat, you can’t allow her to run free outside of your property.  This makes sense – there are so many dogs in shelters and unwanted dogs that there had to be a statute about abandoned dogs.  You don’t want to have an irresponsible hand in creating more.

If you violate these provisions, of state law, you are guilty of a misdemeanor, and you could go to jail for up to a year.

There are other statutes that define what dangerous dogs and vicious dogs are, and the due process requirements prior to court ordered euthanasia.  I will address that in a future column, since today we’re talking about dog owners’ responsibilities.  And good dogs.  Like Lincoln.

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

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