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Dog Bites and Owners’ Responsibilities

Author: | Date: February 15, 2012

There are more than 4 million dog bites in the United States each year.

If your dog bites a person or another domestic animal, local ordinances require you to take certain steps, often within 24 hours of the incident. A case of severe injury will require emergency care and the hospital must call the police.  In Chicago, in cases where the bite victim does not go to the emergency room, the victim must go to a police station to report the bite in person.  The police report is automatically sent to Animal Care and Control.  An officer from Animal Care and Control may visit the dog’s home to explain the owner’s responsibility and ask questions about the circumstances. Even if Animal Care and Control does not come out, Chicago law mandates the owner to take the dog to a veterinarian within 24 hours to begin a 10-day observation for rabies.  The veterinarian will examine the dog and fax a report to Animal Care and Control.  If the dog’s rabies vaccine is current, in most instances the dog can be confined at home and brought back to the veterinarian on the 10th day.  The veterinarian must again file a report with Animal Care and Control certifying the completion of the observation period.  That is the best case scenario (although that statement does not address the emotional trauma).  If the rabies vaccine is not current, the dog must be confined under a veterinarian’s care, at the owner’s expense, for the 10-day observation period.  A dog that has caused severe injury or death cannot return home and will be impounded while a “dangerous animal” investigation is completed. The owner is required to pay all costs incurred by Animal Care and Control for housing, care and treatment.

Chicago’s Municipal Code defines a “dangerous animal” as one which bites, inflicts injury on, kills or otherwise attacks a human being or domestic animal without provocation or which, on more than one occasion and without provocation, chases or approaches a person in an apparent attitude of attack outside of its owner’s property.  The investigation may include interviewing the victim, the owner, and witnesses and observing the dog and the scene of the bite.  A dog declared to be a “dangerous animal” can be euthanized.  If the dog is spared, the owner can be ordered to securely confine the dog while on the owner’s property, post a warning sign, and muzzle the dog at all times when off the property.  Within 10 days, the owner must also have the dog sterilized and must obtain liability insurance in an amount of at least $100,000.

A dog bite is upsetting for all involved and has potentially disastrous consequences for the dog.

As responsible dog owners, we must remember that any dog can bite, regardless of the breed and past behavior and it does not automatically mean that the dog is “bad” or dangerous.  It is up to us to be aware of our dog at all times and intervene if necessary in situations where our dog may feel uncomfortable.  The American Humane Association provides the following prevention tips for dog owners:

What can dog owners do?

Spay or neuter your dog.

Neutering reduces aggression, especially in males. Un-neutered dogs are more than 2.6 times more likely to bite than neutered dogs. Female dogs in heat and nursing moms are much more dangerous than spayed females, and their behavior can be unpredictable. Talk to your veterinarian to schedule an appointment, or contact your local humane organization or animal shelter for information on low-cost spay/neuter assistance.

Supervise your dog.

Dogs left on their own may feel uncertain and defensive, or even overly confident, and this poses risks to your dog, as well as to other people and dogs.

Train and socialize your dog.

Be sure your dog interacts with and has good manners around all members of the family, the public and other animals. Basic training is as important for the owner as it is for the dog, and socialization is the key to a well-adjusted adult dog. It is essential that puppies between 8 and 16 weeks old be exposed to a variety of people, places, dogs and other animals. As dogs age, do your best to continue their exposure to these things to ensure that they are well socialized throughout their lives.

Restrain your dog.

Dogs that are allowed to roam loose outside the yard may perceive your entire neighborhood as their “territory” and may defend it aggressively. By obeying leash laws and taking care to properly fence your yard, you will not only be respecting the laws in your community, but you will also be helping keep your dog safe from cars, other dogs and unforeseen dangers.

Unchain your dog.

Chained dogs are 2.8 times more likely to bite. Tethering or chaining dogs increases their stress, protectiveness and vulnerability, thereby increasing the potential for aggression. Fencing is the better solution.

The complete discussion is available on the American Humane Association’s website.


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