Animal Legal Defence Fund

What to do if your dog is in danger of being declared vicious, or if your dog has bitten someone who is now suing you




ALDF Suggests: What to do if your dog is in danger of being declared “vicious,”or if your dog has bitten someone who is now suing you It is a matter of great concern if your dog is in danger of being euthanized for alleged viciousness. If your dog has been impounded, be sure to request a hearing date so that you will have a chance to convince the judge or hearing officer that your dog is not incorrigible and that you are a responsible guardian. It is advisable to have an attorney present with you at the hearing. ALDF offers suggestions for finding an animal law attorney to assist you.

You may want to bring friends, neighbors, your veterinarian or other concerned parties to testify on your and your dog’s behalf. If your dog was seized in error, be sure to bring witnesses who can testify that your dog was elsewhere when the incident occurred.

Temperament testing can be a useful way of providing an independent assessment of your dog’s disposition and may be helpful to your case. Various organizations offer temperament testing. One such organization that offers testing nationwide is the American Temperament Test Society.

The hearing officer may order that your dog be euthanized, even if s/he is not really a danger to the community. In order to save your dog’s life, it is wise to make it clear to the judge and/or hearing officer that you are willing to accept certain restrictions. Agree to any restrictions the judge requires, even if you believe they are not necessary. Such restrictions may include the following:

  • Confinement to a fenced-in area, or inside the home. Also may require improvements to existing fences.
  • Leashing and/or muzzling when the dog is outside the home.
  • Obedience training.

In preparation for the hearing, write a polite letter to the hearing officer/judge assuring him/her that you will faithfully abide by any and all restrictions if your dog is returned to your custody. List some of the restrictions specifically and present copies of the letter to the officials attending the hearing.

Also, have your dog spayed or neutered. In addition to showing the judge or hearing officer that you are a responsible guardian, this may make your dog calmer and less likely to wander.

As a last resort to save the life of your dog, you may want to consider relocating your dog to a good home in another state or county. If you don’t know of a good home where your dog will be taken care of in a responsible and loving manner, check with your local shelter for rescue groups out of the area or check the directory section of World Animal Net.

What if you are sued?

If your dog has been accused of biting and you are sued, a familiarity with the rules governing dogs and their guardians is essential before responding to legal action. In most states, you, as the dog’s guardian, are financially responsible for damages caused by your companion animal. For information on the laws that pertain to dogs in your state, see:

Laws in some states impose “strict liability,” meaning that the guardian is responsible, regardless of whether s/he was in any way responsible for the incident and injury. The effect of such statutes may be mitigated by the conduct of the victim–i.e. if they were trespassing, or teasing, tormenting or provoking the animal. Such defenses will vary according to the state in which the incident occurred and the theories under which you are sued. For information on states with strict liability statutes, see:

For information on judicial options (case law) pertaining to dog bites, see:

Prevention is the best policy!

  • When walking your dog, keep him/her on a leash.
  • Keep your dog in an enclosed yard or indoors with you.
  • Never allow your dog to roam the neighborhood.
  • Always have current license and rabies vaccination tags on your dog’s collar.
  • If you think your dog might injure someone, don’t allow people to approach, your dog; post signs on your property, and never let your dog be the one to be the “greeter” when visitors come to your front door.

Note: Portions of this article were provided by longtime ALDF attorney member, Amy Blaymore Paterson.

For definitions of “dangerous” and/or “vicious,” please visit This website was developed by an attorney (Kenneth Phillips) and it is devoted to the law regarding dog bites.

For a full discussion of your legal rights and responsibilities as the guardian of a companion animal, an excellent resource book is “Every Dog’s Legal Guide: A Must-Have Book for Your Owners,” by Mary Randolph. Written for non-lawyers, it’s a helpful book on a variety of legal issues relating to canine companions. It’s available for purchase from Nolo Press.


Dealing with Aggressive Dogs: Community Solutions That Consider Each Dog, Not Their Breed


Across the country, many cities, counties, and even states, are
attempting to address the problem of aggressive dogs in ways which are
ineffective, and worse, can unfairly punish dogs who have never acted
in an aggressive manner. These jurisdictions are doing this through the
passage of laws that attempt to restrict or ban certain breeds of dogs.

bans and restrictions are extremely problematic. Dangerous dogs can be
of any breed, or of mixed breeds. Such bans are not only difficult to
enforce, but they also unfairly penalize those dogs and guardians who
are behaving in accordance with the laws, while doing nothing to
address one of the root causes of dangerous dogs – irresponsible
guardians. In addition, such bans can embroil a jurisdiction in costly
litigation based on claims brought by guardians of banned breeds
asserting violations of constitutional protections. Fortunately, other
communities are handling this issue in much better ways – by adopting
responsible laws that focus on the behavior of individual dogs and
their guardians, not their breed.

One successful example of such a case-by-case, dog-by-dog approach can be found inMultnomah County, Oregon. This jurisdiction, like many others, has chosen to incorporate a multi-level classification system for problem (potentially dangerous and dangerous)
dogs with differing requirements. Their law provides for hearings and
authorizes the discretion not to classify a dog when the dog’s behavior
was due to “the victim abusing or tormenting the dog, or was directed
towards a trespasser or other similar mitigating or extenuating
circumstances that establishes that the dog does not constitute an
unreasonable risk to human life or property.” In addition, once a dog
is classified, then different types of requirements or restrictions
may  take effect depending upon the specifics of each case. These can
include such things as guardians education and dog training for less
serious cases, to secure enclosures and other safety measures to
protect the community when there is a greater risk. Also, and important
to note, dogs may be declassified as potentially dangerous or dangerous after a certain time period without additional violations.

only are laws like the one in Multnomah County, Oregon inherently more
fair, they are, according to a county official, quite effective –
showing low rates of recidivism.

If your community is
grappling with the problem of dangerous dogs, encourage them to follow
the examples of communities across the country who have adopted fair,
effective laws, treating each dog and owner individually, while at the
same time protecting all members of the community – both those with two
legs and those with four.

Besides the Animal Legal Defense
Fund, there are many other groups and resources available to help guide
your community through this process, including:

A copy of this article was published in The American Dog magazine, Spring 2009.

Dangerous Dog Ordinances Overview
Multnomah County, Oregon


  • Case-by-case, dog-by-dog system
  • Not breed-specific
  • Low recidivism rate
  1. Authorizes the classification of individual dogs as “potentially dangerous” or “dangerous” as determined by specific types of behavior.“Potentially dangerous”:
    Level 1: A dog at large is found to menace, chase, display threatening or aggressive behavior or otherwise threaten or endanger the safety of any person.
    Level 2: A dog, while at large, causes physical injury to any domestic animal.
    Level 3: A dog, while confined so as not to be at large … aggressively bites any person.
    Level 4 behavior is established if:

    1. A dog, while at large:
      (a) Aggressively bites any person; or
      (b) Kills or causes the death of any domestic animal or livestock; or
    2. A dog classified as a Level 3 potentially dangerous dog that repeats the behavior in division (C) of this section after the owner or keeper receives notice of the Level 3 classification.

    “Dangerous” dog classification when:
    – A dog, whether or not confined, causes the serious physical injury or death of any person; or
    – A dog is used as a weapon in the commission of a crime.

  2. Discretion not to classify a dog when the behavior is result of “the victim abusing or tormenting the dog, or was directed towards a trespasser or other similar mitigating or extenuating circumstances that establishes that the dog does not constitute an unreasonable risk to human life or property.”
  3. Once a dog is classified, then different types of regulations/restrictions may take effect depending upon the level, including such possibilities as secure enclosures, muzzling, education, special training, insurance, dangerous dog facilities, etc.
  4. Dogs may be declassified after certain time period without additional violations.
  5. Program utilizes volunteer attorneys from local communities to act as hearings officers for hearings.

For a copy of this code, visit: (PDF)

Interview with a county spokesperson (10/06)


When Your Companion Animal Has Been Harmed


Whether by an acute act of violence or by chronic neglect,
animal cruelty is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Below are some resources to help you when your companion animal has been harmed.

If you witness the abuse or neglect of an animal, please immediately file a complaint with your local law enforcement agency and insist that an investigation be completed. If charges have been filed, please contact ALDF and read this important information.
If you purchased an animal from a breeder or a pet store and then discovered that the animal is sick, or if the animal has even died as a result of ill health, read this information.
If someone has injured or killed your animal, you may be entitled to damages, regardless of whether the animal was injured or killed intentionally or accidentally, as long as the conduct is determined to be negligent. Read this important information.
A majority of states guarantee you the right to submit a Victim Impact Statement as part of a criminal case against someone who injured or killed your companion animal. Learn what to include when writing one and how a Victim Impact Statement may affect your case.
When a police officer kills someone’s companion animal, it deeply affects the animal’s human family, as well as the officer, the neighborhood, and the community. This sad situation is all too common and ALDF fields many calls asking for advice.
This information is designed to provide a general introduction to handling companion animal wrongful death or injury cases both for caretakers of animals who have been injured or killed and for attorneys handling these cases for their clients.
One of the most frequent requests for assistance that the Animal Legal Defense Fund receives is from people whose companion animals have suffered injuries, or even death, and who fear that negligence by their veterinarian was the cause. Here is some important information about veterinary malpractice.
Finding an attorney to help with your animal-related issue can be an important step. ALDF offers these helpful suggestions when finding an animal law attorney.
Abusers of animals are five times as likely to harm humans. Nearly half of the victims who stay in violent households do so because they are afraid for their animals. The “link” between violence against humans and animals is clear. But there are resources that can help.
Several academic studies have found a clear link between animal cruelty during youth and violence against humans as an adult. This link is so well established, profilers routinely use animal cruelty reports in their assessment of the possible threat criminals pose.
Mourning an animal companion is painful enough due to the loss itself, but may be deeper still due to the loneliness of this type of grieving. Often, others fail to appreciate the depth of our grief, making the process that much more painful. Read this insightful article for help during this difficult time.
A principal function of the American legal system is to resolve disputes through an attempt to determine the truth. There are generally two kinds of legal actions filed in the U.S.: civil cases and criminal cases. This page describes the process of a civil lawsuit.

How Can Non-Lawyers Get Involved in Animal Law?


Join us! Sign up for ALDF’s Action Alerts, connect with us on social media to share our cases and campaigns, and donate to support our work.



Educate yourself and others about animal law. For example, many people are surprised to learn that there are virtually no laws protecting farmed animals from cruel treatment. Spread awareness to promote change.

Use your voice! Speak up for animals, report animal cruelty, and let your elected representatives know you support strong animal protection laws and enforcement.

Support the animal protection movement. The legal system does not exist in a vacuum; it is a reflection of our culture and shared values. The law typically follows rather than creates social change, so working to change attitudes and norms regarding acceptable treatment of animals is essential to creating long-term legal change.


All courtesy of our friends over at the Animal Defense Legal Fund…… ADLF