What happens if your dog bites someone?

Anyone who knows me, knows I love dogs. Here's a recent photo of our newest dog Jasper, who we adopted (or adopted us) from the Pasco County Animal Services in September. 057 And here's a picture of our other dog, Rosie, who we found tied to a dumpster outside of our office 8 years ago. 027 Both dogs rule the house. We plan our outings and vacations around the dogs, they sleep in Temperpedic beds, take long walks everyday, swim in the pool, and I even make Rosie's dog food because she's sensitive to commercial food. But legally, these clear members of our family, are not "people" and are therefore not subject to the same rights as people. They are what's known in the law as "chattel", a law school word used to describe farm animals in colonial times and basically means that dogs are property and can be taken by the government just like any other property. But under Florida law, according to a Manatee County court, the "dangerous dog" statute gave "unbridled discretion" to animal control officers to enforce the law, and did not afford the owners "due process" to prevent the taking of their "property". If your dog bites a person, they will most likely be confiscated by animal services. Animal services - an administrative branch of our elected county government, then makes the determination as to what to do with the dog. They make a determination as to whether or not the dog will be classified as a "dangerous dog" and/or whether or not the dog will be euthanized. The owner has the right to a hearing. There are two main parts of the law. The first part, Florida Statute 767.12 talks about "dangerous dogs" which is a determination that animal services can make about any given dog. The second part of the statute, 767.13 talks about a dog who causes "severe injury" to a person. This is the part that was recently declared unconstitutional in Manatee County. In case you weren't following the case of Padi, a 4 year old lab owned by a Manatee County veterinarian who bit a small child on the ear last June: I'll try to sum it up briefly. Dr. Paul Gartenberg brought his dog Padi to work in his veterinary clinic. One day, a small boy who was accompanying his babysitter to the vet's office was bothering Padi - Padi went behind the counter to get away from the boy, the boy followed, and Padi ultimately bit the child on the ear causing "severe injury". Animal Services confiscated the dog and their intent was to euthanize the dog because Padi had caused "severe injury". Note that Padi was never declared a dangerous dog. If Padi had been a dangerous dog, Dr. Gartenberg could have argued that the child had provoked the dog. But pursuant to the second section of statute, 767.13, it doesn't matter if the dog was dangerous or not, but merely that the dog had caused severe injury. (The fact that he couldn't make a defense that the child was provoking the dog is what caused the due process violation) Luckily for Padi - in December after much legal wrangling, the court found that Florida Statute 767.13 was unconstitutional for two reasons. The first was that the part of the statute that called for euthanasia of the dog who had caused sever injury was unreasonable to protect a government interest. The second reason was that it gave too much rule making authority, which the court called "unbridled discretion", with no means for the public to object, to animal services. (legally speaking, it took property without due process of the law). So Padi was returned to his owner, and hopefully will live happily ever after. But the interesting thing about this is that the Florida Legislature has already taken this law and rewritten it to make it more favorable to the dog owners. Here's a link to the bill. It provided a nice summary of the current law and it's defects with a concise solution under the new bill. Congrats Florida Legislature for your fast action.
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