When Should “Potentially Dangerous” Dogs Be Killed?

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In Orange County, dogs that are seen as potentially dangerous could be killed more easily under a proposal sought by county Supervisor Todd Spitzer.

As it stands, many of the dogs that are impounded for being “vicious” or “potentially dangerous” are returned to their owners.

Now Spitzer wants the default for the county to be that dangerous dogs are killed, leaving it to the animal control director to justify giving the dog back instead.

The county would have “tremendous liability issues” if it put a dog that caused serious injuries back into a community and the dog then injured another person, Spitzer said.

He directed county staff to analyze that approach and whether it’s legal.

Chairman Shawn Nelson had similar questions about the county’s current handling of these cases, asking why dangerous dogs are returned to owners in the first place.

The county labels a dog as vicious, “and now we’re going to put that animal back in a setting where it can go injure someone?” Nelson asked rhetorically.

Supervisors also approved setting up a website to lisdt photographs and addresses of dangerous dogs that are returned to their owners.

“Anybody who has a vicious dog should probably have their head examined in the first place,” said Spitzer, adding that for those who do own one, “the public has a right to know you have it.”

County Animal Care Director Ryan Drabek said that as it stands, if there are significant injuries or bite wounds or an owner isn’t capable of taking care of the dog, the county may destroy the dog.

“Each individual case is different,” said Drabek, who ultimately makes the decision on whether to put a dog down.

“We believe for public protection, this is a very valuable resource for our constituency,” he added.

Supervisor Pat Bates, meanwhile, said the issue is nuanced, pointing out that a lot of these issues surround guard dogs that escape from the area they’re supposed to protect.

The question from the county’s side, Bates said, should be whether the dogs are controllable.

The “owner must be in total control of that animal” or it should be permitted in neighborhood, said Bates.

In these types of situations, Bates said, the county often places restrictions on the dog, such as requiring double locks to keep it contained. If the owner doesn’t comply, the dog is taken, she said.

Nelson still wasn’t satisfied.

“If a dog has been found to be vicious, as a county supervisor I don’t want that dog in my neighborhood, and I don’t want that dog in anybody else’s neighborhood,” he said. “I don’t want dangerous dogs in neighborhoods, period.”

As for the county’s definitions of “potentially dangerous dog” and “vicious dog,” Spitzer said they’re “very clear.”

A “potentially dangerous dog” is defined as a dog that without provocation on two occasions within a three-year period either inflicts bodily injury on a person or domesticated animal or livestock or a dog that causes a less-than-severe injury to a person, including muscle tear, disfiguring lacerations, multiple bite wounds or broken bones, said Spitzer.

Spitzer was incredulous that these types of dogs are allowed to return to their owners. “That goes to the chairman’s point. Really?” he asked. “Really?”

Asked how he makes his determinations on whether to kill dogs, Drabek said he errs “very much on the side of caution with these incidences. Even minor incidences, to me, can show that the dog might be dangerous.”

“First incident or [not], we’re going to impound the dog,” he said.

Then, he said, he and his staff investigate the incident.

“If it’s a dog that I believe needs to be put down,” his department will destroy it, Drabek said.

It was at that point that Spitzer suggested that the presumption be that dangerous dogs are destroyed, with Drabek needing to justify letting the dog live and giving it back to the owner.

County staff are also set to research whether the county can require insurance policies for those who keep commercial watchdogs.

The issue is set to return at the Oct. 1 meeting.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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