Downeast Dog News
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What Defines a Dangerous Dog? – Part 1

By Don Hanson, ACCBC, BFRAP, CDBC, CPDT-KA | May 01, 2017

Last July I wrote the first of three columns addressing dog bites and fatalities after a seven-year-old boy died as a result of an attack by a dog. For the past few weeks, the news and social media have been abuzz with a rescue dog from the Waterville area (Dakota) that has attacked and killed a dog. This dog was scheduled for euthanasia, has been pardoned by the Governor, then the court reinstated the euthanasia order, and now this case has been appealed to a higher court, which means a final disposition of this case may not happen until this fall.

Dakota’s case has been emotionally charged, and I think it will be to the benefit of all dogs and dog lovers if we look at this case objectively. This is my attempt to do so.

So what defines a dangerous dog? Title 7, Section 3907, 12-D of the Maine statutes defines a dangerous dog as - "Dangerous dog" means a dog or wolf hybrid that bites an individual or a domesticated animal who is not trespassing on the dog or wolf hybrid owner's or keeper's premises at the time of the bite or a dog or wolf hybrid that causes a reasonable and prudent person who is not on the dog or wolf hybrid owner's or keeper's premises and is acting in a reasonable and nonaggressive manner to fear imminent bodily injury by assaulting or threatening to assault that individual or individual's domestic animal. "Dangerous dog" does not include a dog certified by the State and used for law enforcement use. "Dangerous dog" does not include a dog or wolf hybrid that bites or threatens to assault an individual who is on the dog or wolf hybrid owner's or keeper's premises if the dog or wolf hybrid has no prior history of assault and was provoked by the individual immediately prior to the bite or threatened assault.” [Emphasis added]

The definition above makes it clear that if a dog bites a person or a domesticated animal, he meets Maine’s legal criteria of being a “dangerous dog.” In fact, based on the above definition, the mere act of exhibiting threatening behavior, without actually biting, would meet the definition of being dangerous. While the law does not specifically address whether or not a dog that kills a person or a domesticated animal is dangerous, it seems that the logical conclusion would be that a dog that kills is extremely dangerous.

The legal community and canine behavior professionals have been using a bite scale developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar for many years. The scale is an objective assessment of the severity of dog bites based on an evaluation of wound pathology. It starts off with Level 1, which is described as “Fearful, aggressive, or obnoxious behavior but no skin-contact by teeth.” The Dunbar bite scale is very similar to Maine law which declares that a dog that is threatening may be considered as dangerous.

Dr. Dunbar rates the prognosis of rehabilitating a dog with a Level 1 to Level 2 bite as good and a level 3 bite as fair. However, Dr. Dunbar states that a dog exhibiting a Level 4 bite (a single bite with at least one puncture) is dangerous with a poor prognosis. Dogs that have bitten at Level 5 (multiple bites and severe mutilation) through Level 6 (the victim is killed) are considered to be dangerous by Dr. Dunbar and have a dire prognosis for rehabilitation. I believe Maine’s law on dangerous dogs could be improved by incorporating Dr. Dunbar’s bite scale.

If the court finds that a dog is dangerous as defined above, the law dictates that the court shall impose a fine, and:

“Order the dog confined in a secure enclosure except as provided in paragraph C or subsection 8. For the purposes of this paragraph, "secure enclosure" means a fence or structure of at least 6 feet in height forming or making an enclosure suitable to prevent the entry of young children and suitable to confine a dangerous dog in conjunction with other measures that may be taken by the owner or keeper, such as tethering the dangerous dog. The secure enclosure must be locked, be designed with secure top, bottom and sides and be designed to prevent the animal from escaping from the enclosure. The court shall specify the length of the period of confinement and may order permanent confinement; [2011, c. 82, §1 (AMD).]”

• “Order the dog to be euthanized if it has killed, maimed or inflicted serious bodily injury upon a person or has a history of a prior assault or a prior finding by the court of being a dangerous dog; or [2011, c. 82, §1 (AMD).]”

• “Order the dog to be securely muzzled, restricted by a tether not more than 3 feet in length with a minimum tensile strength of 300 pounds and under the direct control of the dog’s owner or keeper whenever the dog is off the owner's or keeper's premises. [2011, c. 82, §1 (NEW).]”

• The court may also choose to order restitution to the injured parties.

I love dogs and hate to see a dog lose its life to natural causes or state mandated euthanasia; however, I also hate to see a person or another animal attacked and even possibly killed by a dog. The fact is not all dogs that exhibit aggression can be rehabilitated and are safe to be rehomed. We need to have equal concern for the community at large as we do for any individual dog.

This case leaves me with questions for which I do not have an answer. If Dakota is released, who will be legally, financially, and morally liable for any future aggression by Dakota? The courts, the Governor, those who have evaluated Dakota and insist he will be safe in the future, Dakota’s owner, or all of the above?

Next month I will delve into this issue further, discussing the obligations of those who rehome a dangerous dog and the responsibilities of someone who adopts a dangerous dog.

 

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Don Hanson is the co-owner of the Green Acres Kennel Shop (greenacreskennel.com) in Bangor. He is a Bach Foundation Registered Animal Practitioner (BFRAP), Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC), Associate Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (ACCBC) and a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA). He produces and co- hosts a weekly radio show and podcast, The Woof Meow Show heard on The Pulse AM620 WZON and streamed at http://www.wzonradio.com/ every Saturday at 9 AM. A list of upcoming shows and podcasts of past shows can be found at www.woofmeowshow.com. Don also writes about pets at his blog: www.words-woofs-meows.com. He is committed to pet care and pet training that is free of pain, force, and fear.