When vicious dogs run wild in the streets, they can inflict grievous injuries on innocent bystanders. The danger of rampant dogs was underscored on January 17, 2017, when a dog attack on a group of schoolchildren in Atlanta made national headlines.
In this extraordinarily savage attack, two roaming neighborhood dogs assailed upon the children on their way to their morning bus stop. Two brave youngsters, 6 year old Logan Braatz and 5 year old Syari Sanders, tried to protect their classmates from the attack. Unfortunately, Logan and Syari were no match for the vicious animals. Logan died as a result of his injuries. Syari survived but her scalp was severed from her skull during the attack. The owner was arrested and has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Logan and reckless conduct in the brutal mauling of Syari.
Regulations for Dog Owners
In 2012, Georgia enacted the Responsible Dog Ownership Law (RDOL) to protect the general public and their pets from injuries and death caused by dog attacks. The law was meant to provide minimal standards across the state. RDOL also provides a framework for classifying threatening dogs as either dangerous or vicious. A dangerous dog is a step below a vicious dog. As such, there are fewer restrictions on the owners of dangerous dogs. A dog is classified as either dangerous or vicious based on the injuries inflicted as a result of the dog bite.
A dangerous dog is one that:
- Causes a substantial puncture of a person’s skin by teeth without causing serious injury (a nip, scratch, or abrasion is NOT sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous)
- Aggressively attacks in a manner that causes a person to reasonably believe that the dog posed an imminent threat of serious injury although serious injury does not occur (barking, growling, or showing of teeth by a dog is NOT sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous)
- While off of the owner’s property, kills a pet animal (some exceptions may apply to dogs being used for herding or predatory control purposes)
A vicious dog is one that:
- Inflicts serious injury on a person; or
- Causes serious injury to a person attempting to escape an attack (ex. falling, hitting an object, or running into the street and being hit by a car)
A serious injury is one that:
- Results in death or creates a substantial risk of death; broken or dislocated bones, lacerations requiring multiple sutures, requires plastic surgery or admission to a hospital, or results in prolonged health impairment
Procedural Requirements for Classifying a Dog as Dangerous or Vicious
Dogs that have bitten a person have to be registered with animal control. Animal control officers investigate all reports that they receive in an effort to determine if the dog should be classified as dangerous or vicious. When the officer determines that a dog is subject to classification as dangerous or vicious, the officer must provide notice of the determination to the dog’s owner within 72 hours. The owner then has a right to request a court hearing to challenge this decision. If any dog is a threat to public safety, a law enforcement or animal control officer can impound the animal without notice.
Euthanasia for Aggressive Animals
Vicious animals that have caused serious injuries to a person on more than one occasion will be euthanized. If the dog does not meet this standard, there is an involved legal process. Superior court judges will only grant an order of euthanasia if (1) local government officials file a civil action requesting that the dog be euthanized; or (2) the owner has been convicted of a crime that directly relates to the dog.
Local Ordinances for Dog Owners
In addition to the minimum standards set forth under the Responsible Dog Ownership Law, many cities have their own ordinances and breed-specific rules. Because victims have the burden of proof, dogs and their owners are protected by these rules on the basis that they are innocent until proven guilty.
State RDOL Law versus the Local Ordinances
State law violations under RDOL will create a state criminal record that follows the dog owner. Penalties under state law are also tougher. RDOL should be used as the means of prosecution in cases where serious injury occurs as a result of a dog attack or when a reckless dog owner fails to comply with requirements that have already been imposed from a prior charge.
Creating a Record
The bottom line is that anyone who has been bitten or threatened by a dog needs to contact animal control to make a report.
- In Fulton County, call 404-613-0358
- In DeKalb County, call 404-294-2996
- In Gwinnett County, call 770-339-3200
- In Cobb County, call 770-499-4136
If you live in another area, check online or in the phone book to contact the animal control authority that serves your area. If you’re having an emergency, don’t hesitate to call 911. Use your cellphone to take pictures of the dog and your injuries.
Although the process of having a dog classified as dangerous or vicious is time-consuming, persistence is critical to protect the public from tragedies like the attack that happened in southwest Atlanta.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured as a result of a dog attack, contact The Mabrey Firm today for a free consultation.