Articles Posted in Animal Law

50062_dog_biteMy client was 37 years old, recently separated, and a manual laborer who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Initially, my client was working on his wife’s car in the street when he decided to take a break and chat with his neighbor.  A short time later, the neighbor’s wife opened the front door and my client could see and hear that she was yelling at her two dogs to keep back from exiting the front door.  She was successful the first time.  Subsequently, she opened the door to walk down and give her husband a sack lunch.  However, this time, the two dogs rushed out the front door.

The dogs headed straight for my client who was in the street.  As he saw two rushing dogs, he attempted to jump up on the trunk of another neighbor’s car.  On his third attempt, the white (female) dog nipped at his pant leg which caused my client to slip and fall to the asphalt below squarely on his right elbow.  As he was down on the ground, he noticed that the second (male) dog was about to bite his face so he threw up his left forearm in defense which was promptly bitten by the black dog.  It took the owners over fifteen (15) minutes to get both dogs back into the house.  According to my client, the dogs were growling at the owners as well during this process.

My client drove himself to the hospital where his injuries were cleaned, a tetanus shot was provided and an x-ray was taken of the right elbow.  Fortunately, there were no fractures or stitches and the dogs were later found to be vaccinated against rabies.  Yet, the pain continued and worsened in his right elbow and left triceps area.  My client went back to the same hospital about a month and ten days later as fluid and swelling in his right elbow was causing limited range of motion and pain.  At the second visit, the hospital performed another x-ray, provided another prescription and discharged my client. The prescriptions were never filled due to the cost and over the counter NSAIDs were purchased.

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I am an admitted dog lover.  From a review of my pictures as a toddler to the present, it is clear that dogs have been and still are a large part of my life.  My wife just reminded me that I should also mention that she brought a cat (Ollie) into my life and he has been a good family pet as well. 😉

The last three dogs that I have adopted over the years have all been rescue dogs.  The first dog, Griffin, was found on Griffin Street in The Bluff – a rough and tough part of Atlanta – as I was working on a real estate project back in 1999.  The second dog, Roscoe, was found as a pup snoozing in the middle of a dirt road on a large farm in Valdosta.  The third dog, Rudy, was found (and purchased) on the side of Tara Blvd in Jonesboro as I saw a developmentally disabled teenager carrying the pup by his neck as I was driving back to the office from a pre-trial conference in the State Court of Clayton County.  Unfortunately, the first two dogs have succumbed to cancer.  Yet, both dogs lived past the age of 14 and were provided a good home, a big yard and lots of cold water.  And, yes, the value of the lives of these two dogs was profound and inestimable to me.

I get many phone calls to my office from strangers regarding animal law in Georgia.  These calls range from dog bites to veterinarian/day care malpractice/negligence.  A great majority of the phone calls revolved around the concept of the monetary value of the loss of the life of a pet due to alleged veterinarian/daycare negligence relating to diagnosis or treatment, among other areas.  I always felt bad to deliver the bad news to these owners when I would tell them that in general, Georgia law viewed dogs as the personal property of the owner and not worthy of anything more than market value plus reasonable expenses incurred to cure the animal and that the intrinsic value of the pet to the owner was not relevant.  In most cases, this method of determination of value made such cases too expensive to pursue.

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Here we go again. Yet another story in the news about an errant owner of one pit bull (this one named Rambo) who terrified, mauled and permanently disfigured a child in Douglas County, Georgia. The sordid details indicate an owner who had been cited on numerous occasions (10 to be exact) for allowing an unleashed Rambo, who had a previous history of an attack, to roam the Douglas County neighborhood at will. Rambo rushed at an eight year old neighborhood child named Dakota Holt, bit him in the face and knocked him to the ground causing catastrophic injuries that necessitated past plastic surgery and eventual reconstructive surgeries. It is estimated that the child will require ten (10) additional surgeries to repair and correct his disfigurement. It has also been reported that Dakota has sustained past, present and possibly future emotional trauma.

The Douglasville City Council previously voted against an ordinance specifically aimed at pit bulls a year ago. The ordinance would have required that owners of pit bulls register their animals and keep them confined or face a fine of $500.00. Apparently, dog owners and the Humane Society battled against the ordinance as it singled out specific dog breeds on the basis of previous attacks. The irony of the incredulous position of the Humane Society is not lost upon me.

I think Douglas County and the State of Georgia need to progressively push the envelope on the issue of protecting Georgia citizens from dangerous dog breeds. I have seen owners of pit bulls in and around Greater Atlanta walking their trophy dogs. I don’t think some of these owners would be deterred by a fine of $500. The proposed Douglas County ordinance lacked teeth. A toothless lion is still a toothless lion.

So here is a proposal. Enact legislation that is either county specific or state wide that would require owners of dangerous breeds to purchase a policy of insurance that insures the owner for the conduct of the animal. The requirement to acquire such insurance would apply irrespective of whether the owner owned a home or rented an apartment. Failure to adhere to said law would result in mandatory community service, a fine over several thousand dollars and jail time for repeat offenders. Not only would the insurance industry be happy with a new source of revenue but the public at large would be ensured that man’s best friend does not morph into man’s worst enemy in terms of unfunded medical liabilities arising from such attacks.
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