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The Dangerous Dog Statute

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Dangerous Dog Statute

Under Pennsylvania law, the victim of a dog attack can move to have the dog declared dangerous and its owner guilty of harboring a dangerous dog – a summary offense. Once declared dangerous, the owner of the dog must follow a series of requirements to maintain ownership of the dog.

3 P.S. Section 459-502-A allows victims of an unprovoked dog attack, or owners of domestic animals killed or involved in an unprovoked attack, to file a complaint before a local magisterial district judge, charging the owner with harboring a dangerous dog.

There are several magisterial district judges in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. For example, Montgomery County has approximately 30 magisterial district judges. 

In order to declare a dog dangerous and have its owner found guilty of harboring a dangerous dog, the district judge must determine the following beyond a reasonable doubt:

(1) the dog engaged in one of the following acts:
-inflicted severe injury on a human without provocation;
-killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal without provocation;
-attacked a human without provocation; or
-was used in the commission of a crime.

AND

(2) the dog either has:
-a history of attacking humans or domestic animals without provocation; or
-a propensity to attack humans or domestic animals without provocation as proved by the single incident complained of.

Importantly, a victim of a dog attack does not need to show previous attacks to have a dog declared dangerous. Pennsylvania Courts have eliminated the “one-free bite” defense.  Instead, the statute allows a dog to be declared dangerous following ONE attack if the dog has dangerous qualities.

Once proceedings begin, the owner may not transfer, sell, or move the dog, though there are limited exceptions. After the judge determines the dog is dangerous, a record of the owner's conviction for harboring the dangerous dog is sent to the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and the owner must pay court-ordered restitution to the victim of the attack.

Furthermore, the dog owner must obtain a dangerous dog certificate with a registration fee of at least $500 a year. The owner must also confine the dog properly, place warning signs and symbols on the property, keep the dog muzzled and leashed when not confined, spay/neuter the dog, microchip the dog, and maintain a minimum of $50,000 of liability insurance coverage for any future injuries. The dog owner must also notify the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement of any important updates involving the dog. These statutory requirements are in place to prevent subsequent attacks by dogs that have been deemed dangerous.

If the dangerous dog attacks again, the dog may be immediately seized and potentially put to sleep. The owner of the dog shall be guilty of a second degree misdemeanor and must bear all related costs.

Something can be done about an unprovoked dog attack, even if there are no serious injuries. If you have been attacked by a dog, you may be able to seek relief. Contact the attorneys at Brad Cooper & Associates, LLC to learn more about the steps you can take.