Georgia’s "Responsible Dog Ownership Law" Summary
On May 3, 2012 Governor Deal signed the "Responsible Dog Ownership Law", OCGA 4-8-1 through 4-8-33, legislation sponsored by Rep. Gene Maddox 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 but does not prevent counties or cities from adding more restrictive requirements & stringent penalties. This law clarifies classifications of dogs subsequent to the event and outlines the responsibilities of owners and the consequences of non-compliance with the requirements. The effective date is July 1, 2012.
This review is intended to inform the reader of the most common applications of the law. Further study is encouraged by downloading the statute at : http://www.legis.ga.gov/Legislation/en-US/display/20112012/HB/685
DANGEROUS DOG may be classified if the dog:
- Causes a substantial puncture of a person by teeth without causing serious injury (not a nip, scratch or abrasion); or
- Aggressively attacks in a manner that poses imminent threat of serious injury to person or another person (acts of growling, barking, showing teeth alone is not sufficient to qualify. Ask, was there a chase involved or other action by dog?); or
- While off owner's property, kills a pet animal (some exceptions allowed but limited).
VICIOUS DOG may be classified if the dog:
- Inflicts a serious injury on a person; or
- Causes serious injury to a person attempting to escape attack (can include falling, hitting an object or running into the street and hit by car)
Bites/or attacks from dogs conducting military and police activity, or if the victim was committing trespass, committing or attempting to commit a crime or abusing the dog. Note, under GA law, children under a certain age are unable to determine trespass and therefore may be immune to this exemption.
DANGEROUS DOG REQUIREMENTS:
- Certificates of Registration: Dog owner must register & receive a certificate of registration which can only be issued to a person 18 or older. Certificates are not transferable. No more than one certificate per domicile. No registration is allowed for any person convicted of two or more violations of this law. Certifications are renewed annually and failure to renew within ten days of renewal date constitutes a violation of this law and can result in confiscation of classified dog.
- Owner must maintain a secure, locked enclosure to confine the dog on the owner's property .
- A clearly visible sign must be posted warning of the "Dangerous" Dog at all entrances to the premises
- Dog must not leave property unless on a leashed not to exceed 6 foot and under the immediate physical control of a person capable of preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal when necessary, or in a locked cage or crate.
- Owner must notify the dog control officer within 24 hours if the dog is on the loose or has attacked a human and shall notify the dog control officer within 24 hours if the dog has died or has been euthanized.
- The owner of a classified dog who moves from one jurisdiction to another within the State of Georgia shall register the classified dog in the new jurisdiction within ten days of becoming a resident and notify the dog control officer of the jurisdiction from which he or she moved. The owner of a similarly classified dog who moves into this state shall register the dog within 30 days of becoming a resident.
- Although the law is silent on transferability of a dangerous dog, the law clearly states that a dangerous dog “certificate” is not transferable. Any new owner would have to re-register and ensure requirements are met.
- Violation of any of the above requirements is a misdemeanor.
- Failing to comply with the requirements will result in immediate confiscation of dog and a refusal to surrender dog will constitute a violation of law, a misdemeanor.
VICIOUS DOG REQUIREMENTS:
An owner with a previous conviction for a violation of this law whose classified dog causes serious injury to a human being under circumstances constituting another violation of this article shall be guilty of a felony and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years, a fine of not less than $5,000.00 nor more than $10,000.00, or both. In addition, the classified dog shall be euthanized at the cost of the owner.
The judge of any superior court of competent jurisdiction within this state may order the euthanasia of a dog if the court finds, after notice and opportunity for hearing, that the dog has seriously injured a human or presents a danger to humans not suitable for control under this article and:
(1) The owner or custodian of the dog has been convicted of a violation of any state criminal law and the crime was related to such dog; or
(2) Any local governmental authority has filed with the court a civil action requesting the euthanasia of the dog.
A dog that is found, after notice and opportunity for hearing to have caused a serious injury to a human on more than one occasion shall be euthanized; provided, however, that no injury occurring before July 1, 2012, shall count for purposes of this subsection.
IMPOUND/CONFISCATION/RECOVERY OF DOG*
- Upon receiving a report of a dog believed to be subject to classification in officer’s jurisdiction, the dog control officer shall make such investigations as necessary to determine whether such dog is subject to classification as a dangerous dog or vicious dog.
- A law enforcement officer or dog control officer shall immediately impound a dog if the officer believes the dog poses a threat to the public safety.
- A dangerous or vicious dog shall be immediately confiscated by any dog control officer or by a law enforcement officer in the case of any violation of this law.
- A refusal to surrender a dog subject to confiscation shall be a violation of this article.
- The owner may recover such dog upon payment of reasonable confiscation and housing costs and proof of compliance.
- All fines and all charges for services performed by a law enforcement or dog control officer shall be paid prior to owner recovery of the dog.
- Criminal prosecution shall not be stayed due to owner recovery or euthanasia of the dog.
- In the event the owner has not complied with the provisions of this article within 20 days of the date the dog was confiscated, such dog shall be destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner and the owner may be required to pay the costs of housing and euthanasia.
EXCUSES COMMONLY GIVEN
“It is not my dog, it is my son’s (a minor) dog”
The definition of owner was amended to include “in the case of a dog owned by a minor, the term “owner” includes the parent or person in loco parentis with custody of minor.
“It is not my dog. I am just watching it for a friend”:
Owner can include anyone possessing, harboring, keeping or having custody or control of a dog. Note, the law is silent on time period.
In proving ownership, investigate the person caring for the dog (providing food and water). Interviewing neighbors will most likely uncover facts not provided by owner. However, some neighbors, despite having valuable information, may be reluctant to get involved. It is beneficial to request veterinarian’s name and request records from directly the veterinarian rather than owner. Review records to see if vet stated anything related to the dog’s aggression as it may reveal owner’s prior knowledge of aggression, although that is not necessary to prove under this law. However, owner’s prior knowledge of aggression may bolster prosecutor’s case.
Serious injury was amended to include a broader range of injuries. The old law did not take in to account other injuries such as “avulsions” which result in a large hole that cannot be sutured. Furthermore, a puncture wound with a tear or anything needing sutures can be classified as a serious injury. The new definition is:
'Serious injury' means any physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death; results in death, broken or dislocated bones, lacerations requiring multiple sutures, or disfiguring avulsions; requires plastic surgery or admission to a hospital; or results in protracted impairment of health, including transmission of an infection or contagious disease, or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.
GOVERNMENT MUST DESIGNATE A DOG CONTROL OFFICER
Each local government (any county or municipality of this state) must designate an individual as dog control officer to aid in the administration and enforcement of the provisions of this article. A county's jurisdiction for the enforcement of this article shall be the unincorporated area of the county and a municipality's jurisdiction for such enforcement shall be the territory within the corporate limits of the municipality. A person carrying out the duties of dog control officer shall not be authorized to make arrests unless the person is a law enforcement officer having the powers of arrest. Any county or municipality or any combination of such local governments may enter into agreements with each other.
WHO HAS THE AUTHORITY TO ENFORCE?
Since a local government shall designate an individual as dog control officer, that dog control officer and/or law enforcement (police, sheriff, sheriff’s deputy, animal control officer), or dog control officer appointed under Code Section 31-19-7 for rabies control may have additional duties and have the authority to enforce this law. It is recommended but mandatory to seek consent of the sheriff, that the governing authority of a local government may assign the additional duties of dog control officer to a county sheriff or to a sheriff's deputy. The same applies when the local government when seeking consent with the county board of health to request additional duties for rabies control officer who was appointed under Code Section 31-19-7.
WHO CAN CONDUCT HEARINGS?
A statewide goal is to have uniformity in procedures involving these cases, however hearing procedures vary in jurisdictions. The Georgia state law says “authority” means an animal control board or local board of health, as determined by the governing authority of a local government. When no board exists, sometimes animal control and/or magistrate court may handle the classification hearings. Note, classification hearings are not the same as the trial for the criminal prosecution. However, some jurisdiction may conclude the matter at the classification hearing, especially when the victim has been made whole and a serious injury has not occurred. It is recommended to use state court when the victim is involved (regardless of severity of injury) or when a serious injury occurs. Also, prosecutors should consider the victim’s condition and damages and request restitution since often times there is no possibility to collect for damages under a civil remedy (often times, the dog owner does not have insurance or assets to cover victim’s damages). All felonies are typically heard in superior court.
WHAT ABOUT CLASSIFICATIONS OCCURRING BEFORE JULY 1, 2012 and Pending Proceedings on July 1, 2012?
Any dog classified prior to July 1, 2012, as a potentially dangerous dog in this state shall on and after that date be classified as a dangerous dog under this article. Any dog classified prior to July 1, 2012, as a dangerous dog or vicious dog in this state shall on and after that date be classified as a vicious dog under this article. The owner of any dog referred above shall come into compliance with all current provisions of this article by January 1, 2013. This Act shall become effective on July 1, 2012, and shall apply to proceedings for the classification and registration of dogs which are pending on that date as well as to such proceedings which arise on or after that date.
NO DEFENSE IF:
Any irregularity in classification proceedings shall not be a defense to any prosecution under this article so long as the owner of the dog received actual notice of the classification and did not pursue a civil remedy for the correction of the irregularity.
Under no circumstances shall a local government or any employee or official of a local government be held liable for any damages to any person who suffers an injury inflicted by a dog as a result of a failure to enforce the provisions of this article.
OTHER CHARGES TO CONSIDER IN ADDITION TO A VIOLATION OF THIS LAW
- Child Endangerment – parents leaving child unattended or putting child in dangerous contact with dog
- Reckless Conduct – overall recklessness by owner
- Aggravated Assault – when using dog as a weapon
- Failure to provide Rabies Vaccination
- Failure to provide proof of rabies vaccination
- Interfering with Law Enforcement
- Nuisance & Zoning Violations or other civil remedies
CIVIL LAW CHANGES
If a dog, while off the owner's or custodian's property causes injury, death, or damage directly or indirectly to any livestock, or poultry, or pet animal shall be civilly liable to the owner of the livestock, or poultry, or pet animal for damages, death, or injury, death, or damage caused by the dog. The owner or, if no owner can be found, the custodian exercising care and control over any dog shall be liable for any damage caused by such dog to public or private property.