Why should you know about New York’s dangerous dog law?
Laverne’s foster family adopted her and had for her 3 years.  In 2016, she nipped a visitor to the family’s property.  The Court did not find that she was dangerous, but the local township met with and “convinced” the family, who had no legal representation at the meeting, to agree to have her euthanized even though she was not deemed dangerous.  A rescue group nearby stepped up when they found out, hired an attorney, and prevailed on saving her and having her returned to the rescue.  She is as sweet as can be, and does well around children!

How does New York law define a “dangerous dog”?
A dangerous dog is any dog that without justification, attacks a person, companion animal, farm animal or domestic animal and causes physical injury or death, or behaves in a manner that a “reasonable person” would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to one or more persons, companion animals, farm animals or domestic animals, or without justification attacks a service dog, guide dog or hearing dog and causes physical injury or death.

What does “reasonable person” mean?
A reasonable person is an ordinary person who uses average care, skill, and judgment.

What does “serious physical injury” mean?
Serious physical injury means an injury that creates a substantial risk of death, or that causes death or serious or prolonged disfigurement, impairment of health, or the prolonged loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.

What does “companion animals” mean?
Companion animals or “pets” are any dog or cat, and any other domesticated animal that normally lives in or near the household of the owner who cares for them.

What does “farm animals” mean?
Farm animals are poultry, cattle, sheep, swine, goats, llamas, horses or fur-bearing animals which are raised for commercial or food purposes.

What does “domestic animals” mean?
Domestic animals are any domesticated sheep, horse, cattle, deer, llama, goat, swine, fowl, duck, goose, swan, turkey, rabbit, pheasant or other bird which is raised in confinement under license from the state Department of Environmental Conservation before release from captivity.

What does “physical injury” mean?
Physical Injury means physical harm/injury or substantial pain.

If you think a dog is dangerous, what should you do? Who can make a complaint?
Any person who witnesses an actual or potential attack on a person, companion animal, farm animal, or domestic animal.  An adult acting on behalf of someone under the age of 18 may also make a complaint.

Where/to whom can you make a complaint?
If you would like to make a complaint, you should contact the local dog control officer or police officer.

What happens after a complaint is made to a dog control or police officer?
The local dog control or police officer should inform you of your right to “commence a proceeding.”  This means that they should tell you the next step you will have to take, which includes describing what happened under oath/affirmation in front of a judge.

If the dog control or police officer thinks a dog is dangerous, he/she may go before the judge at this time. The person who goes before the judge is called the complainant.

What is the judge’s role?
After a complaint is made to a dog control or police officer, either you or the dog control/police officer will go before the judge.  The judge will determine at that time whether there is “probable cause” to determine that the dog is dangerous.  Probable cause means that there is sufficient reason to believe that the dog is a dangerous dog.  If the judge finds that there is sufficient reason to believe this, then the judge will issue an order requiring that the dog be taken away from the owner immediately.

Whether or not the judge orders that the dog be taken away, the judge must hold a hearing within 5 days regarding the complaint.  The owner must receive written notice of the hearing at least 2 days prior to the hearing.

What happens at the hearing? Who has the burden to prove that a dog is dangerous?
The person making the complaint has to prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that the dog is a dangerous dog.  The person making the complaint will do this through testimony and evidence.  The testimony and evidence may, for example, consist of descriptions of what happened by those who witnessed the attack or by those who were attacked.

What does “clear and convincing” mean?
Clear and convincing means that it is significantly more likely than not that what the complainant is saying is true.

What defenses can I raise to demonstrate that a dog should not be declared dangerous?
A dog cannot be declared dangerous if: 1) the attack occurs while a person is committing a crime against the owner or on the property; 2) the person was tormenting, abusing, assaulting or physically threatening the dog or its offspring, or has in the past; 3) the dog was responding to pain or injury; 4) the dog was protecting itself, its owner, custodian, or a member of its household.

Testimony by a certified expert may be helpful in determining whether the dog’s behavior was justified.

What happens after the hearing? What happens if a judge determines that a dog is dangerous?
If the dog is found to be dangerous, the judge MUST order: 1) neutering/spaying the dog; and 2) microchipping the dog.

The judge MAY order one or more of the following, if necessary for the protection of the public: a) evaluation of the dog – by certified behavioral expert, paid for by the owner, b) secure humane confinement – for appropriate period of time and manner, c) restraint of dog – on leash by adult whenever on public grounds, d) muzzling the dog – whenever on public premises, e) maintenance of liability insurance policy – in amount determined by the court, up to $100,000 for personal injury or death resulting from attack.

Under certain “aggravating circumstances,” the court may order humane euthanasia or permanent confinement of the dog.  Aggravating circumstances refer to the following: 1) the dog, without justification, attacked a person causing serious physical injury or death; 2) the dog has a known vicious propensity evidenced by previous unjustified attacks on a person causing serious injury or death; 3) the dog, without justification, caused serious physical injury or death to a companion animal, farm animal or domestic animal, and in the past two years, caused similar unjustified attacks evidenced by a “dangerous dog” finding.  The third aggravating circumstance requires a prior finding that the dog was a dangerous dog.  For example, even if the dog killed a neighbor’s cat a year before this incident, unless a court found that the dog was dangerous then, this third aggravating circumstance is not met.

What types of penalties does an owner of a dog declared to be dangerous face?
If the dog bites a person, service dog, guide dog or hearing dog, the owner’s civil penalty cannot exceed $400.  If the dog bites a person and causes serious physical injury, the owner’s civil penalty cannot exceed $1,500.  If the dog was previously determined to be a dangerous dog and causes serious physical injury, the owner is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by a period of imprisonment up to 90 days, or both.  Fines may be reduced by any amount already paid by the owner of the dog to the other person for certain damages.

How long do I have to appeal if I disagree with the judge’s finding that a dog is dangerous?
You have 30 days to appeal from the final order.

What happens if a judge orders euthanasia?
If the judge orders euthanasia, the 30-day period to appeal must run its course and then the dog will be euthanized.  If the dog owner waives those 30 days in writing, then the dog may be euthanized sooner.

If an appeal is filed, the euthanasia is stayed, which means the euthanasia cannot happen, until a judge makes a decision regarding the appeal.

This is the state law regarding dangerous dogs.  Are there local laws in my county, city, or town?
There might be.  You should check your local municipal laws or codes.  Many are available online or by calling your local clerk’s office.