Today we're talking about animal laws, specifically with regard to leash rules, dog parks, and dog bites. It's important that you know the city's rules, you know your liability and you know what to do if your dog or you gets bitten by another animal.
(1) City Rules
The first thing I want to talk about is El Paso's Municipal rules. Every city has rules about animal restraint. In El Paso, the rules say unless the dog is on your premises (and they have to be physically restrained there by a gate, a fence, something like that to remain on your property), you have to have them restrained by a leash, a rope, a tether, something like that.
If you're out walking your dog and you see a guy walking his dog without a leash, that's a violation of the law. Out at Memorial Park or some other park that's not designated off-leash or a dog park, those dogs can't be roaming free, that's a violation of the law.
Now, let's say you go to a dog park or an off-leash area in El Paso, there are plenty of those and they are properly marked, you can let your dog go roam and play but there are also rules there as well:
- You cannot bring more than three dogs at a time. The idea there is you can't control and watch more than three dogs at a crazy big dog park at a time.
- You can't bring a puppy under four months old.
- You can't bring a kid under seven years old.
- Kids aged 7-12 need to be supervised.
- You also can't bring a dog that's in heat. Obvious problems could happen there.
Bottom line: if you have a dog that gets aggressive or attacks, then it's your responsibility to get them out of that dog park immediately because you as an individual can be criminally or civilly liable for anything that happens by your dog to someone else or somebody else's dog while in an off-leash area.
(2) Liability as a Dog Owner
If your dog gets bitten or it bites another person, there are criminal and civil penalties.
A. Civil Penalties.
A civil suit is a money suit for damages. That's not my expertise, so I won't say too much, but it's possible to civilly sue. If your dog gets bitten or you get bitten, your first order of business is to get the information of the other person and the dog, then report the incident to 311.
If it's your dog that got bitten, take your dog to the veterinarian, and then things will get sorted out between Animal Services and the vet to see if there are issues regarding the other dog's rabies vaccinations, etc.
Both owners, if it's a dog on dog bite, need to quarantine or control their dogs at home and not allow them to see other dogs or humans.
If it's a dog on human bite, the Animal Services director may order your dog to quarantine at a vet's office and at your expense for between 5 and 10 days. If that happens, your dog won't be released until the 11th day in most cases. Know that you're going to have to pay for all of those expenses yourself.
B. Criminal Penalties.
If your dog is deemed a dangerous dog, and there's a definition for that, bites someone unprovoked and causes bodily injury, that's at minimum a Class C misdemeanor, which is typically a fine but no jail time.
In the law, "bodily injury" means pain, if the other person felt pain. It's like when you see those cases where someone pushes another person and gets charged with assault bodily injury, it's the same concept. Any sort of physical pain counts but only from a dog to human bite; there's no criminal liability for dog to dog because dogs are still considered property.
If something more serious happens, for example, you know your dog's dangerous and it attacks a human unprovoked and causes serious bodily injury or death, then that's going to be at minimum a third-degree felony or a second-degree felony. We're talking prison time there.
On the other end of the spectrum, let's say your dog isn't dangerous, never attacked anybody, and that dog, unprovoked, attacked somebody else and you weren't restraining that dog, you were negligent, you could also be held liable.
Bottom line: there are all kinds of rules and all kinds of situations and where you could be held criminally liable! But there are also defenses. The important thing is to speak with an attorney, either civil or criminal, if you're in that situation.
(3) Pet Insurance
I get asked this a lot, "Well, what about insurance? Does that help my criminal liability?"
Insurance doesn't cover criminal liability. So, no.
But, here's what I know about the images (money) side.
There are two types of pet insurance:
- Liability Insurance. One that can be attached as a policy to your home. So, if your dog bites somebody else on your property, that may be covered, but you have to talk to your insurance agent and figure out under what circumstances that happens.
- Pet injury insurance. That's what you think of if you have medical expenses for your pet like your medical insurance as a human.
If your dog bites someone else's dog, that's not covered because your pet insurance is specific to your animal. But if your dog gets bitten by another dog, your policy may cover or help offset the cost of those injuries.
I'm interested in your thoughts about pet insurance . . . email me!
Bottom line: know your policies, talk to your agents, stay safe, and restrain your pets in the community.