Florida county seeks to clarify dog bite law

Marion County’s dangerous-dog law has been somewhat controversial. Some argued various provisions were unfair or lacked clarity. Recently, the Marion County Commission tweaked the law in response to feedback, and the result is drawing praise.

The law, originally designed to protect the population from dog bites from vicious animals, was changed recently to coincide with other state laws, litigation and court decisions. Among the changes: the definition of what makes a “dangerous” dog. When the law was last overhauled in March 2010, the board instituted a “one kill” rule, meaning dogs could be considered dangerous if they once killed livestock or a domestic animal.

That has been modified so that dogs will be classified as “dangerous” if they attack or inflict injury on a person, or kill or severely injure a domestic animal while off its owner’s property. If a dog is found to be dangerous, another change to the law will allow dog owners to keep them at home if they can be adequately confined with the help of animal control officers.

According to Ocala.com, pet owners will also be allowed to visit their dogs when they are quarantined, which may help some dogs from being euthanized after their owners abandon them.

Another change: the creation of a Dog Classification Board, which will deal with dangerous dogs rather than the Code Enforcement Board, which critics said had less of an understanding of dog behavior. According to reports, animal trainers, veterinarians and other animal professionals will be included.

Another minor change is in the mandate of owners to post warning signs of their dangerous pets. The wording on the sign can now read, “Warning: Bad Dog” instead of “Warning: Dangerous Dog.”

If all goes according to plan, the changes should provide some clarification for dog owners without running the risk of hampering the law’s original intent: protecting people from vicious animals.

Source: Ocala.com, “County gives bad dogs a second bite,” Bill Thompson, 5 July 2011