DANGEROUS DOG LAW SIMPLIFIED
by Franny Kinslow
Hawai`i Island Humane Society
On December 26, 2002, Mayor Harry Kim signed into law a new ordinance for the County of Hawaii that replaced our old "vicious dog" laws. This new ordinance reclassifies threatening dogs as "dangerous" rather than vicious. It is a much stronger law than the state law, which essentially allows one "free" bite before a dangerous dog is addressed by the law.
Under this new County law, dangerous dogs are defined as "any dog which, without provocation, attacks another person or animal." One of the most important changes is that under the old County law, dogs and cats were not considered "animals" for purposes of this ordinance. That meant that if a dog attacked another dog or a cat, there was no criminal liability for the owner of the attacking dog, and there was nothing law enforcement could do. Under the new law, dog-on-dog and dog-on-cat are considered for a designation of "dangerous".
One important point to this definition is the phrase without provocation. Provocation can be defined as circumstances in which a dog is protecting its owner or household member from a threat, or if the dog was being teased or tormented before it attacked. The definition is not limited to these circumstances, but a judge can decide if the dog was acting based on provocation.
When a dog attack occurs, the responding police officer or humane officer will do an investigation, which may include taking pictures and interviewing witnesses. If the investigating officer feels that the owner violated the law by not taking reasonable measures to prevent the dog from attacking, the officer will issue a dangerous dog citation to the owner. This citation orders the owner to a mandatory court appearance, where the owner has the option to present a case for defense.
If the dog is deemed to be dangerous by the judge, the owner may be subject to fines which can range from $200 up to $2000, and up to 30 days in jail or 6 months of probation. The offender may also be ordered to pay restitution to the victim for medical bills and property damage.
The judge may also order the owner to comply with restrictions on the dog. Such restrictions could be related to confinement, wearing of a muzzle, supervision only by an adult, or whatever a judge warrants appropriate. The dog must also be implanted with a microchip, a form of permanent identification that will allow law enforcement to positively identify the dog in case of any future incidents.
Victims of a dog attack should contact the police department or the Hawaii Island Humane Society. Although either agency can issue a citation for dangerous dog, it is generally recommended that for serious bodily injury to a person, victims contact the police. For all other attacks, including attacks on animals and minor injuries to a person, contact the Humane Society,
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