Dog Ownership Carries Serious Responsibilities

Many people get great pleasure from their pet dogs, but responsible dog owners realize they must accept liability along with dog ownership.

A July 22, 2010, article on myCentralJersey.com reported an Akita that had attacked a young child in Warren Township had been euthanized three months after the attack following a Judge’s order. The dog had bitten once previously and, as a result, a hearing was required under the Township’s ordinance. (1)

A day earlier, nj.com reported that an Alloway Township court ruled a dog that had bitten off the ear of a young child was “potentially dangerous.” (2) Earlier this month, a Fair Lawn police detective shot and injured a dog that had bit him on the arm after the detective had apparently startled the pup. (3)

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 4 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Most of these victims are children. New Jersey has a “vicious dog law” that was adopted in 1989 and amended in 1994. Under this law, municipal courts are responsible for determining if a dog is vicious or potentially dangerous. A label of “vicious” carries stronger consequences, including euthanization. Dogs labeled “potentially dangerous,” may be kept by their owners, provided the owners comply with certain restrictions. (4)

In the case of the Alloway Township incident mentioned above, the dog owner had to buy a special dog license and a red identification tag, and have the dog tattooed with a registration number. A muzzle and lead or tether has to be worn by the dog whenever it was in a public place. A sign warning that a potentially dangerous dog was on the property needed to be posted on the owner’s land, and a fenced on enclosure had to be provided for the dog. Finally, the owner was required to purchase liability insurance on the dog.

While the dog owner is liable for damages suffered by the dog bite victim, the burden of proof is on the victim. The victim must prove that the defendant owned the dog; that the injury was a result of a dog bite and that the victim was in a public place or on private property legally. Exceptions to this may occur if the victim is trespassing with criminal intent or if one or more people involved are considered negligent.

(1) http://www.mycentraljersey.com/article/20100722/NEWS/7220333/Dog+that+attacked+Warren+child+is+euthanized

(2) http://www.nj.com/salem/index.ssf/2010/07/judge_rules_dog_that_bit_off_g.html

(3) http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2010/07/fair_lawn_detective_shoots_twi.html

(4) http://www.state.nj.us/health/cd/njaclaws.pdf