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'Dangerous' Dog Laws Effect Canines and Owners

Many municipalities in Minnesota, especially those in the metropolitan Twin Cities area, are using “dangerous” dog laws with increasing – and alarming – frequency to address issues concerning aggressive or anti-social behavior by canines.  These measures generally impose restrictions on dogs and their owners following an incident in which a dog has bitten or injured a person or other animal or has acted in an unduly hostile and threatening way. 

Although authorized by state law, these measures are somewhat similar, they have some slight variations, Minneapolis, in particular, enforces the measures strictly, while others are more lenient.

Three Tiers

Most of these laws have three tiers:  a first time offense or one that is not serious can warrant a designation of “potentially dangerous,” which usually involves moderate punishment such as animal registration, a small fee, short-leash requirements, and having adequate insurance.

But a higher level of designation as a “dangerous” dog can occur for a second offense or a serious first-time incident of “dangerous” determination usually invokes more severe restrictions, such as posting a warning sign on the premises and prohibiting the dog from being outdoors unless confined in an enclosure.

It can also lead to a third step:  destruction of the dog, a rarity that may take place of a “dangerous” designated dog has another incident, as well as others living with them or future dog ownership by the individuals.

This designation can have serious impact on canines and their companion owners.  In addition to the sanctions imposed by the local ordinances, they can lead to increased insurance rates for homeowners or renters, and in some cases, cause insurers to cancel insurance or refuse to renew a policy.

Ominous Overtones

Because of these ominous overtones, dog owners should take appropriate action to prevent these situations from arising or escalating.

  • Dog owners should pay close attention to their pets, especially when off-premises, or interacting with other canines which often trigger these events, at public places, such as dog parks.
  • Do not disregard a citation from municipal authorities.  Owners are entitled to a hearing before a neutral adjudicator, but they usually must act promptly to appeal a designation.  If they fail to do so, the designation cannot later be challenged.
  • Prepare for the hearing.  Evidence can be presented and witnesses can testify in person or by statements. Use of a dog obedience expert or trainer can also help avert a dangerous designation by a hearing officer through a lawsuit, although it can be somewhat costly to do so.
  • If unsecured, a dog owner can challenge an adverse determination.
  • Showing that the dog has a decent disposition, no prior offenses, and that training will be undertaken can fend off a designation or convince the authorities to dismiss or defer the designation.
  • If a designation occurs, a state law can be utilized to revoke it.  Under Minn. Stat. § 347.51, an owner can petition after six (6) months for removal of the classification by showing rehabilitation of the dog.
  • Naming a dog should be taken into account, too. There is a subtle form of profiling or stereotyping that is in effect, especially for breeds that seem to be more dangerous, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers, among ohters.  A canine with an appropriate sounding name like “Buster,”  “Bruiser,” or “Bullet,” as examples, can have a subtle effect on encouraging authorities to designate a dog as “potentially” dangerous or “dangerous.”  But more gentle names like “Angel,” “Puffer,” or “Rainbow” for instance, can augur more leniency.

These types should be taken into account at all times by dog owners, but especially in the summer, when more individuals and their dogs, spend time outdoors, interacting with fellow canine owners and their pets.