Best Practices: Legal Concerns – Dangerous Animals

Today’s topic is how rescues handle dangerous dogs. Thanks to AZGRC (Arizona Golden Retriever Connection) for sharing their dog bite policies and paperwork. This should be an exciting discussion, as I’m sure every rescue has a different way of handling dangerous dogs. While the documents below cover dog bite procedures, please also consider commenting on the following questions:

What do you consider a dangerous dog?

When is a dog so dangerous that an organization chooses euthanization over rehabilitation?

What is a reasonable amount of time to evaluate a dog before deeming him or her “dangerous”?

You can view the AZGRC paperwork using the following links:

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7 Responses to Best Practices: Legal Concerns – Dangerous Animals

  1. I like their paperwork
    Border Collies are nippers so we must evaluate each dog based on the biting situation. We will euthanize any dog that attacks unprovoked, goes for the face or neck or shows aggressive behavior.
    We do give every dog more than one chance.

  2. Aly says:

    I agree Karen! I’ve volunteered with Border Collie and Cattle Dog rescues… both breeds are notorious for nipping. A nip is not a bite. Many herding rescues spend a lot of time explaining that to new adopters.

    To me – the big determining factor is whether or not the aggression is predictable and how many times the dog has bitten. One rescue I volunteered with refused to euthanize a dog that was unpredictably aggressive (had sent several of his foster parents to the ER)..yet they were still attempting to adopt the dog out. That was the last time I volunteered with them. In the end, they did end up euthanizing him. Never an easy decision, but if the dog can not enjoy a relatively normal, happy life – it’s not fair to him.

  3. What do you consider a dangerous dog? This is a pretty broad term in my experience. Some people consider a dog “dangerous” because it’s a large breed, rambunctious dog that jumps and knocks people over(ie: can be dangerous to an elderly person), others consider a nippy puppy who’s just learning “dangerous” to toddlers, or is the dog dangerous because of aggressive or unpredictable behavior? We typically will not adopt a large Weim, who is young & rambunctious, or untrained to a family with small children because 99% chance the dog will be returned for knocking the child over. But we will adopt that same dog to an active adult who is willing to take the dog to training. We have successfully rehabbed several so-called “aggressive” dogs(I hate labelling any dog like that because it tends to stick no matter what). However, those dogs are only adopted to very weim-savvy applicants, with no small children. We recently adopted out a young Weim who had signs of prior physical abuse & probably being chained. The first 3 months in rescue he had to wear a muzzle in public. With the help of a trainer & very dedicated foster parents, he has been successfully adopted. We did however mandate that the adopters complete an 8 week course with that same trainer before the adoption would be finalized. I got to see the Weim last weekend with his new family and the change is amazing. One thing to consider is your State’s legal definition of Dangerous Or Vicious. Some are by bite history or even simply by breed. Some states still have a 1-bite rule. I like how AZGRC states that most people expect a Golden to be happy, easy-going, lovable, friendly family dog. Yes, that’s the norm but because of poor breeding, health issues, pain, not being socialized, etc not all Goldens are that happy dog. I happen to have one of those Goldens! I used to foster with GRFR & found that most people wanted to adopt the friendly Golden, that’s why they like that breed rather than a quirky Weim, or a large mastiff, or a German Shepherd or Rott(not saying that these other breeds aren’t friendly but in general they have different types of personalities that require a different type of owner). With MHWR, our adopters(most!) know that Weim’s are quirky & can develop anxiety & aggression if not socialized when young. Just for example, if a Golden is growly or territorial it will likely be harder to place that dog because he isn’t the typical friendly Golden, where if a Weim is growly or territorial, the experienced Weim-owner will understand this is a normal trait and can be rehabbed in most cases. To sum up, in my mind a truly dangerous dog is one that is unpredictable; that a professional behaviorist has assessed and cannot find a trigger; but placing that dog in an experienced foster home is likely the best way to determine that.

    When is a dog so dangerous that an organization chooses euthanization over rehabilitation? I would say most reputable rescues would make every effort within their means to rehab the dog or test for health issues causing the aggression. Several years ago I fostered a senior lab, sweet as honey! One day, she tore thru my front door, ran across the yard, past 3 other dogs and attacked one of my dogs. It was totally unprovoked, it was totally out of character for her. I finally got them broke apart but she had already caused quite a bit of damage and we were all covered in blood(I wasn’t bitten, it was the dogs blood). After consulting with a behaviorist and a vet, it was discovered that she had a brain tumor, likely the cause of the dangerous outburst. The rescue euthanized her, which although I was sad and sat with her at the vets office, I also supported because she was a danger to herself and others. This is never an easy call but ethically the call must be made if all other efforts have failed. With that said, there are dog sanctuaries that will take a dangerous dog into their care so they aren’t euthanized. I’ve visited a few of them & the people that run those have a special way about them. They give their hearts and souls to those dogs that can never be adopted elsewhere.

    What is a reasonable amount of time to evaluate a dog before deeming him or her “dangerous”? I don’t think we can place a certain timeframe. It depends on the dog & if it’s their personality, fear from their past, pain from an injury, underlying health issue. MHWR is lucky to have a few select foster homes that like working with the challenging dogs and because of them MANY Weim’s have been successfully rehabbed and saved.
    **Rescues also have to consider the liability of a so-called dangerous dog because if an adopter or other person is bitten maliciously & they file a lawsuit, likely the rescue will go under.

  4. It’s ironic that this is the topic today because I just got bit by a foster dog for the first time in 40 (pretty good!). It wasn’t his fault, I mean, he was trying to bite my dog, not me! 🙂

    Joking aside, I agree that the term “dangerous dog” is a dangerous one. My personal feeling on it is that a dog needs the benefit of the doubt to adjust to his or her new settings before being deemed dangerous. And what is dangerous? To me, it’s a dog who is unpredictable toward humans, because a rescue just simply can’t assume that kind of liability. If a dog is unpredictable toward other dogs, I think it’s circumstantial. For example, I had one very unpredictable foster dog (toward other dogs), but she is thriving in a home on a farm where she doesn’t have to interact with them. It’s impossible to put a dog in a situation where they don’t interact with people, though. Additionally, I think the risk is too high to keep around a dog who is vicious toward children because what if that dog got out?

    Some will argue that euthanization is not the answer and that we should just send them off to a farm to live in a kennel for the rest of their lives. I don’t know that this is a happy life, though.

    Another question that is posed is whether it is the best use of funds and space to spend time trying to rehabilitate sick or aggressive dogs when there are so many “nice” ones needing homes. This is not my point of view, although I think it begs a relevant question for discussion. How much is too much?

    If MABTR hadn’t been willing to spend money on Bill’s veterinary bills, I wouldn’t have him today, and that would have been a tragedy because he’s a great dog who LOVES life. It just took some time for that side of him to show. But what about aggressive dogs? When do we say enough?

  5. Aly says:

    Exactly! What kind of life is it for a dog to be kenneled all the time? I’m unaware of any of these types of places anyway.. Farms where dogs can just live out their days, no matter their health or aggression-status. Very close friends of mine had to euthanize their dog for aggression. They tried everything, numerous behaviorists, trainers, vet evaluations… While he never was aggressive with them, he would become out of control around strangers and bit several people (broke through skin). The best answer they got from behaviorists was that with years of training, perhaps he could be rehabbed – but probably not. There was just no way, ethically they could rehome him without disclosing his past. It’s a terrible decision to have to make, but sometimes it really is whats best for the dog. They had tried very hard to find one of these “farms,” but were unsuccessful.

  6. What constitutes a ‘dangerous’ dog?
    1. If a dog bites without warning. And this is something people need to work to figure out. If a dog has a trigger, then those triggers can be avoided or work can be done to desensitize the dog. If there really is no warning, and no professionals can figure it out, then euth. is likely unavoidable.

    2. If the dog cannot be distracted or interrupted during an attack.

    3. If the attack is enjoyable for a dog (very, very rare). If the attack is in itself a reward for the dog (it’s fun), then it will basically be impossible to work with that dog. Again, this is extremely rare.

    We also avoid the use of the term “aggressive” in our rescue as it lays blame with the dog. We prefer to use the word “insecure”. It doesn’t create the same bad label for that dog and encourages empathy for the dog instead of blame. It also infers a solution, whereas aggression does not.

  7. When we have a beagle that bites someone in a foster home, we immediately pull the dog and put it in a foster home with a very experienced foster for evaluation. The foster parent will then try to illicit negative behavior from the dog under a variety of circumstances. If they get it, the information is presented to the Board and the decision for euthanisia is voted on.
    If a beagle bites someone in a adopted home, we would immediately take the dog back and go thru the same evaluation process.
    If an experienced beagle person cannot get any negative behavior from the dog, we can pretty much tell that the original foster or adopter is the one at fault.

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