Texas Dog Bite Laws Dangerous Dog

Beware of Dog Bite Laws in Texas: Criminal Penalties for Owners of Dangerous Dogs

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Texas Law Regarding Dog Owners and Dog Attacks

Texas Dog Bite Laws Dangerous DogBelieve it or not, a person could be criminally liable, meaning they could be convicted of a crime, if their dog attacks someone. Texas appellate courts have recently upheld Texas’ dog bite law, also known as Lillian’s Law. Therefore, it is important to be aware of what is required of you as a dog owner. The article below outlines Texas law as it relates to dog owner responsibility. If you own a dog that has displayed dangerous tendencies, you should take a look.

Can I be Convicted of a Crime in Texas if My Dog Attacks Someone?

Yes. In Texas, you can be convicted of a felony offense if your dog attacks and injures someone. There are two instances in which a dog owner can be convicted of a criminal offense for a dog attack:

  1. If, with criminal negligence as defined by §6.03 of the Penal Code, they fail to secure the dog and the dog, in a place other than the owner’s real property, boat, or motor vehicle, makes an unprovoked attack on another person that causes serious bodily injury or death; and
  2. If they know their dog is a dangerous dog by receiving notice in a manner described in the Texas Health & Safety Code, and the dog, in a place other than the owner’s real property, boat, or motor vehicle, makes an unprovoked attack on another person that causes serious bodily injury or death.

The offense is a third degree felony, which is punishable by 2-10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. If the attack causes death, then it’s a second degree felony punishable by 2-20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

How do I know if my dog is considered a “Dangerous Dog” under Texas law?

Under the Texas Health and Safety Code, a “dangerous dog” is a dog that makes (1) an unprovoked attack on a person that causes bodily injury or death or (2) commits unprovoked acts leading a reasonable person to believe that the dog will attack them in a place other than an enclosure reasonably certain to prevent escape by the dog.

The law recognizes 3 ways for you to learn that your dog is considered a “dangerous dog”:

  1. You know your dog has attacked someone;
  2. You received notice from the court that they have found the dog to be a “dangerous dog;” or
  3. Animal control informed you that the dog is a “dangerous dog.”

What are my requirements if I know my dog is a “Dangerous Dog”?

Within 30 days after a person is informed that they are the owner of a dangerous dog, the person must:

  • Register the dog with animal control authority for that area;
  • Restrain the dog in a secure enclosure* or on a leash in the immediate control of a person;
  • Be able to show financial responsibility of at least $100,000 to cover any damages from an attack (i.e. liability insurance coverage of at least $100,000);
  • Comply with any local regulation, requirements, or restriction.

*A secure enclosure means a “fenced area or structure that is”

  • Locked;
  • Capable of preventing the entry of the general public, including children;
  • Capable of preventing the dog from leaving on its own;
  • Clearly marked as containing a dangerous do; and
  • In compliance with the enclosure requirements established by the local animal control.

What Defenses are Available if I Have Been Charged With the Dog Bite Statute?

A person has a defense to criminal liability for a dog bite case if:

  • The person is a veterinarian, veterinary clinic employee, a peace officer, employee of a recognized animal shelter, dog trainer/employee of a guard dog company, or a person employed by the state or the state’s political division to deal with stray animals AND has temporary ownership, custody, or control of the dog in connection with their position.
  • The person is employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice or other law enforcement agency and is training or using the dog in connection at the time of the attack.
  • The person has a disability, the dog is trained to provide assistance to a person with a disability, and the person is using the dog to provide assistance in connection with their disability.
  • The person attacked was in the process of committing a homicide, kidnapping, trafficking of a person, sexual offense, assaultive offense, any property damage or destruction, robbery, burglary, or criminal trespass.
  • At the time of attack, the dog was on a leash and the person was in immediate control of the dog OR if not, the person was making immediate and reasonable attempts to regain control.

A person has an affirmative defense if, at the time of attack,:

  • The person and the dog are participating in an organized search and rescue effort at the request of law enforcement.
  • The person and the dog are participating in an organized dog show/event sponsored by a recognized kennel club.
  • The person and the dog are participating in a lawful hunting activity or farming/ranching activity.

Tarrant County Animal Control Links

If you need to register your dog with animal control or if you need to ask more questions after reading this article, below are the links to some local animal control offices in Tarrant County:

Attack by Dog Defense Attorneys

Attack By Dog Statute Upheld

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Attack by Dog Defense AttorneysThe Texas Attack By Dog Statute (TEX. HEALTH & SAFETY CODE § 822.005(a)(1)) was itself attacked recently, in the case of Watson v. State.  The Attack By Dog statute provides, in relevant part:

(a) A person commits an offense if the person is the owner of a dog and the person:
(1) with criminal negligence, as defined by Section 6.03, Penal Code, fails to secure the dog and the dog makes an unprovoked attack on another person that occurs at a location other than the owner’s real property or in or on the owner’s motor vehicle or boat and that causes serious bodily injury, as defined by Section 1.07, Penal Code, or death to the other person;

After being convicted for failing to secure their pit bulls which resulted in the death of a seven year-old neighbor boy, appellants challenged the statute as being unconstitutionally vague.  They argued that the terms “unprovoked” and “attack” are undefined in the statute, rendering it vague and open to disparate jury interpretation.  In a unanimous opinion drafted by Judge Myers, the CCA upheld the convictions, explaining that the terms “unprovoked” and “attack” are not part of the mens rea of the crime in that they relate to the actions of the dog, not the omissions or failings of the dog owners.  Further, the CCA reasoned that:

Terms not defined in a statute are to be given their plain and ordinary meaning, and words defined in dictionaries and with meanings so well known as to be understood by a person of ordinary intelligence are not to be considered vague and indefinite.

The prohibited conduct in this case (and in every Attack By Dog case) was the dog owners’ failure to secure the dogs.  The CCA noted that in determining whether a dog owner has taken reasonable efforts to secure a dog, the court uses the reasonable person standard.

TAKEAWAY: Lock up your dogs.  If they get out and kill someone, you will be charged with a crime.  Fancy legal arguments are not likely to save you when your pit bulls kill a seven year-old boy.