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New Texas Law Allows “Dangerous Dog” Appeals

The Texas legislature sent a new bill, HB 1436,  to Texas Governor Greg Abbott on May 28, 2015. The new bill aims to provide those dog owners who have been notified by animal control that their dog has been determined to be dangerous the opportunity and ability to appeal the animal control authority’s determination of the “dangerous dog” characterization. Once signed and made law by the Governor, the bill would go into effect on September 1, 2015.

What Is A Dangerous Dog?

Dangerous dog law is a characterization governed by both state and local law, so for each city or county dangerous dog laws might be slightly different. For example, one city might require dog owners to register online if they have certain breeds of dog that are generally considered dangerous, while other cities do not have this requirement. Under Texas Health and Safety Code Section 822.041, a dangerous dog is defined as one that:

● Makes an unprovoked attack on a person that causes such that the attack results in an injury, and the attack must occur somewhere other than in the dog’s enclosure (i.e., somewhere other than the place where the dog is primarily kept to keep the dog safely away from people (such as a pen or a fenced-in area); or
● Commits unprovoked acts in a place other than the dog’s enclosure that would cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily harm or injury to that person (e.g., a dog viciously lunges at a passerby for no apparent reason during a walk along a residential street).

When a dog acts in an dangerous way, those who feel threatened or are harmed by the dog’s actions may file a report with a local animal control authority. The animal control authority will conduct an investigation and make a determination as to whether the dog is dangerous.

What Role Does The New Bill Play In Dangerous Dog Law?

The new bill requires that the animal control authority provide written notification of its determination of the dog’s dangerous characterization to the dog’s owner. Once the owner has been notified in writing, the owner may take steps to appeal the determination of the animal control authority to a justice, county, or municipal authority, and may even be entitled to a jury trial on the matter.

Filing An Appeal Regarding Dangerous Dogs Under the New Bill

Under the new bill, a dog’s owner may file an appeal with the court within 15 days of the animal control authority’s determination that the dog is a dangerous animal. The appeal must include a copy of the written notification the dog’s owner received from the animal control authority concerning the determination that the dog is a dangerous one, and must serve a copy of the appeal on the animal control authority via the US Postal Service.

If the dog’s owner is not satisfied with the result of the appeal, he or she may further appeal the decision to a court of higher authority. The dog’s owner will have 10 days to file the appeal to a higher authority after the appeal decision has been made.

This bill addresses a real problem in Texas jurisprudence: the lack of a dog owner’s right to appeal a dangerous dog determination. This is especially critical where a vindictive neighbor has filed a frivolous complaint.

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