As I am sure everyone knows by now, I am a pit bull owner. Like a lot of dogs, my pit bull Mickey loves getting out for walks. His challenge is that he is afraid of dogs he doesn’t know and with good reason. He has been bitten and picked on multiple times. Two of the attacks against him were severe, one required stitches.
In a backward sort of way, you could say we have been fortunate that the two instances where Mickey was hurt both occurred on my property. If either had occurred in any public place and another dog had been injured, there is a very real chance that I would be telling a very different story today.
So what do I do? Short of not venturing out of our yard, and knowing Mickey’s temperament and history, I take every possible precaution to keep him safe. Without exception he is walked on a leash. He is under my control to the extent that he can be under my control. Knowing he is fearful, I keep a close eye out for other dogs and take great pains to keep him calm and at a safe distance. Of course if the other dogs happen to be roaming off-leash, all bets are off.
If a situation occurs resulting in injury to another dog (even if the other dog is the aggressor,) I know Mickey would likely be blamed because he is a pit bull. That is a given and something every pit bull owner knows. What I didn’t realize was that even if he was a different breed, because of the way the laws are currently written, I would be liable for any damages, regardless of whether or not the other dog was on a leash. Despite all of my efforts to be a responsible owner, legally I would be at fault. Yes, you read that correctly. According to Connecticut laws, legally I would be at fault.
With most legislation, if a law is violated there are clear-cut consequences, but the leash and dog bite laws in my state are far less distinct. Reading the Connecticut General Statutes on this topic was both eye-opening and disappointing. It is hard to think of an instance where a victim is to blame when a law is broken but at least in Connecticut, this does not hold true if the victim is a dog. Under CGS § 22-358, a human can kill a dog in self-defense without penalty but if a dog defends itself it can be ordered destroyed.
Portions of 2004-R-0308 Connecticut Leash and Dog Bite Law read as follows: “The general statutes do not mandate that dogs be on leashes at all times. But (1) a dog's owner or keeper must not allow it to roam on another person's land or on a public highway, including sidewalks, if it is not under his control and (2) local governments may create leash ordinances. Violating the state roaming law is an infraction punishable by a fine of $92 (CGS § 22-364). Additionally, the Environmental Protection Department requires that owners keep their dogs leashed in state parks.”
Also, “A dog's owner or keeper is liable for any damage caused by his dog to a person's body or property, unless the damage was sustained while the person was committing a trespass or other tort, or teasing, abusing, or tormenting the dog. The law presumes that anyone under the age of seven was not committing a trespass or teasing the dog unless the defendant can prove otherwise (CGS § 22-357).”
Without even thinking too hard about it, I can see some real problems with the laws as they are written.
First of all, as we have already established, a dog owner is held liable for damage caused to another person’s dog, even if the owner’s dog was on a leash and the other dog was not. While certainly there are instances where a dog can escape and may be running loose, the laws do not hold an individual who habitually allows his/her dog to roam accountable for any damage if the dog instigates an attack on another dog, as long as the victim dog does not sustain any injuries that require medical attention and related monetary compensation. The owner may be fined, but that is the extent of it. So, in essence, even owners who do all they can to act responsibly will be held liable if another dog is hurt, even though the owner of the other dog may be negligent.
Secondly, it seems that according to the laws, my dog can be on my own property, in a fenced area and any child under the age of seven can come into my yard, torment my dog and it would fall on me to prove malice on the part of the child if the child is bitten.
Typically my dog is not left outside unsupervised for more than a few minutes, but sometimes a few minutes is all it takes. In my opinion, most children under the age of seven (especially those on the upper end of the scale) know right from wrong. Children can be taught at a very young age to be kind and respectful toward other living beings. Any child who is too young to understand should not be out and about or entering a private yard without an adult present anyway.
As for leashes being required in all state parks? Well, it may be the law but it is treated as a joke by a whole lot of people. I cannot tell you how many times I have encountered people walking with unleashed dogs in our state parks. “But my dog is friendly,” they will say. Often I am met with outright nastiness if I suggest that a person may want to leash his/her dog for safety reasons.
Aside from the chance that other dogs may not be so friendly or may be frightened and can injure an approaching unleashed dog, there is also the possibility that the dog could wander off and be attacked by a wild animal or become lost. I can only draw the conclusions that enforcement of leash laws in state parks is lacking and some people just have no common sense, yet the laws protect them.
How is any of this OK and what is the solution? I wish I knew.
Perhaps it is time to take a closer look at the laws that are currently in place and look at alternatives that are more equitable and make more sense. Perhaps more can be done to educate the community about dog bite prevention and responsible pet ownership.
Surely there is something we can do. The laws as they are written are unfair. We need to stop blaming the dogs and try to come up with some real answers.