Webinar presenters Dan DeSousa and Nick Lippincott answered a number of your questions after their presentation, “Bad Dogs, Bad Dogs Whatcha Gonna Do? The Designation and Regulation of Vicious/Dangerous Dogs.” Here are a few of their responses.
Audience Question: Do you know of any agencies that use Dr. Ian Dunbar’s bite scale or something like that to determine the severity of the attack for documentation purposes?
Dan DeSousa: Nick, you want that one?
Nick Lippincott: For me, off-hand I don’t know of any – we don’t use that. What we take with is the idea that, you know, in our definition if we use something like a severe injury to define how bad is something, how often when it comes to a dangerous dog, it’s not necessarily. I would advise the patient care scratches, fall can cause severe injury. The bite itself often isn’t something that comes into play. They are tough to scale. I think that narrows down and restricts way too often how you can act. I use the scale for a few things, body sores but I’ve never used a scale for a bite just because of the external changes and variables that can be involved.
Dan DeSousa: I don’t know of anybody that does use it but if you actually look at the documents from Jim Crosby, he kind of has something maybe similar to Dunbar’s scale where he designates, “Hey because of the nature of this wound, this is more severe and things like that so you could take a look at that as well.
Aaron: I just want to let you know, and this is one of my fave things about the Clearinghouse webinars is when the community seeks to help answer some of the questions. We had Morgan and Anna message us and let us know that Calgary, Alberta uses it as well as Arlington County Virginia. Just as an FYI.
Audience Question: How often do you return and monitor the declared dangerous dogs?
Dan DeSousa: I’ll take that one for starters. I mean for us the vast majority of our dogs are returned to the owners. We conduct an annual inspection of their property or more than once a year if we feel it is necessary. For the vast majority of ours, we think that given the conditions and restrictions that we impose we feel that the public will be safe. But again, it comes down to if it’s such a severe injury that we can’t risk it. Then we will look forward to euthanizing those dogs but that would probably be about maybe 10-15% of all the cases we deal with.
Nick Lippincott: Yeah, something very similar. Remember, people have rights to a property. We have the right during an investigation to seize that property or if it’s a community, the owner, whatever the case may be, ultimately animal is a property. I need a very good justification in my county in Florida to take a piece of property away from you but with the intent of never giving it back which means that the only time that I reported is it’s a whole secondary process. I have to file, we have to file a what’s called an intent to destroy which goes to the court before we can move forward with the destruction of somebody’s property, euthanasia of an animal. With that said, the previous exception, the starting point is that these animals can be returned if that dog was declared dangerous. However, two big caveats to that. One if they can’t comply with the regulations put forth which includes a hefty fee. The registration fee if you have an animal annually, is over $500 per dangerous dog within the Orange County. Not only that but you have to have an insurance and the changes needed to your property to allow that animal to inhabit there, to stay there for life. We perform annual inspections as well. Sometimes more, you’re right. If we receive a notice of a violation, I didn’t mention that before, earlier. The violation for allowing a dangerous animal to be at large are significantly more imposing than if I allow my not declared dangerous dog to run at large. Things like that often result in, usually, surrender of a dangerous animal. That had to be at a request of the owner. Very rarely, just like you Dan, a couple of times a year are we actually going to go to the court and say we need this animal destroyed, euthanized.
Dan DeSousa: You charge $500 for registration? I obviously need to up my fees.
Nick Lippincott: Yeah, I think you need to do. We’re pretty pricey over here in Orange County. $500, used to be half that for potentially dangerous but all we do now is dangerous or nothing. No in between on the sides. It’s really pricey and it makes people really consider whether or not they want that dog and want that liability back in their hands.
Aaron: Just wanted to let you know that we had just an attendee that shared that folks should make sure and check that liability insurance matches the dog that has been insured because they have seen situations where the animal owner insures, for example, a chihuahua instead of the designated pit bull.
Nick Lippincott: Wonderful point.
Audience Question: We have a bunch of questions and interest in how you’re putting together your responsible pet owner classes. The first question about it is do you host it? Is it hosted by the department or do you utilize a third party for that education?
Nick Lippincott: What we do with responsible pet ownership course is it is designed by Orange County Animal Services. It is actually hosted at Orange County Animal Services. It is hosted by either the citation officer, a senior officer like myself, somebody who tried to have the insight and the answers. It is hosted on site by us. It’s a 3-4 hour class. It is filled with slides, just the appropriate amount of boring as the people there are infractions of some type, but it is highly educational. The point is to give a deep background understanding as to the agency and the laws that we are put forth. Again, like I’ve said earlier, the owner when we deal with it and we go to the court, we need to be able to show them that the owner has been educated. Ignorance is never innocence. When it comes to animals, animal laws that can leave a lot more questions so we’d like to clear that up if there’s anything. Like I said, the idea of online hosting it is very interesting and very unique. I’d like to do it to a degree but something can be said for being always being able to talk one-on-one or often groups with up to 40 individuals.
Dan DeSousa: We do the same in San Diego County where we put our responsible pet ownership together with the DA’s involvement, everything like that. Same thing. Ours is three hours. You have to come into class. The first thing we always ask people is okay just tell me your first name, what kind of dog do you have and why are you here? Just so we can make that we can address those issues throughout our presentation. I would say that we usually use a little bit of shock therapy may be in our presentation where we do show a child dying of rabies to really drive home the emphasis of this is why you need a rabies vaccination. It sounds like the same thing that we do in San Diego, you’re doing in Florida as well. So it’s very much an educational process for our people.
Audience Question: Gentlemen I certainly don’t mean to put you on the spot. A couple of people have asked are you able to share the curriculum or even the course outline so any of the information that we can certainly follow up on with you if you’d like us to.
Dan DeSousa: For me, that’s not a problem
Nick Lippincott: Yeah, I don’t have any issue either putting something, having that out there for anybody.
Dan DeSousa: Or should we do it as a Justice Clearinghouse webinar. You can walk people through what we provide.
Aaron: I think that will be phenomenal if that is something that you guys will be open to.
Audience Question: The law in some states may indicate drugs or property but in reality, many people see them as family members. How do we as an ACL enforce the law but also see the human side so we don’t receive such backlash?
Dan DeSousa: Yeah and that’s the challenge. We all feel, we have a passion for these animals and we consider these animals to be our family members. We’re dealing with people on a daily basis who consider these animals to be family members. It comes down to you will have to draw the line and that this animal still deserves to be eyed in the eyes of the law to be property. That’s the way the laws are written. Animals do not have rights. I’ve had people come in and say you have violated my animal’s rights. I was like oh no your animal does not have rights. You as a person have rights. Fine line to walk but we always had to look and say listen this is the way the laws are written and this is what we have to use to enforce it.
Nick Lippincott: I’ll agree with you on that. We have, you’re right you know. This class is set up specifically to the dogs that have done something wrong like everybody else who’s probably here. When this fly closes and we finish this case and move on to everything else in our day to day in our professional career we are all probably very likely to be hyper-cognizant of our love and attention and care we have for our animals. Again that’s the reason why we have a dangerous dog (indiscernible 1:12:21). It’s not only our one animal that we love like family but we must pay attention to everybody else’s animal in that community that can potentially be a victim or potential danger due to one animal’s decisions and owners’ neglectful ownership choices that can allow something like a dog running around and killing animals to happen. We have to be cognizant of that line and we have to do our best. What ultimately matters is we do our best as investigators and people that enforce to do our due diligence to say, you know, we believe there is just classification or to you know well this does not apply in this scenario. It’s something that we struggle with every day I have no doubt everybody here agrees with this. We go to a case to case when we need to remove an animal, consider something dangerous. It’s always something we have to be aware of.
Dan DeSousa: We also know that sometimes an animal pays the ultimate price for an irresponsible owner. That’s always difficult, in the right hands this dog may never have a problem but with a bad owner, you know, something happened we may seek euthanasia for that animal just because of the owner plain and simple.
Audience Question: Do you have suggestions on tools and techniques that an animal control officer might use to help if there are attacks by an aggressive dog?
Nick Lippincott: Every department just like our law enforcement professionals, animal services, animal welfare professionals, you know, we rely not only on the tools we have, the training we receive but the education and the wherewithal we give ourselves when we go into the field, a call. The one thing just like a human who is true with animals. We may see one thing and may end up having to do with something completely different. We may expect one thing when we go to a call and have something completely different. I may go to call about a barky Chihuahua and get charged there at the front door by a hundred ten-pound Corso. Because they have phoned but the neighbors have been complaining about the barking. The biggest tool I tell everybody whether in the classes we have educating postal employees or delivery drivers across the suburb or door to door salesman, it’s the basis of every training should be the education for our citizens, dog owners, for everybody, police, everybody should be we know what we see, we know when I walked onto a property, a sign that a dog’s potentially loose, potentially dangerous that’s why we have giant yellow signs on citizen’s properties that have a dangerous dog. It has something that says bad dog, you should be aware and we’re going to be ready no matter what to take an action. And we’re going to be aware if that dog is out. The behavior of an animal and the owner in how those things can influence my safety in the field and on the call. Technique wise, you don’t know until you have to react. Some places have Mace, some people have, have bite sticks, batons, firearms, tasers. Every agency’s different because everybody has a different experience. I tell my training officers never to leave their vehicles without something in their hands. For us, we love that big metal clipboard. It usually keeps us safe. You have to take control you don’t have to be weapon drawn. At the end of the day, it’s all about knowledge and being aware and being able to respond to the best of your ability to situations.
Dan DeSousa: I think the best tool that you have is the one between your ears.
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