A new bill recently signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal provides extensive rules governing ownership of dogs deemed dangerous and vicious and provides substantial penalties for failure to properly control dogs that may pose a danger to the public.
House Bill 685, which is effective July 1, 2012, revises several portions of Title 4 of the Official Code of Georgia to require, among other things, a "certificate of registration" for certain categories of dogs. Significantly, the law does not specify particular breeds, but rather creates two categories of dogs to which the law applies. Specifically, the law creates a distinction between "dangerous" and "vicious" dogs, with the latter category generally comprising animals capable of causing serious injuries. For both categories, owners must demonstrate that they maintain a proper enclosure for the pet to prevent its escape from their property and that they have warning sides visible from all entrances to the property. For dogs considered vicious, the law additionally requires that the owner maintain no less than $50,000 in liability insurance to cover damages to a third party caused by the dog and that the dog be tagged with an embedded microchip identifying the owner.
It is not entirely clear whether owners have an affirmative duty to seek classification of dogs they believe may be vicious or dangerous under the terms of the law. But if the local dog control officer receives notice from someone of a potentially dangerous or vicious dog, the officer must undertake an inspection under the rules set forth in O.C.G.A. § 4-8-23. The rules also provide from the right to a hearing and subsequent appeal by a dog owner.
The law prohibits those convicted of of certain felonies from obtaining certificates of registration for vicious dogs, and also prohibits issuance of more than one certificate per household or ownership of more than one vicious dog per person. Finally, the law established strict requirements, such as leash lengths and muzzle and crate criteria, that apply any time a dog covered by the law is taken off of the owner's property. A dog owner previously convicted of violation of the new law who is found guilty of a second offense is punishable, in some circumstances where the dog causes serious injuries to another person, by imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine of up to $10,000.
Earlier this year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the trial of a dog owner whose animal had caused serious personal injuries to a 10-year-old girl. The owner was convicted of six misdemeanors and sentenced to 16 months in jail. The young victim lost an arm. In addition to criminal liability, victims of dog attacks may be able to pursue civil remedies against negligent owners.
The entire bill, including legislative history, can be accessed here
. Selected provisions of the bill are produced at the bottom of this article, with portions of particular interest in bold (including definitions for "dangerous" and "vicious" dogs).
O.C.G.A. § 4-8-20
This article shall be known and may be cited as the 'Responsible Dog Ownership Law.'
O.C.G.A. § 4-8-21
(a) As used in this article, the term:
(1) 'Classified dog' means any dog that has been classified as either a dangerous dog or vicious dog pursuant to this article.
(2) 'Dangerous dog' means any dog that:
(A) Causes a substantial puncture of a person's skin by teeth without causing serious injury; provided, however, that a nip, scratch, or abrasion shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous under this subparagraph;
(B) Aggressively attacks in a manner that causes a person to reasonably believe that the dog posed an imminent threat of serious injury to such person or another person although no such injury occurs; provided, however, that the acts of barking, growling, or showing of teeth by a dog shall not be sufficient to classify a dog as dangerous under this subparagraph; or
(C) While off the owner's property, kills a pet animal; provided, however, that this subparagraph shall not apply where the death of such pet animal is caused by a dog that is working or training as a hunting dog, herding dog, or predator control dog.
(3) 'Local government' means any county or municipality of this state.
(4) 'Owner' means any natural person or any legal entity, including, but not limited to, a corporation, partnership, firm, or trust owning, possessing, harboring, keeping, or having custody or control of a dog. In the case of a dog owned by a minor, the term 'owner' includes the parents or person in loco parentis with custody of the minor.
(5) 'Serious injury' means any physical injury that creates a substantial risk of death; results in death, broken or dislocated bones, lacerations requiring multiple sutures, or disfiguring avulsions; requires plastic surgery or admission to a hospital; or results in protracted impairment of health, including transmission of an infection or contagious disease, or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.
(6) 'Vicious dog' means a dog that inflicts serious injury on a person or causes serious injury to a person resulting from reasonable attempts to escape from the dog's attack.
(b) No dog shall be classified as a dangerous dog or vicious dog for actions that occur while the dog is being used by a law enforcement or military officer to carry out the law enforcement or military officer's official duties. No dog shall be classified as a dangerous dog or a vicious dog if the person injured by such dog was a person who, at the time, was committing a trespass, was abusing the dog, or was committing or attempting to commit an offense under Chapter 5 of Title 16.
O.C.G.A. § 4-8-23
(a) For purposes of this Code section, the term:
(1) 'Authority' means an animal control board or local board of health, as determined by the governing authority of a local government.
(2) 'Mail' means to send by certified mail or statutory overnight delivery to the recipient's last known address.
(b) Upon receiving a report of a dog believed to be subject to classification as a dangerous dog or vicious dog within a dog control officer's jurisdiction, the dog control officer shall make such investigations as necessary to determine whether such dog is subject to classification as a dangerous dog or vicious dog.
(c) When a dog control officer determines that a dog is subject to classification as a dangerous dog or vicious dog, the dog control officer shall mail a dated notice to the dog's owner within 72 hours. Such notice shall include a summary of the dog control officer's determination and shall state that the owner has a right to request a hearing from the authority on the dog control officer's determination within 15 days after the date shown on the notice. The notice shall also provide a form for requesting the hearing and shall state that if a hearing is not requested within the allotted time, the dog control officer's determination shall become effective for all purposes under this article.
(d) When a hearing is requested by a dog owner in accordance with subsection (c) of this Code section, such hearing shall be scheduled within 30 days after the request is received; provided, however, that such hearing may be continued by the authority for good cause shown. At least ten days prior to the hearing, the authority conducting the hearing shall mail to the dog owner written notice of the date, time, and place of the hearing. At the hearing, the dog owner shall be given the opportunity to testify and present evidence and the authority conducting the hearing shall receive other evidence and testimony as may be reasonably necessary to sustain, modify, or overrule the dog control officer's determination.
(e) Within ten days after the hearing, the authority which conducted the hearing shall mail written notice to the dog owner of its determination on the matter. If such determination is that the dog is a dangerous dog or a vicious dog, the notice of classification shall specify the date upon which that determination shall be effective. If the determination is that the dog is to be euthanized pursuant to Code Section 4-8-26, the notice shall specify the date by which the euthanasia shall occur.
(f) Judicial review of the authority's final decision may be had in accordance with Code Section 50-13-19.
O.C.G.A. § 4-8-27
(a) It shall be unlawful for an owner to have or possess within this state a classified dog without a certificate of registration issued in accordance with the provisions of this Code section. Certificates of registration shall be nontransferable and shall only be issued to a person 18 years of age or older. No more than one certificate of registration shall be issued per domicile.
(b) Unless otherwise specified by this Code section, a certificate of registration for a dangerous dog shall be issued if the dog control officer determines that the following requirements have been met:
(1) The owner has maintained an enclosure designed to securely confine the dangerous dog on the owner's property, indoors, or in a securely locked and enclosed pen, fence, or structure suitable to prevent the dangerous dog from leaving such property; and
(2) Clearly visible warning signs have been posted at all entrances to the premises where the dog resides;
(c) Except as provided in subsections (e) and (f) of this Code section, a certificate of registration for a vicious dog shall be issued if the dog control officer determines that the following requirements have been met:
(1) The owner has maintained an enclosure designed to securely confine the vicious dog on the owner's property, indoors, or in a securely locked and enclosed pen, fence, or structure suitable to prevent the vicious dog from leaving such property;
(2) Clearly visible warning signs have been posted at all entrances to the premises where the dog resides;
(3) A microchip containing an identification number and capable of being scanned has been injected under the skin between the shoulder blades of the dog; and
(4) The owner maintains and can provide proof of general or specific liability insurance in the amount of at least $50,000.00 issued by an insurer authorized to transact business in this state insuring the owner of the vicious dog against liability for any bodily injury or property damage caused by the dog.
(d) No certificate of registration shall be issued to any person who has been convicted of two or more violations of this article.
(e) No person shall be the owner of more than one vicious dog.
(f) No certificate of registration for a vicious dog shall be issued to any person who has been convicted of:
(A) A serious violent felony as defined in Code Section 17-10-6.1;
(B) The felony of dogfighting as provided for in Code Section 16-12-37 or the felony of aggravated cruelty to animals as provided for in Code Section 16-12-4; or
(C) A felony involving trafficking in cocaine, illegal drugs, marijuana, methamphetamine, or ecstasy as provided for in Code Sections 16-13-31 and 16-13-31.1 from the time of conviction until two years after completion of his or her sentence, nor to any person residing with such person.
(g) Certificates of registration shall be renewed on an annual basis. At the time of renewal of a certificate of registration for a vicious dog, a dog control officer shall verify that the owner is continuing to comply with provisions of this article. Failure to renew a certificate of registration within ten days of the renewal date or initial classification date shall constitute a violation of this article.
O.C.G.A. § 4-8-29
(a) It shall be unlawful for an owner of a dangerous dog to permit the dog to be off the owner's property unless:
(1) The dog is restrained by a leash not to exceed six feet in length and is under the immediate physical control of a person capable of preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal when necessary; or
(2) The dog is contained in a closed and locked cage or crate.
(3) The dog is working or training as a hunting dog, herding dog, or predator control dog.
(b) It shall be unlawful for an owner of a vicious dog to permit the dog to be:
(1) Outside an enclosure designed to securely confine the vicious dog while on the owner's property or outside a securely locked and enclosed pen, fence, or structure suitable to prevent the vicious dog from leaving such property unless:
(A) The dog is muzzled and restrained by a leash not to exceed six feet in length and is under the immediate physical control of a person capable of preventing the dog from engaging any other human or animal when necessary; or
(B) The dog is contained in a closed and locked cage or crate; or
(2) Unattended with minors.
(c) A person who violates subsection (b) of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of high and aggravated nature.
(d) An owner with a previous conviction for a violation of this article whose classified dog causes serious injury to a human being under circumstances constituting another violation of this article shall be guilty of a felony and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than ten years, a fine of not less than $ 5,000.00 nor more than $ 10,000.00, or both. In addition, the classified dog shall be euthanized at the cost of the owner.
(e) Any irregularity in classification proceedings shall not be a defense to any prosecution under this article so long as the owner of the dog received actual notice of the classification and did not pursue a civil remedy for the correction of the irregularity.
O.C.G.A. § 4-8-32
Except as otherwise specified in this article, any person who violates any provision of this article shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
O.C.G.A. § 4-8-33
(a)(1) Any dog classified prior to July 1, 2012, as a potentially dangerous dog in this state shall on and after that date be classified as a dangerous dog under this article.
(2) Any dog classified prior to July 1, 2012, as a dangerous dog or vicious dog in this state shall on and after that date be classified as a vicious dog under this article.
(b) The owner of any dog referred to in subsection (a) of this Code section shall come into compliance with all current provisions of this article by January 1, 2013.