New LA Dangerous Dog Law Set to Take Effect

dogA new Los Angeles County law is set to go into effect next week. (See attachment below.)

Under the new law animal control will have the authority to declare dogs "potentially dangerous" or "vicious". Previously only judges could make those determinations. An appeal is available, but people with dogs will have fewer due process rights under this new law. There is no criteria for making this determination or evidence that should or should not be considered other than the definitions of "potentially dangerous"  or "vicious".

The new law also relaxes the definition of a "vicious" dog, allowing animal control to declare a dog "vicious" for inflicting any "physical harm that results in a serious illness or injury" rather than only "major fractures, muscle tears or disfiguring lacerations" or an injury that "requires multiple sutures or corrective or cosmetic surgery". It is not clear what is meant by "any physical harm" or a "serious illness or injury"; apparently that will be for animal control to determine.

Dept. of Animal Care and Control (DACC) Director Marcia Mayeda has been quoted as saying, ""There doesn’t necessarily have to be a bite".

The new law does set a minimum for training that people with dogs declared "potentially dangerous" are required to undergo – at least 10 days of training that must be approved by animal control. 

Animal control would have the authority to make follow up visits to ensure compliance with requirements for potentially dangerous or vicious dogs and could obtain an injunction to stop violations. 

The new law is likely to mean many more dogs will be declared "potentially dangerous" or "vicious".

California state law does allow cities and counties to use any, all or none of the state laws in creating their own "program" to control potentially dangerous or vicious dogs. Cal Food & Agr Code § 31683 But it is not clear local governments have the authority to change state law definitions of "potentially dangerous" or "vicious" dogs.  Sec. 31604

Also, state law does allow local governments to conduct determinations of whether a dog is "potentially dangerous" or "vicious" in administrative proceedings. But the state lawy requires that the petition must first be filed in Superior Court and then can be referred for an administrative hearing under a procedure set up by the county or city.  The Los Angeles County proposal does not follow the state law and instead allows an administrative hearing with no filing in court. Sec. 31683

It is troubling that there is no truly "neutral" factfinder under the new law. The county has also eliminated the requirement of notice via first class mail, return receipt requested. Now animal control is only required to mail notice of a hearing concerning a potentially dangerous or vicious dog determination.  Only 5 days notice is required. And, a person whose dog is declared potentially dangerous or vicious only has 5 days to appeal. There are questions about whether this meets federal and state due process requirements.