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Lady Mathilda's Law and Dogs
-  LawAndEverythingElse.Com  - Copyright (c) 2006 Burton Randall Hanson

 Cat law. The Domestic Cat and the Law: A Guide to Available Resources, by Stephen Young -- recommended by Lady Mathilda, Wonder Dog, who says that in these troubled times it is important to promote understanding on "our" part (dogs and humans) of the un-understandable "other," i.e., the tricky, deceptive, aloof, solitudinous, creepy, clawing, criminally-inclined common house cat.
 The Prince of Dog Doo. When last we heard from him, Pat Murphy, a Boulder, Colorado plant ecologist, had used a GPD (global positioning device) to locate precisely each of 661 piles of dog doo at a middle school yard in Boulder, then made a chart depicting accurately (to within 1.5 meters) where each pile was located. More. Murphy recently testified before local officials that last month he found 1,494 piles on the Mt. Sanitas Valley Trail. Murphy wants officials to ban dogs from Mt. Sanitas for a year, presumably to see if that would solve the problem. "What if there were 1,492 piles of human excrement in this area -- would this be tolerated?" That's the rhetorical question he asked local officials. More. In these dark days, it is just the sort of sobering question each of us should ask and should ponder, if only to get our minds off other questions. The question, like most metaphysical questions, probably has no answer. Nonetheless, I'll try answer it by asking another one: Mr. Murphy, if we ban dogs, won't that create a "vacuum" that other animals, including humans, will rush to fill? Might we in fact wind up not only with the 1,492 piles of human excrement you so rightly suggest we wouldn't tolerate, but other types of non-canine mammalian excrement as well? That, sir, could turn Mt. Sanitas Valley Trail into a hiker's slope the slipperiness of which I, for one, shudder to contemplate. (12.05.2001)
Breaking news of interest to Australian shepherd dogs named Mathilda.  "Though renowned for being slow-witted and suggestible, [sheep] have a keen intellect that can remember dozens of faces, learn complex tasks and even pine for absent friends and shepherds, according to a new study [by] researchers at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge....They are much better at recognising the faces of their owners than domestic pets such as dogs and cats...." More (UKTimes) Mathilda's response: "It's a mistake to lump all dogs together. We're not all the same. Aussies -- and I'm speaking objectively -- are very good at recognizing faces. And at herding sheep, I might add. If these know-it-all scientists are so smart, why did they have to conduct a study to learn that sheep aren't stupid, something we've known all along. Do you think we'd waste our time herding stupid animals? If that were so, we'd be herding cats. If they'd seen Babe, they'd know we talk with sheep (and with pigs) and they understand us. With humans we have to do silly things like tipping over our water bowls or standing by the door looking at the door knob to get them to understand what we want. Not so with sheep. We tell them and they understand." (11.08.2001) More...
 Neighbors fight in court over "stupid" bird-killing cat.  A two-year neighborhood dispute over a roaming pet cat named Tweety in Chardon, a suburb of Cleveland, finally reached judicial resolution yesterday. The case pitted a 52-year-old bird-lover against the cat's 32-year-old owner. The bird-lover testified that the cat regularly strayed into her yard and not only stalked and killed birds but broke her bird bath. The cat's owner testified that she felt the case was "ridiculous" and that in her opinion the bird-lover had stalked her cat, offering kids a $50 reward if they saw Tweety roaming and helped bring her to justice. In the past two months the bird-lover called the police to complain five times. Chardon has a rarely-enforced ordinance requiring the confinement of cats. Yesterday the judge fined Tweety's owner $100 and costs, with $75 of the fine suspended. The judge told her to "keep the stupid cat off people's property" and warned her she could receive 30 days in jail if she doesn't. [more] Mathilda, the managerial (busy-body) Wonder Dog, doesn't agree with the law's approach to the problem but, given the state of the law, agrees with the judge's handling of the case. She says, "It's just a crying shame. If there were justice in the world, dogs would be able to roam free and herd cats for a living. But, given that dogs aren't allowed to roam free, what's sauce for dogs is sauce for the damn cats. I can't run free, as God intended. Why should cats be able to?" (11.03.2001) More....
Law and dog doo.  Every President picks "his" issues (raising taxes, getting more lenient on crime) and every First Spouse picks his or hers (discouraging kids from reading so much). Justice Frankfurter said the most important office in a democracy was not the office of President but that of citizen. As a citizen, what's your pet issue? Pat Murphy, 50, a Boulder, CO plant ecologist, wants the dog-waste-pickup laws enforced. He's gone about it in a methodical, even scientific way. On one day in March he used a GPD (global positioning device) to locate precisely each of 661 piles of dog doo at a middle school yard in Boulder, then made a chart depicting accurately (to within 1.5 meters) where each pile was located. He originally called the police to report violations but that method of activism resulted in only 5 tickets issued out of about 100 calls. He subsequently decided to videotape dog owners in the act of apparently violating the law, turning the tapes over to police. That, however, got him charged with harassment for following his subjects. Now a jury has acquitted Murphy of the charges. He vows to continue his crusade but promises he'll try avoid doing anything that might constitute harassment.  [more] One wishes some Boulder citizen with Murphy's investigatory skills and persistence would devote his energy to the solving of the Jon Benet Ramsey killing. (07.19.2001)
 Who picks up after Spot, one of the W's dogs? The W asked Laura to do it, I'm told. She told him where to get off. So, he does it.
 Why Lady Mathilda, law-trained wonder dog, doesn't like fishing. Click here (NatlLampoon)
 Buying that cute little cocker spaniel puppy = What - fun, fun, fun??? Sorry, folks, but -- according to Lady Mathilda, law-trained wonder dog -- owning a dog carries with it a whole set of legal rights and responsibilities. If that cute little puppy, Bruno, bites the calf of sweet little Sally who dreams of becoming Miss Cherry Festival someday, then someone calling herself a "trustee" might sue you, on the little girl's behalf, for all you're worth. And what will gall you is this: when the mean sheriff and her deputies come to seize your golf trophy and your valuable coin collection to sell at public auction (after that nice lawyer you hired to represent you has already drained all the money from your dollar-a-day savings account and the modest certificate of deposit you bought with your inheritance), that little dog will seem to mock you, slobbering on your pants and wagging his tail as if nothing happened.
Then again, there are always two sides to every coin. If a former third-place contestant in the Miss Jazz Dance Festival, all 5'2" and, oh, 115 lbs. of her, uses bad judgment, gets drunk, drives her rusty old car through your neighborhood at 100-miles-per-hour and hits Jimbo, your championship show dog, now a valuable stud, while you're out for a walk together and you suffer a nervous breakdown from watching doggie die slowly and in great pain -- who knows, you might be able to sue Miss Jazz Dance Festival for all the money she's saved from her job as a warehouse discount store Saturday-afternoon fashion show model....
 What are the legal rights and responsibilities that accompany dog ownership?
1) Responsibilities.  Let's talk responsibilities first. You can figure out your responsibilities by reading the statutes regarding dogs in your state and locality, and by being familiar with some of the general principles set forth in relevant appellate court decisions in your state of residence.
a) Statutes and ordinances. Generally, state law governs, with each state having a number of statutes dealing with dog ownership. Not all these statutes have "dog" in their title. The easiest way to find statutes having the word "dog" in their text is to do an internet computer search of the entire online text of a jurisdiction's statutes. However, see infra, 1(a)(iv), some statutes may apply that do not expressly refer to "dogs."
i) Regulatory laws. Municipalities typically have ordinances requiring owners, inter alia, to license their dogs, take proper care of them (including having them vaccinated), keep them from disturbing neighbors (as by excess barking), keep them on a leash in public places, and "pick up after" their dogs.
ii) Strict liability dog-bite statutes. Many states now make the owner strictly liable, regardless of whether the owner has acted negligently, if the dog bites anyone but a trespasser or someone who intentionally provokes the dog. In other words, it generally is not true that every dog gets one free bite. Whether the owner or the owner's insurer will have to pay the injured party in a case of strict liability depends initially upon whether the injured party seeks compensation. Often the person bitten is a friend who is not inclined to sue. Or the injury may be minor and, in practical terms, not justify a suit. If the injured party sues and prevails, the amount of recovery generally will be compensatory and will depend on the extent of the injury and the economic loss resulting from the injury. An owner conceivably may be required to pay punitive damages (i.e., damages in excess of those needed to compensate the victim for actual financial loss) if the owner acted intentionally, as by unjustifiably directing the dog to attack. Whether the owner will have to personally pay damages depends upon whether the owner has liability insurance and upon whether the policy covers the act resulting in liability. Some liability policies do not cover bites if the dog is unleashed in violation of a leash law at the time of bite.
iii) Dangerous-dog statutes. Many states have "dangerous dog statutes" that, if successfully invoked, may result in the imposition of the canine equivalent of the death penalty or, if not that, extremely strict conditions of continued ownership, such as exile (removal from jurisdiction) or wearing a muzzle at all times.
iv) Criminal penalties. Many urban and suburban jurisdictions make it a minor crime, typically a petty misdemeanor or misdemeanor, to keep more than a specified number of dogs on one's property. Some jurisdictions make it a crime to own or possess a dog that has been judicially declared to be a "dangerous dog" or a dog that has been trained to attack people or other dogs. Most, perhaps all, jurisdictions provide criminal penalties for abusing or neglecting dogs (and other animals). Most, perhaps all, jurisdictions make it a crime to stage dog fights (as well as so-called "cockfights"). Some states make it a crime to use a dog in hunting certain wild animals under certain circumstances. Even a criminal statute enacted without dogs in mind may be applied to a dog owner if the owner's conduct meets the elements of the offense set forth in the statute. For example, under certain circumstances a dog's owner might be charged with and convicted of criminally negligent manslaughter if the dog attacks and kills a child. Similarly, a trained attack dog's owner might be charged with a more serious form of homicide if, e.g., the owner, not acting reasonably and in self defense, directs the dog to attack another person resulting in the person's death.
b) Judicial case law.
2) Rights (and privileges) of dog owners.  A purchaser of a "defective" dog may have recourse, under sales warranty law, against the seller. If your dog turns out to be a talking dog, you might be able to "market" your dog. The income will be yours, not the dog's. But the mutt, not you, will get the fame.
 Law and police dogs.
1) May you sue if a police dog bites you in the rear end as you try to avoid arrest? Most jurisdictions with strict-liability dog-bite statutes contain exceptions for police dogs. This does not necessarily mean one is precluded from recovering monetary damages if a police dog bites you (any more than you are precluded from recovering monetary damages if a police officer bites you). Recently, a Massachusetts man received a jury trial in federal district court on a suit claiming excessive use of force by the police based on a police dog's biting him in the leg as he fled on foot from a traffic accident. The jury agreed there was excessive force but awarded the plaintiff only $1 in damages.
2) What if you shoot and kill a police dog lawfully attempting to "bite and hold" you as you flee a crime scene? Many jurisdictions, in addition to allowing recovery of monetary damages in a civil suit, have specific provisions in their crime codes making it a crime to kill a police dog in these circumstances. If one is convicted of such a crime, typically the sentencing court, in addition to incarcerating or firing the defendant, could require the payment of restitution (compensatory damages) without requiring the government to institute a separate civil suit for damages.
 Can "they" sue you if you don't own the damn dog that bites them?
Crafty lawyers have been known to try find some other party liable if the owner is unknown or lacks insurance and is "judgment proof." It is more and more common, e.g., in high-tech companies in Silicon Valley, for employers to allow employees to bring their dogs with them to work. If one of these dogs bites a customer or some other employee or attacks another employee's dog, the employer may be liable on one or another theory. Similarly, under certain circumstances, a landlord may be deemed liable for an injury inflicted by a tenant's dog.
 What exactly is a "dog lawyer"?
In this day of increasing specialization by lawyers, two new lawyer specialties relating to dogs and other animals have arisen. Usually, a so-called "dog lawyer" is one who specializes in personal injury litigation resulting from dog bites. However, it is not necessary for a personal injury lawyer to specialize in dog-bite cases in order to represent an injured party or a dog owner effectively. The other type of specialist is rarer, the lawyer who specializes in so-called "animal rights law." Some law schools, including Harvard Law School, even have started to offer courses in animal rights law. [more]
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