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Pet owners beware: dog laws can be confusing
The state of Colorado has certain laws regarding animals and their behavior. What a lot of pet owners don’t realize is that cities and counties may have rules that differ from the state.
The case of the “vicious dog” Spork
In August, Spork, a 10-year-old miniature dachshund, bit a vet tech at an animal hospital in Lafayette. Both the tech who was bitten and the veterinarian filed reports with Animal Control. Spork then faced the possibility of being euthanized for being a ‘vicious dog.’ Jennifer Reba Edwards of The Animal Law Center in Denver represented Spork in court. She said, “The case was unprecedented, and one that we feel strongly that the charges should have never been brought.”
The reason Edwards feels that way is because Lafayette is one of 20 municipalities in Colorado which give animal care providers more protection. Normally, the state law overrides city law. But in this rare case, the vet tech’s request to go to court was granted.
Colorado law on dog bites
As it stands, Colorado state law exempts any person who works with animals from pressing charges for being bit. Colorado’s dog bite statute (Col. Rev. Stats. sec. 13-21-124) states:
(5) A dog owner shall not be liable to a person who suffers bodily injury, serious bodily injury, or death from being bitten by the dog: (e) If the person is a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, professional dog handler, trainer, or dog show judge acting in the performance of his or her respective duties.
In other words, people who work with dogs as a regular part of their job, assume a certain amount of risk in doing so. Therefore, if they get bit, it’s simply considered a hazard of the trade.
Dr. Donald Dodge is a veterinarian who runs an animal hospital. He supports the state law and said, “If they get bit by an animal in the course of doing their work, that animal cannot be prosecuted as a vicious dog or a vicious animal. I guess I could say that’s a good way to go.”
Spork’s day in court
Seven months after the initial incident at the vet clinic, Spork was granted a deferred prosecution. This means that in six months time, if Spork behaves, the charges will be dropped. In a statement to the court, Spork’s owners said, “We will in the future be more sensitive about the policies and practices of animal services providers before we entrust our pet to their care.”
It is important for pet owners to know the rules and choose their vet wisely. It is also in the best interest of all pet owners to become familiar with the rules and exemptions in their community.
How to protect yourself
Edwards and her colleagues at The Animal Law Center have seen an increase in concerned pet owners since the Spork case went public. “Since the Spork case, a lot of people have just come in to talk to us. We thought about doing consultations and classes out there about dangerous dog laws for people.”
Getting in touch with animal law professionals, like Edwards, is a good way to ensure you know the laws. It is also a good idea to sit down with any animal care provider before bringing your pet to their first visit. Discussing their policies and procedures for reporting animal bites will ensure that there are no surprises should an incident occur.