Owning a Dangerous Dog
(Colorado 18-9-204.5 C.R.S.)

German Shepard fiercely growling with teeth bared

Defending Colorado dog bite or dog attack criminal charges

Section 18-9-204.5 of the Colorado Revised Statutes makes it a crime to own or have any interest in, or control over, a dangerous dog.

A “dangerous dog” is one that:

  • Injures or kills a person or domestic animal; or
  • Demonstrates tendencies that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the dog might injure or kill a person or domestic animal; or
  • Engages in or is trained for illegal animal fighting under 18-9-204 C.R.S.

Penalties for owning a dangerous dog

Owning a dangerous dog can be either a misdemeanor or a felony in Colorado. Punishment depends on:

  • Whether the dog attacks a human, another animal or property, 
  • How serious an injury (if any) the dog causes, and 
  • Whether it is your first or a subsequent offense.

Consequences of owning a dangerous dog can include:

  • Jail or prison time,
  • Fines,
  • Restitution for damages to another person, animal or property,
  • Court-ordered obligations to do or refrain from doing certain things, and
  • Possible destruction of the dog by euthanasia.

As an example, a first dangerous dog offense arising from an injury to a domestic animal or a non-serious injury to a person can be punished by:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $50-$750, plus
  • Restitution to the aggrieved party for doctor or vet bills, etc.

If it is a subsequent offense, however, or the dog kills a human being, ownership of a dangerous dog in Colorado is a felony.

At its most serious -- when a person is killed -- the penalty for owning a dangerous dog can include:

  • Up to 3 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of up to $100,000.

Defending charges of owning a dangerous dog

Dog attacks are some of the most difficult charges to defend against.

If you knew that your dog was dangerous, there is often not much you can do about the charge except to have your lawyer negotiate with the prosecutor.

However, in certain cases, you are not liable for an attack. Such situations include (but are not limited to):

  • The dog was provoked or was defending you, another person or your property, or
  • The dog was engaged in a legal but dangerous activity, such as hunting or herding, or
  • You didn't know the dog was dangerous and the dog attacked a groomer or veterinary worker.
aggressive German Shepard on leash

18-9-204.5 C.R.S. is one of Colorado's lengthiest and most complex criminal statutes.

To help you better understand Colorado's law against keeping a dangerous dog, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers explain, below:

Terriers fighting and trying to bite each other

1. What is considered a dangerous dog in Colorado?

18-9-204.5 C.R.S. defines a “dangerous dog” as any domesticated animal related to the fox, wolf, coyote, or jackal that:

  • Inflicts bodily or serious bodily injury upon or causes the death of a person or domestic animal; or
  • Demonstrates tendencies that would cause a reasonable person to believe that the dog may inflict bodily or serious bodily injury upon or cause the death of any person or domestic animal; or
  • Engages in or is trained for animal fighting.

“Bodily injury” means any physical injury that results in severe bruising, muscle tears, or skin lacerations requiring professional medical treatment or any physical injury that requires corrective or cosmetic surgery.

“Serious bodily injury” means bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.

“Domestic animal” means any dog, cat, any animal kept as a household pet, or livestock.

2. Who is responsible for a dangerous dog?

You commit a crime under 18-9-204.5 C.R.S. if you are the owner of a dangerous dog.

For purposes of 18-9-204.5 C.R.S., an “owner” is any person, firm, corporation, or organization owning, possessing, harboring, keeping, having financial or property interest in, or having control or custody of an animal.

3. Consequences of owning a dangerous dog

Punishment for owning a dangerous dog can be in the form of:

  • Jail or prison time,
  • Fines,
  • Restitution for damages to another person, animal or property,
  • Court-order obligations to do or refrain from doing certain things, and/or
  • Possible destruction of the dog by euthanasia.

Which of these (and in what amounts) depends on whether:

  • The dog does any damage,
  • The injury (if any) is to a person, an animal or property,
  • Anyone is killed, and/or
  • You have a previous conviction for owning a dangerous dog.

3.1. Jail / prison time and fines

3.1.1. Dog inflicts bodily injury upon a person

If your dog injures a person, you are guilty of:

  • A class 3 misdemeanor for a first offense, or
  • A class 2 misdemeanor if it is your or subsequent violation.

As a class 3 misdemeanor, owning a dangerous dog can be punished by:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $50-$750.

Penalties for a second or subsequent offense can include:

  • 3-12 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $250-$1,000.

3.1.2. Dog inflicts serious bodily injury upon a person

If your dog inflicts serious bodily injury to a person, you have committed a class 1 misdemeanor if it is your first offense. If you are involved in a second or subsequent violation, however, it is a Colorado class 6 felony.

As a class 1 misdemeanor, penalties for owning a dangerous dog can include:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

Consequences of owning a dangerous dog as a class 6 felony can be as much as:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years in prison (with 1 year mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.
dog chasing a man up a wall

3.1.3. Dog kills a person

If your dog kills a person, it is a Colorado class 5 felony. Punishment for owning a killer dog can include:

  • 1-3 years in prison (with 2 years mandatory parole), and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

3.1.4. Dog kills a domestic animal

If your dog kills a domestic animal, you have committed:

  • A Colorado class 3 misdemeanor if it is your first offense, or
  • A Colorado class 2 misdemeanor if it is a second or subsequent violation.

For a first offense, penalties can include:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $50-$750.

But if it is your second or subsequent offense, you face:

  • A mandatory fine of at least $250 (and possibly as much as $1,000), and
  • A potential jail sentence of up to one year.

3.1.5. Dog damages property

If you own a dangerous dog that damages or destroys the property of another person, you can be charged with a class 1 petty offense.

Penalties for conviction of a Colorado class 1 petty offense can include:

  • A fine up to $500, and/or
  • 6 months in jail.

You will also be liable for restitution for the property damage, as set forth below.

3.2. Restitution

If you are convicted of owning a dangerous dog pursuant to Colorado 18-9-204.5 C.R.S., the court will order you to pay restitution to the other party or parties involved.

Restitution for damaged property shall be in an amount equal to the greater of the fair market value or the replacement cost of such property before its destruction, plus any actual costs incurred in replacing such property.

Restitution for a dead or injured domestic animal shall be equal to the greater of the fair market value or the replacement cost of the domestic animal on the date, but before the time, the animal was injured or destroyed, plus any reasonable and necessary medical expenses incurred in treating the animal and any actual costs incurred in replacing the injured or destroyed animal.

And if you enter a guilty plea or are found guilty by a judge or jury of, or you receive a deferred judgment or deferred prosecution for, a violation that results in bodily injury, serious bodily injury, or death to a person, you will be responsible for restitution in the maximum amount permitted by law.

3.3. Additional obligations following an 18-9-204.5 C.R.S. conviction

If you are convicted of owning a dangerous dog pursuant to 18-9-204.5 C.R.S., the court will order you to:

  • Confine the dangerous dog in an escape-proof building or enclosure;
  • Keep the dog under your control by use of a leash whenever the dog is outside of the building or enclosure;
  • Post a conspicuous warning sign on the building or enclosure notifying others that a dangerous dog is housed in the building or enclosure;
  • If the conviction is for a second or subsequent offense, muzzle the dangerous dog whenever it is outside of the building or enclosure;
  • Report to the bureau of animal protection, in writing, any material change in the dangerous dog's situation, including but not limited to a change, transfer, or termination of ownership, change of address, escape, or death;
  • At your own expense, permanently identify the dangerous dog through the implantation of a microchip by a licensed veterinarian or a licensed shelter who will report the microchipping information to the bureau;
  • Prior to the implantation of the microchip, pay a nonrefundable dangerous dog microchip license fee of fifty dollars to the bureau of animal protection;
  • Prior to the dangerous dog receiving any service or treatment, disclose in writing to any provider of the service or treatment, including but not limited to a veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency staff person, pet animal care facility staff person, professional dog handler, or dog trainer, each acting in the performance of his or her respective duties, that the dangerous dog has been the subject of a conviction of a violation of this section; and
  • Prior to a change, transfer, or termination of ownership of a dangerous dog, disclose in writing to the prospective owner that the dangerous dog has been the subject of a conviction of a violation of this section.

3.4. Euthanasia of a dangerous dog

The court shall order that a dangerous dog be immediately confiscated and placed in a public animal shelter at your expense.

Unless you successfully appeal your conviction, upon exhaustion of your right to appeal, the dangerous dog will be destroyed by euthanasia administered by a licensed veterinarian if the owner has pled to or been found guilty of, or received a deferred judgment or deferred prosecution for, a violation that resulted in:

  • Serious bodily injury to a person,
  • Death to a person or domestic animal, or 
  • A second or subsequent violation for the same dog causing bodily injury to a person or death to a domestic animal.

If a second or subsequent conviction for owning a dangerous dog results from the actions of a different dog than the first conviction, the court may (but is not required to) confiscate the dog and order its destruction by euthanasia upon exhaustion of any right the owner has to appeal the conviction.

small dog getting aggressive with groomer

4. Defenses to owning a dangerous dog

You are not guilty under 18-9-204.5 C.R.S. if:

  • You are a peace officer and you use the dog while engaged in the performance of peace officer duties;
  • Your dog inflicts bodily or serious bodily injury to any veterinary health care worker, dog groomer, humane agency personnel, professional dog handler, or trainer each acting in the performance of his or her respective duties, unless you are subject to a court order with respect to the dog and you have failed to notify the worker that the dog is dangerous;
  • Your dog inflicts injury upon or causes the death of a domestic animal while the dog was working as a hunting dog, herding dog, or predator control dog on your property or property under your control and the injury or death was to a domestic animal naturally associated with the work of such dog.

In addition, as long as your dog has not engaged in or been trained for animal fighting, it is an affirmative defense to charges of owning a dangerous dog that:

  • The dog was a stray who entered your property and injured or killed a domestic animal;
  • A domestic animal your dog injured or killed was, at the time of the attack biting or otherwise attacking you or your dog;
  • At the time of the attack by your dangerous dog, the victim was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense (other than a petty offense) against you and the attack did not occur on your property;
  • If your dog's attack caused injury to or the death of a person, the victim of the attack was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense (other than a petty offense) against your property or someone on your property;
  • The victim of the attack tormented, provoked, abused, or inflicted injury upon your dog in an extreme manner which resulted in the attack.

Call us for help…

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At the Colorado Legal Defense Group, our animals are part of our families. Our caring Colorado criminal defense attorneys and support staff know that you love your animals, too.

If you or someone you know has been accused of owning a dangerous dog, we'll fight vigorously to keep you and your dog together.

To learn the best defense to your Colorado charges of owning a dangerous dog, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We'll discuss the specifics of your case and what we can do to help you stay out of jail and to help you keep your dog or get her back.

For a prompt response from one of our Colorado dog bite defense lawyers, you can fill out the confidential form on this page, or call us at our Denver home office:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112 

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