Euthanasia can be required after a dog bite in California if the dog has rabies, if the dog has bitten at least 2 people, or if the dog has bitten and seriously injured someone, and had been raised to attack people or fight.
Unless the dog has rabies, a hearing is required before the dog is euthanized. This hearing aims to determine whether the dog is a threat to public safety. Anyone can petition a court to initiate the hearing process. The dog owner can present evidence in defense of their dog at this hearing. If the court decides that the dog is a threat to public safety, they can have the dog euthanized.
In this article, our California dog bite lawyers explain:
- 1. When are dogs euthanized after biting someone in California?
- 2. What is the hearing process before a dog can be euthanized?
1. When are dogs euthanized after biting someone in California?
A dog that has bitten a person in California may be euthanized in 3 circumstances:
- The dog has rabies,
- The dog has bitten at least 2 people in the past, or
- The dog has seriously bitten 1 person, but had been raised to fight or was trained as an attack dog.
Euthanasia is not an option if the dog bites another dog.
1.1. Rabid dogs
Dogs that are found to have rabies are euthanized in California. No hearing is required before the dog is put down.
Whenever a dog bites someone in California, local health officials have to be notified.1 This notification triggers the 10-day quarantine process. Dogs at high risk of having rabies are quarantined in a shelter or at a veterinarian’s office. Animals at low risk of having rabies can be quarantined at their owner’s home.
If the dog shows symptoms of rabies during the quarantine and a veterinarian confirms it is rabid, the dog will be euthanized without a hearing. This is done to protect the public from a rabid dog. Rabies is a serious and life-threatening disease.
If the dog does not show signs of rabies during the quarantine, it is released back to its owners.
1.2. Dogs that have bitten at least 2 people
A dog that has bitten at least 2 people can be euthanized after a court hearing.2
These 2 bites must have happened in separate incidents. If a victim was bitten more than once in a single attack, it only counts as a single bite.
Bites do not count towards this 2-bite limit if:
- The victim was a trespasser, or
- The dog was a military or police dog and was actually working at the time of the bite.3
This 2-bite limit is different from the “one bite rule.” The one-bite rule can make a dog owner strictly liable for a dog bite if they should have known about their pet’s dangerous tendencies. Showing the owner knew or should have known about the threat posed by their dog can involve a prior bite.
1.3. Attack dogs that have seriously bitten 1 person
A dog that was raised to fight or was trained as an attack dog can be euthanized after a single bite, if the bite caused substantial injuries.4 A hearing is required before the dog can be euthanized.
2. What is the hearing process before a dog can be euthanized?
Before most dogs can be euthanized for biting someone, there has to be a hearing. This hearing is to decide whether the dog is a threat to public safety. The dog owner’s due process rights make them entitled to this hearing and a notice that it is happening.5
2.1. How is the hearing process initiated?
After a dog bite, anyone can initiate the hearing process, including:
- The dog bite victim,
- A law enforcement officer,
- An animal control officer, or
- A neighbor.
They can file a complaint with the local animal shelter or animal control office. That complaint argues that the dog is dangerous and is a threat to the public.
2.2. Who conducts the hearing?
The hearing is conducted in the county where the bite happened. Who conducts the hearing will depend on local regulations. For example, in Los Angeles County, the hearing is conducted by a Hearing Examiner from the Los Angeles Animal Control.6
2.3. How is the dog owner notified of the hearing?
Dog owners are entitled to receive notice that the hearing is happening based on local regulations. In Los Angeles County, for example, they need to receive written notice at least 10 days prior to the hearing. That notice has to state when, where, and why the hearing will be held.7
2.4. What happens at the hearing?
At the hearing, evidence will be presented that the dog is a danger to the public. The dog owner will have an opportunity to defend their pet. They can argue that their dog is not a threat to the public. Witnesses can be called about the dog’s temperament.
Evidence that a dog is, or is not, a threat to the public can include:
- Prior incidents of the dog attacking, biting, or hurting another person or animal,
- The severity of any of those injuries and how many victims were involved,
- Where the bite or attacked happened,
- Whether the bite or attack was the result of provocation,
- The extent of any property damage in the attack,
- Whether there is evidence that the dog was raised as an attack dog or to be violent,
- Any aggressive or unpredictable characteristics shown towards people or other animals,
- Whether the dog can be trained or retrained to change its violent temperament, and
- The owner’s skill or care in keeping their dog out of trouble.8
It is often up to animal control or the person filing the complaint to prove that the dog is dangerous and should be euthanized. They are often allowed to prove this by a preponderance of the evidence, rather than beyond a reasonable doubt.9
2.5. What are the possible outcomes at the hearing?
Based on whether the hearing decides the dog is a threat to the public, the hearing can end with the following outcomes:
- The dog is deemed not a threat and released to its owners,
- The dog is not a threat, but its license is revoked because the owners were negligent,
- The dog is not a threat, but its license is suspended until the owners properly train it or take certain measures to control it, or
- The dog is deemed a threat and is impounded to be euthanized.10
2.6. Can the hearing be appealed?
Dog owners are entitled to appeal the decision of the hearing. Who hears the appeal depends on local ordinances. In Los Angeles County, for example, appeals go to the Board of Commissioners.11
Appealing the outcome of the hearing often has to be done quickly. In Los Angeles, the appeal has to be filed or postmarked no later than 15 days after the decision is served on the owner.12
Call us for help…
The euthanasia hearing can determine the fate of a dog. Contact our California dog bite attorneys to help you present your case at the hearing.
- California Code of Regulations Title 17, § 2606(a). While the law only requires notification in designated “rabies areas,” the Director of the State Department of Health Services has declared every county in California a “rabies area” every year since 1987.
- California Civil Code 3342.5(b).
- California Civil Code 3342.5(d).
- California Civil Code 3342.5(c).
- Phillips v. San Luis Obispo County Dept. etc. Regulation, 183 Cal.App.3d 372 (Cal. App. 1986).
- Los Angeles Municipal Code § 53.34.4.
- Los Angeles Municipal Code § 53.18.5(c).
- See e.g., Los Angeles Municipal Code § 53.34.4(c).
- See e.g., Los Angeles Municipal Code § 53.18.5(j).
- See e.g., Los Angeles Municipal Code § 53.34.4(e)-(f).
- Los Angeles Municipal Code § 53.18.5(q).
- Los Angeles Municipal Code § 53.18.5(q)(3).