NRS 202.500 - Owning or Keeping Vicious Dogs in Nevada

NRS 202.500 is the Nevada law which prohibits owning or giving away a "vicious" dog. The statute classifies a canine as "vicious" if either:

  • without being provoked, it killed or inflicted substantial bodily harm upon a human being; or
  • after its owner or keeper had been notified by a law enforcement agency that the dog is dangerous, the dog continued the behavior.

Keeping or giving away a vicious dog is a misdemeanor in Nevada as long as no one gets seriously hurt. The penalty is:

  • Up to six (6) months in jail, and/or
  • Up to $1,000 in fines

But if a dog mauling results in the victim sustaining substantial bodily harm in Nevada, an NRS 202.500 violation is a category D felony in Nevada. The punishment is:

  • One to four (1 - 4) years in Nevada State Prison, and
  • Possibly up to $5,000 in fines (at the judge's discretion), and
  • The animal may be put down

A defense attorney would fight to save the dog and to get these charges reduced or dismissed through a Nevada plea bargain. Potential defenses to NRS 202.500 allegations include:

  1. The defendant did not act knowingly;
  2. The defendant did not have actual notice that the animal was vicious;
  3. The defendant surrendered the animal within seven (7) days of getting actual notice;
  4. The animal is not legally "vicious";
  5. The animal was classified as vicious solely because of its breed; or
  6. The animal was provoked, tormented, or tortured

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss the Nevada offense of keeping or transferring a vicious dog.

Injured by a dog bite in Las Vegas? Learn about how to file a dog bite lawsuit in Nevada.

dog teeth (NRS 202.500)
It is a crime in Nevada under NRS 202.500 to knowingly keep a vicious canine.

1. Legal definition of having a vicious dog in Nevada under NRS 202.500

NRS 202.500 prohibits people from keeping or rehoming a dog they know is "vicious." Specifically, it is illegal in Nevada to either:

  • Knowingly own or keep a vicious dog for more than seven (7) days after getting actual notice that the dog is vicious; or
  • Knowingly transfer ownership of a vicious dog after getting actual notice that the dog is vicious

Whether a dog is "vicious" is not simply a matter of opinion. Nevada law considers a dog to be "vicious" in either of the following two situations:

  1. If the dog killed or inflicted serious injuries on a person without being provoked; or
  2. If the police notified the dog owner or keeper that the dog is "dangerous," and the dog continues to act in a dangerous way.

The legal definition of "dangerous" is one rung below "vicious." A dog is "dangerous" if either:

  • The dog owner or keeper used the dog in the commission of a crime; or
  • The dog behaved menacingly and without provocation on two (2) separate occasions within 18 months in a way that would lead a reasonable person to defend him/herself. Furthermore, this behavior occurred while the animal was not confined to a cage, pen, or vehicle, or was off the premises of its owner or keeper.

In short, a dog is automatically "vicious" if it caused serious injury or death without first being tormented or subjected to pain. Alternatively, a canine becomes vicious if the police already told the owner/keeper that the dog is "dangerous", and the dog persists in behaving dangerously.1

2. Penalties for having a vicious dog in Nevada under NRS 202.500

As long as no one gets hurt, violating NRS 202.500 by keeping or transferring a vicious dog is a misdemeanor. The sentence is:

  • Up to six (6) months in jail, and/or
  • Up to $1,000 in fines.

However, violating NRS 202.500 becomes a category D felony if the dog attacks someone and causes substantial bodily harm. The penalties include:

  • One to four (1 - 4) years in prison, 
  • A possible fine of up to $5,000 (at the judge's discretion), and
  • The judge may order that the canine be put down

However, it may be possible to get vicious canine charges reduced or dismissed through negotiating with the prosecutor or by going to trial and winning.2

dog biting leg
Keeping a vicious canine can be a felony in Nevada if the victim sustains serious injuries.

3. Defenses to Nevada charges of having a vicious dog

Possible arguments to defend against Nevada charges of keeping or transferring a vicious dog are:

  1. The defendant did not act knowingly;
  2. The defendant did not have actual notice the animal was vicious;
  3. The defendant surrendered the animal within seven (7) days of getting actual notice;
  4. The animal is not dangerous or vicious;
  5. The animal was misclassified because of its breed; and/or
  6. The animal was misclassified because it was provoked

Typical evidence in these types of cases includes police reports, medical records, eyewitness testimony, and recorded communications to and from the defendant.

3.1. The defendant did not act knowingly

A person is not guilty of violating NRS 202.500 if he/she is not knowingly keeping a vicious dog:

If a vicious dog escapes police custody and returns to its owner's doghouse unbeknownst to the owner, the owner committed no crime. But once the owner learns that the animal is back, he/she should notify the police right away or else face NRS 202.500 charges for knowingly keeping the vicious dog.

3.2. The defendant did not have actual notice the dog was vicious

A defendant cannot be liable for violating NRS 202.500 if he/she never received actual notice that the animal was vicious. Actual notice may take various forms, including:

  • A letter or phone call from the police;
  • Witnessing the animal seriously attacking a victim; and/or
  • Seeing a police report of the attack

If the owner has no idea that the dog seriously hurt someone else or was continuing to behave dangerously, then the owner is committing no crime by keeping the animal.

3.3. The defendant surrendered the dog within seven (7) days of getting actual notice

A person violates NRS 202.500 by knowingly owning or keeping a vicious dog for more than seven (7) days after getting actual notice that the animal is vicious. If the defendant can show that he/she had the dog put down or gave the dog to police within this time frame, then the prosecutor should withdraw the charges.

3.4. The dog is not dangerous or vicious

Whether a dog substantially hurt another person can be subjective. Or perhaps the police classified the wrong dog as vicious. Unless the prosecution can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the canine in question meets the Nevada legal definition of "vicious," the NRS 202.500 charge should be dropped.

3.5. The dog was misclassified because of its breed

NRS 202.500 specifically prohibits dogs to be labeled vicious solely because of its breed. If the defendant can show that the canine in question is being discriminated against just because of its breed and not because of its behavior, the charges should be dismissed.

Breeds that are commonly presumed to be dangerous include pit bulls, dobermans, rottweilers. and mastiffs.

3.6. The dog was misclassified because it was defending itself

In the same way that humans may fight back in self-defense in Nevada, so can dogs. If the defendant can show that the dog's behavior was in response to someone provoking the animal, then NRS 202.500 charges do not apply. 

4. Immigration consequences for having a vicious dog

Non-citizens convicted of violating NRS 202.500 as a misdemeanor probably will not face deportation proceedings. But if the conviction was for a Nevada felony, then the situation becomes a lot less predictable.

Any documented alien who is facing criminal charges in Nevada should seek experienced legal counsel right away. If the immigration attorney can get the charges dismissed or reduced to a non-deportable offense, then the case should not threaten the immigrant's resident status. Learn about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada

dog showing teeth
NRS 202.500 charges that get dismissed can be sealed right away from the person's record.

5. Sealing Nevada criminal records for having a vicious dog

People convicted of violating NRS 202.500 as a misdemeanor may petition the court for a record seal one (1) year after the case ends.

But if the conviction was for a category D felony, the waiting period extends to either:

  • ten (10) years after the case ends if the court considers the NRS 202.500 violation to be a "felony crime of violence"; or
  • five (5) years after the case ends if the court does not consider the NRS 202.500 violation to be a "felony crime of violence"

To date, Nevada law is unclear about whether a felony NRS 202.500 conviction qualifies as a "felony crime of violence."3

Note that if the charge gets dismissed and there was no conviction, then the defendant does not have to wait to petition the court for a record seal: The defendant can file the paperwork right away.4

Learn more about how to get a record seal in Nevada criminal cases.

6. Dog bite civil lawsuits in Nevada

Dog bite victims may try to sue the owner for negligence in Nevada. Animal owners have a duty to keep their pets from harming others, so bite victims would argue that the owners were "negligent" in their duty.

If the dog was out in public and not on a leash when the bite occurred, the victim may also try to sue the owner for negligence per se in Nevada. Under Nevada dog leash laws, dogs are supposed to be kept on leashes while outside of a residence. Therefore, bite victims would argue the owners were automatically ("per se") negligent by not using the leash.

Depending on the case, dog bite victims may sue for compensatory damages in Nevada to cover their:

Learn more about Nevada dog bite laws, including "the one bite rule."

Also see our article on suing for police dog bites in Nevada.

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Call our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys at 702-DEFENSE for a FREE consultation today.

Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...

Arrested in Nevada for keeping a vicious dog? Contact our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys for a FREE consult at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673). We may be able to get your charges reduced or dismissed while allowing you to keep your precious pet. 

Also see our articles on the Nevada crime of dog-fighting (NRS 574.060 & NRS 574.070) and the Nevada crime of dog racing (NRS 207.235).


Legal References

  1. NRS 202.500  Dangerous or vicious dogs: Unlawful acts; penalties.

          1.  For the purposes of this section, a dog is:

          (a) “Dangerous” if:

                 (1) It is so declared pursuant to subsection 2; or

                 (2) Without provocation, on two separate occasions within 18 months, it behaved menacingly, to a degree that would lead a reasonable person to defend himself or herself against substantial bodily harm, when the dog was:

                       (I) Off the premises of its owner or keeper; or

                       (II) Not confined in a cage, pen or vehicle.

          (b) “Provoked” when it is tormented or subjected to pain.

          (c) “Vicious” if:

                 (1) Without being provoked, it killed or inflicted substantial bodily harm upon a human being; or

                 (2) After its owner or keeper had been notified by a law enforcement agency that the dog is dangerous, the dog continued the behavior described in paragraph (a).

          2.  A dog may be declared dangerous by a law enforcement agency if it is used in the commission of a crime by its owner or keeper.

          3.  A dog may not be found dangerous or vicious:

          (a) Based solely on the breed of the dog; or

          (b) Because of a defensive act against a person who was committing or attempting to commit a crime or who provoked the dog.

          4.  A person who knowingly:

          (a) Owns or keeps a vicious dog, for more than 7 days after the person has actual notice that the dog is vicious; or

          (b) Transfers ownership of a vicious dog after the person has actual notice that the dog is vicious,

    --> is guilty of a misdemeanor.

          5.  If substantial bodily harm results from an attack by a dog known to be vicious, its owner or keeper is guilty of a category D felony and shall be punished as provided in NRS 193.130. In lieu of, or in addition to, a penalty provided in this subsection, the judge may order the vicious dog to be humanely destroyed.

          6.  A local authority shall not adopt or enforce an ordinance or regulation that deems a dog dangerous or vicious based solely on the breed of the dog.

          7.  This section does not apply to a dog used by a law enforcement officer in the performance of his or her duty.

          8.  As used in this section, “local authority” means the governing board of a county, city or other political subdivision having authority to enact laws or ordinances or promulgate regulations relating to dogs.
  2. Id.
  3. NRS 179.245.
  4. NRS 179.255.

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