A 5-year-old, blind pit bull who had a loving family with young children and no history of aggression, ever.
A beloved 4-year-old Alaskan Malamute who, after a reported year of provocation, ended up biting his family’s toddler in the family’s home — leaving no lasting damage.
The circumstances differed, but the results were the same: All of these dogs faced being labeled “dangerous” and serious consequences — ranging from exile to county-ordered death to life-long confinement — because of their area’s respective “dangerous dog” ordinances.
Dangerous dog laws vary across states and even cities within states. Some areas have labels within labels — such as “nuisance” dogs, “potentially dangerous” dogs, and “dangerous” or “vicious” dogs — all of which come with their own consequences.
The most straightforward ordinances relate to dogs who have proven histories of aggressive behavior — such as biting, causing serious injury, or killing a person or another animal.
But some county codes also include a long list of other behaviors that can get a dog in trouble — such as chasing after a bicycle, even if the cyclist isn’t injured — or simply existing as a county-banned breed, with pit bulls being one of the most common types of dogs prohibited but breed-specific legislation also covering dozens of other breeds, including Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds — to name just a few.
Dogs known to their families as “friendly” who escape their yards and take to the streets also can be at risk of injury or death if animal control, police, or passersby encounter and report them as “dangerous” — with some ordinances giving authorities permission to use force, including shooting the dog to death on-site, to reportedly preserve public safety.
It’s important for every dog guardian to know which ordinances are operating within their areas — even if you don’t think a case like this could ever apply to you or your companion animals.
“Most of my clients are astonished that their dogs did the accused misdeeds,” said Animal Attorney Adam Karp. “For the most part, my job is damage control.”
Every year, an estimated 4.5 million people in the United States get bitten by an estimated 85 million dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
The AVMA notes that “any dog can bite” — even the “cuddliest, fuzziest, sweetest pet can bite if provoked.”
Matthew Albert, an animal attorney practicing in New York and also founder of Against All Oddz animal sanctuary, said he’s represented an estimated 100 dogs and their families in dangerous dog cases.
He said he absolutely has had clients who never thought a dangerous dog ordinance could apply to them.
“You may think that your dog will never do something, but in certain situations, your dog might,” he said. “The problem is most dogs are capable of biting in the right circumstances, just like most people are capable of throwing a punch in the right circumstances. About 99 percent of dog bites have some degree of human error, like someone leaving a door open and the dog runs into the street, or a big dog attacks a smaller dog at a park. But these cases can have devastating effects.”
While fighting dangerous dog labels can be some of the hardest cases out there, Albert said the work is rewarding.
“I like the thought of redemption and making it right for these dogs,” he said. “These dogs are challenging, but they are worthwhile.”
Taking the time to educate yourself and others about what dangerous dog ordinances are, what provisions are at play in your hometown, and how you can protect yourself and your dog could help prevent the often unexpected trend of lost lives and broken hearts.
We hope this resource will help! Make sure to check out the state-specific resources at the end of this article to easily start learning more about how you can look up dangerous dog ordinances in your state and city or county.
What are dangerous dog ordinances?
Karp defined dangerous dog ordinances as “laws passed by municipalities and states to regulate, control, and protect against dogs who have a demonstrated history of inflicting unprovoked mayhem upon other animals and people.”
“Typically, they are triggered by a fatality or serious bodily injury,” he added.
States often have specific provisions for animals to be considered “dangerous.” But counties, cities, towns, or other municipalities can and often do add provisions to those overarching laws, making ordinances “more stringent and less forgiving for any dog that has an incident,” Albert said.
Many ordinances also allow for a hierarchy of consequences. Dogs who don’t actually cause injury but act in a way that people perceive is dangerous may receive official labels as “nuisance” or “potentially dangerous” dogs — a classification that can quickly escalate to the more fearsome “dangerous” behavior if the dog repeats the behavior.
“Even if your dog has been given a ‘lighter’ designation such as ‘potentially dangerous,’ it may serve as a predicate to up-classify to dangerous upon re-offense,” Karp said.
Which dogs can be impacted by dangerous dog ordinances?
Dogs who kill or injure other animals — including chickens on nearby properties, neighborhood cats on the loose, or dogs at dog parks — can get labeled as “dangerous,” according to county codes reviewed by Lady Freethinker.
But dogs on private property, gentle dogs of specific breeds with no history of aggression, and dogs standing by when another dog attacks all can face getting labeled as “dangerous” or exiled from a jurisdiction if the area’s ordinances allow it.
One family in Leawood, Kansas, learned about the intricacies of their county’s pit bull ban the hard way.
The Bonds adopted their dog Lucy from a shelter, who reportedly said she was a Boxer mix. But Leawood’s “dangerous dog” ordinance included a ban not only on pit bulls, but also dogs who “resembled” pit bulls.
The Bonds had a 12-year-old daughter attached to Lucy, who had no history of biting or any aggressive behavior. But the Leawood Municipal Court charged the family with keeping a “dangerous” animal. The family was forced to relocate Lucy to a separate city in September 2020 while they fought to bring her home — which they eventually did, almost two years later in March 2022, after a district judge ruled that Leawood’s pit bull ban was “unconstitutionally vague,” according to news reports.
Kristi Bond, one of Lucy’ guardians, told news at the time that the situation was “nothing short of a living nightmare.”
“In the end, reason and logic prevailed, but at a psychological and financial cost,” she told the Shawnee-Mission Post. “No citizen should ever have to face this based on the assumption of breed.”
What are some examples of dogs impacted by Breed Specific Legislation?
More than 700 U.S. cities have enacted breed specific laws, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Animals (ASPCA).
The most common municipal breed bans are against pit bulls and pit bull type dogs.
But nationwide, many other breeds also are subject to bans, including American Staffordshire terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, English bull terriers, American bulldogs, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, Dalmatians, Chow Chows, Boxers, Shar Peis, German Shepherds, Akitas, Doberman Pinschers, wolf hybrids, Cane Corsos, and more.
What are some examples of tragic cases where the families thought their dogs would never be classified as “dangerous?”
Lladk, a 4-year-old Alaskan Malamute, faced a county-ordered euthanasia after he bit his family’s toddler in their home following a reported year’s worth of provocation of the child reportedly grabbing, gnawing, and possibly biting him.
Lladk had no history of aggression prior to that single bite and even co-existed peacefully with the family’s other companion animals — including reptiles. The family viewed Lladk as their emotional support animal and did not want Lladk to be killed, and the child suffered no long-term damage.
Karp took on the case. Animal rescuers stepped up to mobilize community support. But it took nine months of legal battles — including six federal appeals — weekend protests, petitions, and calls across lawyers, rescues, and states to reverse the kill order.
Lladk is now living at a sanctuary, where he will be a permanent resident.
Albert also has represented numerous dogs who were allowed to live but were court-required to be removed from their homes.
One of those dogs was Vanessa, a gentle and sweet dog who was out on a walk one day with a handler who also was walking a second dog. An interaction with a jogger led to the woman requiring 18 stitches, and although it was not clear which dog had caused the bite, Vanessa — who had no history of biting or aggression — ended up with the death sentence, Albert told LFT.
Dozens of neighbors and community members rallied behind Vanessa and testified to her sweet nature, but it took a year-long legal battle before an appellate judge ruled there was not enough evidence to send Vanessa to her death.
Even with that ruling, the local court ruled Vanessa would not be allowed to return to her home but rather had to spend the rest of her days at Against All Oddz, where her dedicated guardian continued to visit her until her death from cancer about a year after the ruling.
Another beloved resident of Against All Oddz sanctuary is a 2.5-year-old puppy named Brady. Brady’s owner, after recently adopting the dog, reportedly decided to hold a Thanksgiving party. Brady, still new to the home, suddenly found himself surrounded by new people and stimuli. At one point in the evening, a young boy picked up a ball. It’s not clear whether Brady went for the boy — or the ball — but the boy ended up with stitches, and Brady ended up with an order to be killed, Albert said.
It took nearly two years, and multiple appeals, for Albert to secure a reversal that allowed Brady to live and to secure a forever home with an individual able to follow the mandated conditions for Brady’s release.
Brady’s situation — one bite, one situation where the odds were stacked against him — isn’t an anomaly, Albert added.
“A lot of these incidents are freak incidents, where dogs get loose or get out,” he said. “I get calls from families who say, ‘Matt, this is a really good dog.’”
One of those dogs was 5-year-old Tiger, whom Albert described as a “gentle giant.”
Tiger was outside with his guardian and a neighboring family with a small child that he had visited with many times. Tiger’s guardian went inside for a minute, and in the interim the child somehow became stuck in a leaf blower and started screaming, Albert said. While it’s not possible to know exactly what the dog was thinking, when the child’s mother went to help the screaming child, Tiger went after the mother —perhaps thinking he was protecting the screaming child by doing so, Albert said.
Tiger then faced a lengthy confinement by the county and reportedly arrived at Against All Oddz not being able to walk properly. The dog needed to undergo therapy for years, Albert said.
“Tiger was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Albert told LFT. “But we were able to get him here and give him the life he deserves.”
One of Albert’s cases involved a dog who escaped his home and went to a neighboring yard to play with the dog there. But the property owner reportedly saw the dog was a pit bull and reportedly started kicking the dog, which caused the dog to bite the man’s ankle.
“This was a dog where you’d have to go to great lengths to get him to bite,” Albert said. “These cases are troublesome because they cause pain all over the place.”
In some cases reviewed by LFT, an area’s dangerous dog ordinance also allowed authorities to impose breed bans on animals without proving that they were actually a banned breed.
That happened in the case of Capone, an 11-year-old German Shepherd-Lab mix impounded for nearly a month after he escaped his family’s yard, got reported by a nearby property, and the responding animal services in Colorado alleged the dog was a wolf-hybrid — one of the area’s banned breeds.
Capone’s family had to have him DNA-tested by the University of California-Davis lab before they could bring him home. Even then, the family had to meet a series of requirements, including keeping Capone mostly confined indoors or leashed and muzzled when outside, according to news reports.
Capone’s guardians told news at the time of the incident — the first time that he had ever run away reportedly —that “It’s been pretty stressful not having him home, and it’s been pretty hard on my kids, that’s the main thing.”
They aren’t the only family that has felt that way, according to the attorneys who spoke with LFT.
Can you talk about the toll that these labels and these cases have on the dogs’ families?
Young children in families whose dog has been labeled “dangerous” are devastated when the dog can no longer live in the home and often don’t understand what’s happening, Albert said.
Of course — neither do the dogs, he added.
Getting families to voluntarily agree that their dog can go to a home other than theirs also often involves difficult conversations, Albert said.
“In a lot of these cases, the owners made a mistake — or 10,” he said. “Sometimes, I do have to say, ‘This judge will kill your dog. We can save your dog’s life, but the dog will not be going back to you.’”
Albert also has seen cases where families have different opinions about the fate of the dog involved.
“These cases can shatter families,” Albert said. “You will have families sue other family members.”
What process can guardians expect if their dog is facing a “dangerous dog” label?
Every case will be different, but typically what happens following a dog bite is that some kind of investigating authority — such as police or animal control officers — will evaluate and present evidence to a hearing examiner, who then makes a determination about whether the dog meets “dangerous dog” criteria.
The dog’s guardian can then decide to appeal that decision within a certain time frame and most commonly with the help of an attorney. The dog typically will be impounded by the investigating agency, with the dog’s owner picking up the costs, while the case remains open.
Appeals often get denied, and an attorney will then need to take the case to additional appellate courts.
Families should be prepared for a lengthy legal battle to ensue. Getting kill orders reversed, as well as getting the “dangerous dog” labels dropped, took an average of up to two years, according to the cases reviewed by LFT.
During that time, dogs most commonly were not allowed to be back at home with their guardians but rather were being kept confined at an animal control facility, with dog guardians required to pay the cost of any boarding or veterinary services.
If appeals fail and a court-ordered killing of the dog stands, many of the ordinances reviewed by LFT also require guardians to pay for the dog’s “euthanasia.”
What consequences do dogs labeled as ‘dangerous’ face?
Two unleashed dogs who reportedly killed two cats ended up designated as “potentially dangerous” dogs by the California court who heard the case.
The court allowed the dogs to stay with their family but required they be kept indoors or within a secured enclosure in the owner’s yard, and to be leashed and muzzled when outdoors. They also had to wear bright orange collars that said “Potentially Dangerous Dog,” and their guardian had to post signs around the home and pay a yearly registration fee, according to news reports.
The attorneys who spoke with LFT have seen similar conditions in their dangerous dog cases.
Courts that allow dogs officially labeled as “dangerous” to remain with their families typically impose a series of conditions, which can include microchipping, sterilization, confinement to the home or a locked outdoor kennel, signage that a dangerous dog is on the property, leashing and muzzling, an annual registration fee, and obtaining a bond or insurance of up to $250,000, Karp said.
But some judges bypass options that let the dog stay with the family and instead banish the dog from the jurisdiction, require anyone taking the dog in to also have insurance of up to $1 million, or order the dog killed, Karp added.
Dog guardians who choose to ignore the court-imposed conditions can face criminal charges, confiscation of the dog, and serious fines.
What’s most challenging about dangerous dog cases?
Vague or subjective wording in dangerous dog ordinances is one main frustration for Karp when defending dogs and their families.
Most ordinances don’t list specific actions that define what “aggressive” attacks are, or how close a dog must get to someone in order to be considered “engaging in a menacing approach,” he said.
Other examples include whether a barking dog near the attack who doesn’t actually participate in the attack should also be labeled as “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous,” or whether “kill” means a dog who kills another living animal at the scene or whether the injured animal dies days later following veterinary intervention and the victimized owner’s decision to have the animal euthanized, he added.
He’s also seen cases where authorities have denied families their right to appeal or required dog owners to prove the dog’s innocence — rather than uphold the typical U.S. judicial standard of “innocent until proven guilty.”
Karp said he also has seen courts allow breed discrimination.
Albert said that many judges don’t want to see dogs die. That means giving them options that will keep the dog alive that will also ensure that the incident doesn’t repeat.
Rulings that allow dogs to live often require moving the dog out of the area permanently, with the receiving area or organization often required to obtain costly insurance prior to taking the dog or to ensure they will not rehome the dog.
All of those factors can cause problems for rescues and shelters, many of whom aren’t equipped to handle dogs who have histories of biting or don’t have the resources or capacity to take on a permanent resident, Albert said.
“I’ve got nine dogs now at our sanctuary, many of whom are from dangerous dog cases,” he told LFT in January. “Many rescues can’t do it because of the liability.”
Breed specific legislation — ordinances that focus on banning certain breeds of dogs, rather than dogs who have exhibited aggressive behavior — or breed-specific prejudices are frustrating, Albert said.
“Many people are discriminatory against pit bulls,” he said. “So there are unjust rulings.”
What steps can dog guardians take to help prevent their dogs from being labeled as dangerous?
The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends that people take the following steps to minimize the chances that a companion dog will act aggressively:
- Make sure to socialize your dog and take training classes if needed.
- Be a responsible guardian, including ensuring your dog is spayed or neutered and gets daily, adequate exercise.
- Educate yourself and family members (especially children) about how and when to approach a dog, to first obtain the dog guardian’s permission to pet or touch the dog, and to learn basic signals of dog body language.
- Avoid risky situations, including touching dogs who are sleeping or eating, being in the same area as a loose or unattended dog, and staying away from a leashed dog if the dog’s guardian tells you the dog doesn’t do well with other animals or does not give you permission to pet the dog.
Lady Freethinker believes every animal has the right to exist and we do not support breed specific bans. However, based on the cases we reviewed over several months, we do encourage dog guardians who are sharing their homes with dogs who are, or resemble, breeds commonly discriminated against (see breed specific legislation subhead above) to please be aware that heavy prejudices do exist and can result in tragic outcomes for families and dogs.
We encourage you to take precautionary steps, such as ensuring that dogs are always supervised if outside in a yard — even a fenced yard — and that you keep your dog leashed while out in public.
We also encourage families adopting companion animals to speak with rescue staff to ensure that dogs’ needs and personalities are good fits for the family’s dynamics and lifestyle to ensure welfare all around.
What resources exist for dog guardians facing or fighting a dangerous dog label?
Attorneys who spoke with LFT advised that families facing dangerous dog labels seek legal representation.
While providing specific legal advice is outside of the scope of LFT as a media organization, Albert recommended using the internet to search for keywords such as “animal welfare lawyer” or “animal attorney” along with your state.
Since dangerous dog ordinances vary nationwide, it’s important to locate an attorney who is familiar with the laws governing your city and state.
Otherwise, Albert said that families who have mobilized community support or collected expert witness testimony often have better outcomes.
“I’ve seen some cases where the public is interested and some where they aren’t,” he said. “If an animal advocate doesn’t find out about these situations, these judges can take liberties. The only way you get these somewhat favorable outcomes is to expose situations and also present solutions.”
How can I learn about what dangerous dog ordinances are in place in my town/city/county/state?
If you are still interested in getting more information about what dangerous dog ordinances are, we recommend the Michigan State University Animal Legal and Historical Center overview here. The Center also has a fantastic guide to specific breeds (unfortunately) banned by city and state here.
It’s also a good idea to reach out to your city and county and request a copy of their dangerous animal ordinances to make sure you have the most up-to-date information specific to your area.
You can also typically use the internet to pull up these codes by using keywords such as “[city or county name] dangerous dog code” or “[city or county name] animal control ordinances.”