If you are bitten by a dog, or your dog bites someone else, it can be a scary and tense situation. Whether the dog is scared, injured or defending its property, there are laws in place for what happens after a dog bite. California law regarding dog bites spells out the rights and responsibilities of the dog owner and the victim. Quarantine of the dog after a bite is required in the state to ensure that there is no transmission of rabies from the animal to the injured human.
Animal Control Dog Bite Procedure
California law regarding dog bites requires that all instances of a dog biting a person be reported to the local animal control office. There is typically at least one animal control office to contact in each city. So what happens when animal control is called for a dog bite? Once the report is made, an animal control officer completes a more thorough investigation. The investigation allows the officer to verify the facts of the initial report, get any additional needed information, determine how severe the bite was and determine whether there is a risk of rabies transmission.
The investigating officer also helps the bite victim seek the appropriate medical care and determine what actions to take to prevent the dog from having another incident in the future. This may include professional dog training or reinforcing the screens in a home so the dog can’t unexpectedly jump out a window or door. Both the bite victim and the home of the offending dog are visited as part of the investigation. This is typically done within 24 hours of a report being filed, as required by animal control dog bite procedure.
Animal control officers are instructed to be objective and thorough in their investigations, taking pictures and documenting their findings as best as is possible. They also perform a rabies assessment to determine the risk of rabies transmission. Dogs who have rabies or are at high risk for having rabies may have to be euthanized. Dogs who are considered low risk for rabies are quarantined.
Dog Quarantine After Bite
Once a dog has bitten someone, and a report has been filed, California law regarding dog bites mandates that the dog be quarantined. The law only applies to bites on a human, not on another dog.
The dog that bit a person must be quarantined and observed for a minimum of 10 days to assess if the dog has the rabies virus. While dogs who are current with rabies vaccinations are considered low risk, they must still be quarantined following a dog bite that is reported to animal control. This law is designed to protect the safety of the bite victim, the owner of the dog and the general public.
Dog quarantine after a bite is done either at the animal’s house or a local shelter or veterinarian’s office. Where the dog is quarantined is at the discretion of the animal control officer. If the dog displays no signs of rabies after 10 days, it is removed from quarantine.
Read More: California Dog Bite Laws: Owner Liability
Quarantine at Home or Away
Quarantining a dog away from home is preferred so it can be isolated from other animals and people and observed more closely. A dog can be quarantined at an animal shelter, veterinary hospital, kennel or another similar facility. Staff working at these locations are trained to look for the onset of rabies and can sometimes better ensure that the conditions of a quarantine order are met.
However, if the dog poses a low or manageable risk of rabies, the animal control officer may permit the dog to be quarantined in its own home or at another home. If the owner of the dog can prove that his pet's rabies vaccinations are up to date and that the dog does not have a violent history, there is a better chance that home quarantine will be allowed.
If the animal is under home quarantine, it must be kept in an enclosed location inside or outdoors that prevents the dog from engaging with other animals or people. Only one adult is permitted to tend to the dog, and more restrictions may be enacted if the home has children. Animal control officers can make unannounced visits to ensure compliance with the quarantine order. If the dog’s owners do not comply with the rules of home quarantine, the dog may be moved to an external quarantine location.
Quarantine Order Procedure
As part of the animal control dog bite procedure, a quarantine order must be delivered to and signed by the dog’s owner. The order is a legal document that includes:
- Name and contact information of the dog’s owner.
- Name and description of the offending dog, including license number, unique markings and a photograph.
- Dates and location of the quarantine.
A quarantine order includes strict rules that must be followed for a dog quarantine after a bite:
- The dog must be confined in an enclosed space and have no contact with other animals or people.
- The dog cannot be removed from the enclosed space without written permission of animal control.
- If the dog becomes sick, exhibits abnormal behavior or dies, animal control must be contacted.
- The animal control officer can determine that the dog be euthanized in order to test for rabies.
- The dog can only be released from quarantine after the determined quarantine period ends in typically 10 days, and release is authorized by local animal control.
Hiding the offending dog or violating any part of the quarantine order is considered a misdemeanor in California. If the dog owner does either of these things, he may be fined and could be imprisoned.
Releasing a Dog From Quarantine
Once the 10-day quarantine period is completed, the dog is examined to make sure it does not have rabies and is otherwise healthy. Only an animal control officer can officially release a dog from quarantine. If the dog wasn’t already vaccinated against rabies, it must be vaccinated before being released. The person who was bitten must also be informed that the dog does not have rabies and is otherwise healthy. Dog owners in California are required by law to make sure their dogs are licensed and vaccinated against rabies. Failure to do so can result in fines and can make circumstances much more difficult for dog owners and their dogs in the event that a dog bite attack occurs.
What to Do in the Event of a Dog Bite
If your dog bites someone, the best thing to do is to restrain him and remain calm. Make sure the victim is okay and, if the bite is severe, call for medical help. If the victim files a report and if you are contacted by animal control, cooperate with them. Be sure to show proof of your dog's current license and vaccination record. This is the best way to ensure that you and your dog receive fair treatment under the law. Keep in mind that a dog that has bitten people two or more times may have to be put down. If you have a dog that you know is vicious, take the utmost care in your home and in public to ensure the dog does not cause any harm.
If you are bitten by a dog, seek medical attention immediately. This is true whether the bite was only a graze or if it was a more intense wound. Even the smallest bites can require medication and treatment to avoid turning into an infection. If the bite is not severe, be sure to wash it throughly with soap and water.
You should file a bite report with your local animal control office as well as the police as soon as possible after the incident occurs. Give them as much detail as you can, including any information you have on the owner and the dog, and the name and number of any witnesses. If the dog was a stray, try to remember as much about the dog as you can so that animal control can find the animal. Make sure that the offending dog is quarantined and checked for rabies.
If you are the victim of a dog bite, it is up to you to decide to press charges against the owner of the dog for any damages you incurred. Under California law, the owner of the dog is liable for any harm done by their animal.
Liability of the Dog Owner
Dog owners in California typically face liability for any injuries their dog incurs, with some exceptions. Under California dog bite law, Civil Code Section 3342, the owner is liable for any damages suffered by the victim, except under certain circumstances. If the victim was trespassing, provoking the animal, harmed by an employer’s dog while working or performing a paid service with the dog, such as a veterinarian, the dog owner is not liable. In these situations, the person who was bitten assumed the risk of encountering a dog bite.
The owner is also not liable if the dog is a law enforcement or military dog that was working or provoked at the time of the incident. Under California law, working means the dog was assisting a police officer investigate a crime, execute a warrant, apprehend a suspect or defend the officer or another person. The agency using a dog must have a written policy in place for the necessary and appropriate use of a dog before these exceptions kick in.
Under California dog bite law, Civil Code Section 3342, the owner of the dog is responsible for any injuries caused to another person, whether or not the owner had any knowledge of the dog’s vicious behavior. Claiming you didn't know that your dog could be vicious or claiming that it had never bitten anyone before are not defenses for a dog bite in California. The owner is also responsible whether the bite occurs in a public place or a private place, including their own house. California law essentially puts the onus on dog owners to prevent their dog from biting people.
What the owner of the dog is not always liable in California are other injuries or property damage caused by their dog. In those cases, there does have to be a showing of negligence or intention. However, certain cities within the state may have their own municipal codes that hold a dog owner strictly liable for any property damage caused by a dog.
Most victims of dog bites in California can recover damages for injury from the incident without having to show any negligence on the part of the owner. The victim simply has to establish that the owner owns the dog, there was a dog bite and the bite resulted in harm. The victim must file a suit for damages from a dog bite within two years of the incident.
Leslie Bloom earned a J.D. from U.C. Davis’ King Hall, with a focus on public interest law. She is a licensed attorney who has done advocacy work for children and women. She holds a B.S. in print journalism, and has more than 20 years of experience writing for a variety of print and online publications, including the Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy.