If your animal bites someone, you could be sued in both civil and criminal court. The injured person can sue you for any money they paid for their injuries. If you knew your dog was vicious or dangerous, and you failed to keep it locked up, you might also be guilty of a felony.
An animal owner is anyone who owns, keeps, or cares for an animal. Animal owners are also people who let an animal stay on their property.
If you knew that your animal was vicious or dangerous, you have to pay for the injuries no matter what. The injured person would not have to prove anything except that they were injured by your animal.
Law enforcement officers can enter your land to get a dangerous or vicious dog, or a dog that might be infected with rabies.
A dog is “vicious” when the state decides it’s especially dangerous. A dog which has been trained for guard or police duties is not vicious. Your dog is not vicious if one of the following is true:
- The injured person was doing something to cause the dog to attack them;
- The injured person was committing a crime against you or your property; or
- Your dog was responding to pain or injury, or was protecting itself, its offspring, you, or a member of your household.
If the state decides your dog is vicious, it must be spayed or neutered within 10 days. You must pay a $100 public safety fine, and keep the dog locked up at all times. The dog must be kept behind a fence that is at least 6 feet tall. The only times a vicious dog can leave are:
- To go to the vet,
- If there is an emergency or natural disaster that threatens the dog’s life, or
- To follow a court order.
When you take the dog out, you must put a muzzle on it, and keep it on a leash no longer than 6 feet. You must keep it under your control and supervision at all times.
If you let out a vicious dog, it will be impounded. If a court issues an order to impound the dog, you must appeal the order in circuit court within 15 working days. Once you file the notice of appeal, animal control cannot euthanize the dog. But you must tell animal control in writing that you’ve filed an appeal.
If you do not appeal within 15 days, the dog may be euthanized. You may have to pay the animal control agency for the time it spent caring for your dog.
If your dog is found to be dangerous, you must pay a $50 public safety fine, and pay to spay or neuter and microchip your dog within 14 days. You might also have to:
- Have the dog evaluated, trained, or treated by a behaviorist,
- Have the dog supervised by an adult 18 years of age or older whenever it’s on public land, and
- Keep the dog muzzled and on a leash when it leaves your land.
If you don’t comply with these rules, an animal control agency can impound your dog.
My dog has been impounded. How do I get my dog back?
Within 24 hours, the state will do its best to figure out who owns the animal and try to contact the owner.
If you want to get your dog back, you must do the following:
- Show proof that your dog has been vaccinated for rabies, or pay for it to be vaccinated;
- Pay the pound for the time it spent caring for your dog;
- Pay the Animal Control Fund an impoundment fee as a penalty;
- Pay a public safety fine. You do not have to pay this fine if it is the first time your dog has been impounded, and you have the animal spayed or neutered within 14 days; and
- Pay for microchipping and registration, if you haven’t yet done so.
There may also be other fines you will have to pay.
What if I don’t want the dog back?
If your dog was impounded, but you don’t want it back, it may be put up for adoption, if it’s friendly enough. If the animal is not adopted after a while, it may be euthanized.
What can I do if a person injured by my dog sues?
You might not have to pay for the injury your animal caused if:
- The injured person did something to cause your animal to attack them;
- The injured person was not acting peacefully at the time they were attacked; or
- The injured person was trespassing when they were attacked.
Things you must do after your animal bites someone
If your animal bites someone, you must:
- Contact the animal control agency in or nearest to your county within 24 hours to tell them that your animal bit a person.
- Allow the state to keep your dog for at least 10 days so that it can be watched for signs of rabies.
If your animal bites someone, you cannot:
- Hide it,
- Euthanize it,
- Sell it,
- Give it away, or
- Dispose of it until it is examined and released by the State.
The first time you violate this law, you are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor. Any violation after that is a Class 4 felony.
What if my dog wasn’t vaccinated against rabies when it bit someone?
All dogs 4 months of age or older must be vaccinated for rabies. They must get a second vaccination within one year of the first. If you don’t comply with this law, you can be fined.
There is one exception to this rule. If a licensed veterinarian puts in writing that your dog is too sick to receive the rabies vaccination, your dog does not need to be vaccinated. However, if your dog bites someone, you must take the dog to the veterinarian every year. And, as soon as your dog is healthy enough to be vaccinated, you must do so.
Where can I get my dog microchipped?
At least once per year, your local animal control facility or shelter should offer microchipping services for no more than $15. Contact an agency near you to learn more.
Note: Local animal control ordinances may also apply. Check the websites of your city and county for more information.