The sad case of a 10-year-old Klamath Falls girl and the severe injuries she suffered when attacked by four dogs has brought the complex legal questions surrounding Oregon dog attacks back onto the public agenda.
As reported by area newspapers the East Oregonian and the Herald and News the June attack left the girl with “a torn scalp, punctured lung and broken ribs” and required several weeks of in-patient treatment at a Portland hospital. A ‘GoFundMe’ page set up by friends and neighbors to help the family deal with medical expenses quickly raised over $15,000, according to the Herald and News.
Meanwhile, according to the East Oregonian, legal proceedings concerning the dogs moved ahead. Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that the Klamath County Commission “voted unanimously… that it was in the public interest to euthanize the animals.” The paper reported that the commission, after investigating the attack, determined that the owner of the dogs, all English mastiffs, had the “inclination but not the ability” to keep the animals under proper control. It rejected an offer on the owner’s part to move the dogs to a different part of the state.
From a legal perspective the first question one might ask is why the County Commission is empowered to address this question. As a very helpful article published a few years ago by The Oregonian outlines (see link below) many basic animal control ordinances are issues at the local level. But as The Oregonian notes, many of those local rules and regulations operate within a broader framework of state law. For example, “by state law, a dog that breaks the skin must be quarantined for 10 days to rule out rabies. An Animal Control Officer will determine the method of quarantine.” The article goes on to note the significant liability that dog owners can be responsible for if they fail to control their animals properly. In addition to official sanctions, such as the possible euthanizing of the dog or dogs, civil liability can be extensive, covering medical bills, lost wages or lost potential earning power and pain and suffering.
The statutes that provide the framework for much of this are ORS 609.095 which defines the situations in which a dog can be counted as a public nuisance, and ORS 609.090 which creates the legal framework that local officials use when deciding when and how to impound dogs. It is important to note that the definition of a dog as a potential ‘nuisance’ that may be subject to confinement goes far beyond biting. ORS 609.095 also covers situations in which dogs chase people or vehicles, damage property (including knocking over garbage containers) trespass on someone other than the owner’s property or simply act in a “potentially dangerous” way.
As a Portland Attorney who has dealt with dog bite cases over the years I believe it is important for everyone to understand the responsibility that owning an animal entails. Pets play an important, even essential, role in many people’s lives, but they are still animals, and their owners need to acknowledge a degree of responsibility to the broader community. The state and local laws we have here in Oregon to regulate, and when necessary punish, dogs and their owners are essential tools for ensuring that pets are controlled and behave safely within the broader community.
AP via East Oregonian: Death sentence for dogs that attacked Oregon girl
Herald and News (Klamath Falls): $15K raised for dog bite victim
The Oregonian: Pet Talk: A look at what happens when a dog bites