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Can you Legally Shoot an Attacking Pit Bull?

ANIMAL WATCH

ANIMAL WATCH - Pit Bull attacks have become epidemic in the U.S. and many countries around the globe, too often with little enforcement of criminal penalties for the owner of the dog(s) and the ending to a vicious attack left to a Good Samaritan with a gun. 

 Some dogs shot by a victim or witness in these cases have a prior history revealing their increasing aggression and ability to escape a yard, and reports to the local animal control or humane agency may or may not have received a response. If not followed up, this can leave the agency vulnerable financially in the event of ensuing serious injuries.

But what happens to the Good Samaritan?

CALIFORNIA STRICT LIABILITY LAWS PERTAIN TO ATTACKS

Every state has its own laws regarding dog attacks. California has two civil code sections which provide strict civil liability for the actions of a dog, whether there is intent by the owner.:

3341. Injuries by Animals Killing Sheep, Chickens, etc

3342. Liability of Dog Owner for Damages Suffered From Dog Bite

Thus, experts advise, if a person shoots my dog while it is in the process of attacking a human or an animal, under this law, they could be sued for the value of the animal.   However, the basic defense used to offset success of such an action is the necessity to protect public safety.

The Heidari Law Group explains another situation, “If the dog is trespassing on another person’s property, then the person has no right to kill the dog. Trespassing is simply not a valid excuse to kill someone else’s dog.” 

“However, if the dog was causing very severe and substantial property damage, enough to warrant such behavior, then it is legal to kill the dog.

WHY IS ANIMAL CONTROL LAX REGARDING DOG ATTACKS?


State laws regarding the ownership of guns contain strict provisions to mandate registration under the threat of confiscation or losing the right to own a firearm, yet a dog that has attacked may be left with or returned to the owner that has failed to license and control it.

Some officials have stated that seizing the animal may be considered a deprivation of property; however, a gun is also property and, after a discharge, it may be immediately seized for investigation—shouldn’t the same precaution be applied to a dog that has attacked?. 

DOG ATTACKS ON THE RISE

Dogsbite.org reports, “In the last days of January, at least six fatal dog maulings occurred. Harold Phillips, 35, was killed by a pack of pit bulls in Detroit (see below), a pastor was killed by pit bulls in Indianapolis, a 19-year old was killed by a dog pack on the Fort Hall Reservation, and a breeder of Catahoula leopard dogs was killed by one of her dogs in Florida.”

 

Pit Bull shot by Texas woman after it attacked her dog 


 

In an updated article on January 20, 2024, Pat Turner, 73, told the Austin American Statesman that she shot and killed a stray pit bull that ran into her home in Hutto and attacked her small 11-year-old dog. 

She said that she had at first tried to stop the Pit Bull with a broom handle and then hit it with the blunt side of a small ax, but the intruding dog was unaffected. Then it grabbed Chet, her beloved Poodle-mix, who weighs only 22 lbs. Chet later received stitches for his wounds and survived, the report states.

She stated that she shot the Pit Bull, killing it after it ran though her house and into her bedroom, and that she feared for her own life.


 

Chet received multiple punctures at the base of an ear and had bruising on his neck and face, according to the report, and spent three days in the animal hospital. 

Turner said the Jan. 11 incident began earlier that morning when the gray pit bull, wearing a pink collar without tags, trotted up to her while she was in her front yard pulling weeds.

Turner, a 73-year-old retired broadcast journalism professor, said she doesn't know who owned the pit bull and also told reporters that she had never before used a gun for self-defense. 

CAN A PIT BULL OR OTHER ATTACKING DOG BE LEGALLY SHOT? 

Here are some precautionary steps to be considered before using your weapon—so there is no legal backfire.

Los Angeles Dog Bite Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips spoke with reporters regarding a serious attack by a Pit Bull in Austin, TX, where a Good Samaritan shot the dog, and he opined: 

"People have the right to protect themselves, other people, and even property, under the right circumstances from any kind of a bodily injury," 

However, he advised, “You need to be careful before you act.”

"There are always issues that you can run into when you when you intervene in any kind of an attack," Phillips explained, “You need to be careful if you choose to use a gun to defend yourself or others. 

"You need to understand the normal rules of gun safety before you start firing that gun," Phillips said, because you risk hitting the victim or other people in the area.

He recommends safer options, like fire extinguishers, that can be used to distract an animal by blocking its vision and sense of smell.

But he cautions, “All of this comes with a caveat”.

  • "If you're going to intervene in a mauling, the mauling might be redirected to you. So you’d better be prepared," Phillips warned.

Also, carefully review the state and local laws regarding shooting a firearm  under any circumstance, specifically, shooting an animal, and be sure your gun registration and any legal documents required are in order..

THE BEST FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE IS THE BEHAVIOR OF THE PAST

If an owner has not properly confined or controlled his/her dog(s) prior to an attack and there has been no substantial punishment, there is little reason to believe he/she will suddenly do so afterwards. 

Each state has laws regarding shooting an attacking dog and, if you are carrying a firearm, the specific local and state laws should be carefully read and thoroughly understood before removing it from the holster .

INCREASE IN DOG ATTACKS --2011-2021 (CDC)

“An aggressive dog is one that attacks another animal, either on their own property or on someone else's property.”

State law says that “a dangerous dog is one that makes an unprovoked attack, the attack was outside the enclosure or the owner's property, and it caused bodily injury, OR someone reasonably believes the dog would cause serious injury if it were to escape the property.”

“If you feel a dog near you should be considered dangerous, you have to submit a sworn affidavit or statement,” says Ken Phillips

Then, investigators will gather evidence and determine if the dog meets your state’s requirements to be designated as dangerous.

Phillips reiterates that it's your responsibility to keep your pet secure, and if you knowingly ignore the issue, "you're going to be held liable, and you could end up going to jail as well."

RULES FOR ANY USE OF A FIREARM

Dog Bite Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips also spoke with reporters regarding a serious attack by a Pit Bull in Austin, TX, where a Good Samaritan shot the dog, and Phillips opined:  

"People have the right to protect themselves, other people, and even property, under the right circumstances from any kind of a bodily injury," 

However, he advised, “You need to be careful before you act.”

"There are always issues that you can run into when you intervene in any kind of an attack," Phillips explained, “You need to be careful if you choose to use a gun to defend yourself or others. 

"You need to understand the normal rules of gun safety before you start firing that gun," Phillips said, because you risk hitting the victim or other people in the area.

He recommends safer options, like fire extinguishers, that can be used to distract an animal by blocking its vision and sense of smell.

But he cautions, “All of this comes with a caveat”.

  • "If you're going to intervene in a mauling, the mauling might be redirected to you. So, you’d better be prepared," Phillips warned.

If you are carrying a firearm, before removing it from the holster, be sure you have carefully reviewed local and state laws. 

(Florida, ,for instance, has very stringent laws regarding the shooting of an attacking dog or other animal, which can be read here. ) brought.

 

Attack by Pit Bulls with Prior History of Escape Kills Father of Six 

 

 

On January 30, headlines by Fox2 read, “Detroit man mauled by 3 dogs, on life support”--family asks for help.”

The attack occurred on Detroit’s west side when three Pit Bulls got out of a backyard and attacked him.  Shauntaye Phillips told Fox3, "Your dogs (are) supposed to know… supposed to protect your home, he wasn’t bothering nobody. He was walking home to his family."

Harold Phillips’ injuries were so severe that the family had to make the heart-wrenching decision to take him off life support., according to the report, with his grieving son saying, "It’s my dad, it's him, he’s not supposed to die like this. He’s too strong."

Shauntaye set up a GoFundMe campaign for Harold's hospital bills, but to also prepare for the worst.  It shows him as a robust healthy man, surrounded by his loving family.  

The Pit Bulls that took Harold Phillips’ life were a known danger to the local animal control agency—why were they still there? 

Harold Phillips is on life support after being attacked by three dogs on Detroit's west side Monday. (Shauntaye Phillips)

UPDATE:  Harold Phillips, a 35-year-old father of six, died Friday evening, four days after he was attacked by the dogs as he walked home from a bus stop, said his wife, Shauntaye Phillips.

 Fox2 reported, “The dogs are impounded at Detroit Animal Care and Control; and the owners were cited for several ordinance violations. There is no indication yet if criminal charges will be brought.


"My children do not have their father now," Shauntaye said. "We're about to have to plan a funeral, and that’s hard."

Anyone wishing to donate to the family's GoFundMe can do so here.

PIT BULLS HAD BITTEN BEFORE

And soon, the tragedy of the attack on Harold Phillips was followed by an all-to-familiar admission by local law enforcement that, “Owner of dogs involved in tragic mauling of father of six admits dogs have bitten people before,” according to FOX2 News.

If that previous “bite” by these dangerous Pit Bulls had been addressed as the “first gunshot,” the owner would have been in jail or not allowed to own a firearm, so why are these “bites” not taken seriously until the father of six children and a husband to a loving wife, is left bleeding and helpless, his life and dignity draining from his body into the gutter of a Detroit street? 

If this happened to a politician, things would change instantly. There would be demands that all dogs be immediately licensed/registered and properly confined on property, with penalties that would ensure compliance. 

DOG OWNER ADMITS DOGS ATTACKED BEFORE 

As Harold Phillips was fighting for his life the owner of the dogs, the owner admitted they've bitten people before,: and he admitted they had bitten a child before, reported Kimberly Craig of WXYZ (Detroit) on January 31, 2024..   

Why wasn’t Mr. Goodman arrested and prosecuted in the same manner as an owner of firearms that “accidentally” killed someone.

With the accessibility and low-cost, effective methods to control dogs, and after a dog owner has been warned by Animal Control to secure the yard, why is that not followed up with a heavy fine or order to remove the dogs? 

Today, there is no excuse and the only explanation for dog attacks is a reckless disregard for public safety and human life that should be punishable by the same standards as the careless use of a deadly weapon.

See also:

City in Arizona Confronts $7.5 Million Liability Claim Over Alleged Negligence in Managing Pit Bull Attack

Do We Need Federal Regulations to Stop Pit Bull and Other Dangerous Dog  Attacks?

(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former Los Angeles City employee, an animal activist and a contributor to CityWatch.)