British Columbia Woman Says Dangerous Dog Law Too Severe

As I have been writing for a while now, there are many citizens who have expressed concern over dangerous dog laws and the extent of powers given to Animal Control Officers and law enforcement who enforce dangerous dog laws (DDLs).   Dangerous dog laws and dangerous dog registries have the potential to be just as unconstitutional as breed-specific legislation (BSL), but often residents in communities where BSL is proposed are so relieved to have dodged the bullet of a breed-specific ordinance that they don’t read the fine print of a dangerous dog law.  

For instance, dangerous dog laws often contain provisions that allow Animal Control or law enforcement to remove a dog deemed dangerous or vicious from the owner’s care and have the dog held or put down by no more than an administrative hearing or administrative hearing officer.   This is a violation of due process because every American is allowed his day in court, as it were, to defend against the government deprivation of property (in this case, their dog).   An administrative hearing is not a proper court of law and is not presided over by a proper judge.

In Canada, dangerous dog laws operate a little differently, but the problems appear to be the same as in America: a power overreach.   For instance, in  British Columbia, Canada, one woman has gone on record as saying that Bylaw Officers, similar to our Animal Control Officers, have too much power when it comes to enforcing B.C.’s dangerous dog law.

Karen Stiewe of  Kelowna, British Columbia claims Bylaw Officers have the power to “seize a dog suspected of biting someone and order it destroyed, without doing a thorough investigation.”   Her own dog, a German Shepherd, was almost put down for just such a reason two years ago.

Stiewe’s German Shepherd bit a jogger on a hiking trail while the dog was off-leash.   The dog was summarily confiscated and ordered destroyed.   As a consequence, Stiewe was forced to hire an attorney, and was only able to get her dog back after five months of legal wrangling, a training course for her dog, and spending thousands of dollars.

Like Stiewe, I do not agree with so much one-sided power given to any law enforcement agency or agent, particularly when a life is involved.   After all, what makes a Bylaw Officer a competent judge of canine behavior?   Were any mitigating factors even considered that may have caused the dog to bite when it had never displayed such tendencies before?  

What if the jogger and the German Shepherd accidentally ran into each other and the dog bit the jogger as a startle response, which is highly likely?   I would hardly consider this a “dangerous” or “vicious” dog, nor, I doubt, would many other reasonable, thinking people.  

And now, as a consequence of one accident, this healthy, once-active dog must spend the rest of its life confined to its owner’s yard, which I dare say is animal cruelty.   Ms. Stiewe agreed noting,

“B.C.’s dangerous dog law has so many missing items, that it just leaves it open to misinterpretation, confusion in the courts, animal cruelty, long-term confinement.”            

When dangerous dog laws require pit bulls to constantly be muzzled, leashed, kenneled, or kept indoors for no other reason than that some ordinance says pit bulls are prima facie vicious with no scientific proof, I certainly argue that those provisions are animal cruelty.   Likewise, Stiewe’s German Shepherd may be just as innocent.  

Claiming the system is unjust and seeking to change the province’s dangerous dog law, Stiewe herself concluded,

“This is a bylaw officer that has been given a superpower to predict whether a dog will cause future harm and that’s unfair.”

Agreed.   And worst of all, it could needlessly cost a perfectly innocent dog his/her life.  

Still, dog-bite victims often claim that human rights trump the rights of dogs.   But that’s a misdirection from the real issues.   It’s the dog-bite victim’s rights versus the dog owner’s rights.  

Just because a person has been a victim of a dog bite, dog mauling, or even dog fatality, does not mean a dog owner is not entitled to a fair trial in a proper court of law while being allowed to offer evidence, including mitigating factors and expert testimony from a canine behaviorist, to defend themselves.   Any less and Ms. Stiewe is right.   It’s unjust.  


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