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Friday, October 10, 2014

Vicious Dog Determination Upheld by Court

Under the Illinois Animal Control Act, a court has discretion to determine that a dog is a "vicious dog" within the meaning of the statute and order that the dog be euthanized.  That is what happened in People v. Helm, 2014 IL App (5th )130325 (Oct. 6, 2014).

The defendant's pit bull and husky were off-leash when they encountered Kenneth Whittaker and his two dogs.  The husky charged one of Whittaker's dogs and began attacking it.  When Whittaker attempted to stop the husky's attack, the pit bull grabbed his arm in his jaws, clamped down, and bit Whittaker.  The defendant showed up and called his dogs off, but not before Whittaker was wounded.  The state brought an action against the defendant under the Animal Control Act to have the pit bull declared a vicious dog.  As part of its case, the state brought evidence that the pit bull had bitten two other individuals and had been declared a "dangerous dog" under the statute previously.  Based on those previous determinations, the defendant was supposed to keep the pit bull confined or muzzled when in public. 

The defendant countered that the state had no authority to declare the pit bull a vicious dog because the dog was protecting a member of the household (the husky), an exemption under the Act.  The trial court disagreed, finding that exemption to be discretionary, not mandatory. As a result, the court declared the dog a "vicious dog" under the Act and ordered him humanely euthanized. 

On appeal, the appellate court agreed with the trial court that the "protection of others" exemption in the Act was not mandatory, and while a court might find a dog's conduct in a particular situation justified, it was not required to do so.  In this case, the appellate court determined that the previous biting incidents, the two previous declarations finding the dog to be a "dangerous dog" under the Act, and the defendant's continued failure to keep the dog restrained to protect the public justified the trial court's determination that the dog was a vicious dog. 

So, how does this case affect municipalities?  Any community that has adopted its own local animal control ordinances under the authority of the Animal Control Act might be interested in how the appellate court interpreted the Act's "protection of others" exemption to be discretionary and not mandatory.  The court also gave the state a lot of leeway in enforcing the vicious dog provisions of the Act where the evidence at trial showed that there were multiple incidents and previous designations under the Act's dangerous dog designations.  

Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf


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