You just bought your new home. It seemed like a quiet, safe neighborhood in the suburbs of Houston. But then, “those neighbors” moved in.
You know the ones. Every time a jogger goes by, you hear their large dogs slam into the fence snarling and barking. The ones who always say something like: “Kujo just wants to play,” after Kujo gets out and terrorizes the neighborhood kids on their bikes. The ones who said getting bit was the really the neighbor’s fault for running when Kujo got out and ran into their garage growling and gritting teeth. “They made Kujo think they were playing chase.”
Do you have to put up with it? The answer is “no.”
You can declare a dangerous dog in Houston.
The Dangerous Dog Law
Title 10 of the Texas Health and Safety Code section 822 deals with “dangerous dogs.” Under that chapter, a Dangerous Dog is defined as a dog that either:
- Makes an unprovoked attack on a person that causes bodily injury and occurs in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own, or;
- Commits unprovoked acts in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own and those acts cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person.
The second prong above is very important. Notice that the dog does not have to bite to be declared dangerous. It only has to “commit unprovoked acts” outside of its enclosure that causes a person to believe it will attack and cause harm. In other words, if the dog is outside of its home/fence, and it lunges, snarls growls, or in any way threatens someone to the point that a reasonable person would believe the dog would attack, it can be declared a dangerous dog. The dog could even be on a leash with the owner when this happens.
Most municipalities in Texas have adopted their own version of the Texas Dangerous Dog Law that may have a few more-restricting twists. Most have also adopted a procedure by which you can initiate the proceedings to have a dog declared dangerous. In Houston, this procedure can be found in the Code of Ordinances, Chapter 6.
You start by filing a sworn statement or affidavit with the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care (BARC). For all practical purposes, BARC is Houston Animal Control*. The photo on the right is a downloadable form affidavit to initiate proceedings to declare a dog a dangerous dog. Once the affidavit is completed, you can mail it in to:
Attn Animal Control
3200 Carr Street
Houston, TX 77026
Upon receipt of a sworn affidavit, a Houston Animal Control Manager must review the affidavit to determine if the complaint meets the state definition of a dangerous dog. Thus, it is important that you track the language of the statute in your affidavit as much as possible. You want to describe facts showing that it happened outside the dog’s enclosure and describing facts that show that the dog either attacked someone or acted aggressively towards someone giving them a reasonable belief the dog is dangerous and would attack if given the opportunity.
Once the affidavit is determined to meet the statutory definition, an investigation to determine if the dog is dangerous takes place. If the Animal Control Manager believes there are grounds to declare the dog dangerous, notice is issued and a hearing is held to determine whether the dog is dangerous. The dog is impounded pending the hearing.
Dangerous Dog Hearing
At the hearing, a Hearing Officer hears the case and decides whether the dog should be declared dangerous or not. You may be called as a witness. If so, you should dress well, arrive on time, and cooperate with the Court in giving your testimony.
If the Hearing Officer decided that the dog is a dangerous dog and has attacked a person causing serious injury or death, he may order the dog be put down. If the dog is determined dangerous but not ordered euthanized, the owners will be ordered to comply with the conditions of the Health and Safety Code for ownership of a dangerous dog. Those conditions include:
- that the dog be kept in a secure enclosure that has a floor, a roof, and four walls as well as a lock that keeps the dog in and the public out
- dangerous dog warning signs on the enclosure
- a muzzle on the dog any time it leaves the enclosure
- a travel cage for the dog when being transported that is clearly marked “dangerous dog.”
- proof of $100,000.00 in liability insurance covering any attacks by the dog
- an orange collar marked “dangerous dog” worn at all times
- proof of up to date rabies vaccinations
If the dog is found not to be dangerous, it will be returned to the owners. The owner is given 30 days to comply with the order of the Hearings Officer or the dog may be euthanized.
Civil Actions for Dog Attacks
Under Texas law, a dog owner is not responsible for an attack by his dog unless it can be proven that he was aware of the dog’s vicious propensity. That is, you must show the dog owner knew or should have known of his dog’s vicious nature. Having a dog declared a dangerous dog puts the owner on notice that he has such a dog and puts him or her in the position that he cannot claim a lack of knowledge of the dog’s vicious nature.
Proving the knowledge of the dog’s owner can be difficult without the dog having already been declared dangerous. It is important that you hire a knowledgeable dog bite lawyer to investigate the case and determine whether evidence of the dog’s vicious nature existed and whether the dog’s owner knew or should have seen the warning signs.
*Animal control in the Houston area typically falls under BARC in city limits and Harris County Animal Control in the unincorporated areas around Houston city limits.