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California Animal Shelters Now Required to Report History of Dog Bites

Many Californians adopt dogs from shelters each year to give them a better life while adding important members to their families. While adopting shelter dogs is admirable, people who adopt dogs should know whether they have a propensity to bite. Unfortunately, dog bites are a prevalent problem. According to, an estimated 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs each year.[1] In 2019, 48 people were killed in the U.S. in dog attacks. California led the nation in fatal dog bites with nine residents losing their lives. Because of these problems, the state legislature responded by passing a bill that mandates greater responsibilities for shelters to track and report dogs that bite. This law is meant to help people make better-informed decisions when they are searching for dogs to adopt.

What does the law require?

Cal. AB 588 was passed by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Newsome on Oct. 2, 2019. It was effective immediately. Under this law, animal shelters must provide people with the history of their dogs at the time that they adopt them, including information about whether the dogs have bitten people in the past. Dog bites that have broken through the skin must be reported, and animal shelters and rescue agencies must provide details of the circumstances that surrounded the bites. Any person buying or adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue agency must sign a paper acknowledging that they have been informed about the dog’s history of biting.

If a shelter or rescue center fails to inform a person who adopts a dog about the dog’s known bite history, the shelter or rescue center can be fined $500. The fine is meant to ensure that shelters and rescue agencies will comply with the new law. The bill was sponsored by Assemblyman Phillip Chen (R-Brea) and received bipartisan support. Family and rescue organizations supported the law because it helps to give more information to people and organizations about the history of dogs before they decide to take them. However, some shelters have opposed the bill.

Why did shelters oppose the new dog bite history law?

Many animal shelters came out in opposition to the bill before it became a law.[4] The shelters argued that it is not always easy for them to learn about the history of the dogs that they take into their shelters. Many shelter dogs come from the streets, making it impossible for shelters to learn about their histories. For dogs that have no known histories, the shelters must constantly monitor them and report anytime they bite people and break their skin. They also argue that reporting each bite doesn’t provide an accurate picture of the dogs since some dogs might bite because they are scared or because they are instinctively trying to protect their puppies. Finally, shelters argue that the fines that are imposed when the shelters fail to file reports of dog bites simply go back to shelters. This means that the shelters are essentially paying themselves when the history of adopted dogs is not provided.

Why the new law is important

While the new law is not perfect, it still should help to reduce the number of dog bites that happen in California each year. Prospective dog owners might decide against adopting dogs with known histories of biting and instead choose dogs that are less likely to bite. Many families adopt shelter dogs to add to their families. When they are unaware of a dog’s propensity to bite, they might place themselves, their families, and their friends at risk with the introduction of a new dog.

As we have previously noted, 70% of people who are fatally injured in dog bite attacks in California are younger than age 12.[5] Introducing a shelter dog into a family with young children can be dangerous if the family is unaware of the dog’s history of attacking people. Dogs might attack children when the children try to pet them or place their faces too close to the dogs’ mouths. While some dogs attack when they are provoked, 94% of bites occur without provocation. Mandating shelters to provide information to prospective pet owners about the known history of dogs who have bitten people in the past might help to reduce the incidence of nonfatal and fatal injuries from dog bites.

Children are not the only at-risk group when dogs attack. Senior citizens make up the second-largest category of people who are killed in dog bite cases. The third-highest category of people who are killed in dog attacks includes meter readers and postal workers.

Which breeds are the most dangerous?

You should understand that all dogs can bite. Just because you choose a shelter dog of a breed that is not generally considered vicious does not mean that it will not bite. However, certain dog breeds show a statistically greater propensity to bite, including the following:

  • Alaskan malamutes
  • Doberman pinschers
  • German shepherds
  • Huskies
  • Pit bulls
  • Rottweilers
  • Wolf hybrids

If you are considering adopting one of these breeds, you should ask about whether the dog has a history of acting aggressively towards people. Even if the dog has not bitten someone while at the shelter, aggressive behavior might indicate that it could bite you or members of your family.

Get help from an experienced dog bite lawyer in Los Angeles

Dog bites cause many serious injuries each year, and some people are killed when they are bitten by dogs. While the new law might help to reduce the number of dog bites from shelter dogs, it will not prevent all attacks. If a dog has bitten you or one of your family members, you may be entitled to recover compensation for your losses. Contact the Steven M. Sweat Injury Lawyers today to learn about your case by calling us at 866.966.5240.







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