Dog Fighting and Guilt — No Chance of Proving Innocence

Most of us think that one of the basic tenants of U.S. law is that you are innocent until proven guilty.  Sadly, for some dogs not only are they not innocent until proven guilty — they are automatically guilty without even a chance of proving their innocence.  Here’s why: under current California law, any dogs seized in connection with dog fighting when the “owner or keeper” of the dog is convicted are automatically labeled “vicious.” This is a matter of state law — not a matter of the dog’s behavior or whether the dog was trained to fight, a puppy, or even a bait dog.   Sadly, once a dog is labeled as vicious it is almost always euthanized.

It turns out that California is one of only twelve states that currently mandate that all dogs seized in connection with dog fighting be defined as vicious. A bipartisan effort (anyone remember what those are?) is underway to change this. Assembly Members Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) and Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego) have introduced legislation to change this legal designation and require that each dog be evaluated. The change would define a “vicious dog” as one “that, when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a human being.”

This change is supported by several animal welfare organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area, including, according to press releases, the San Francisco SPCA.  At the time of this blog the San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control had not taken an official position on this proposed change. So what do you think? Should these dogs be evaluated on their individual merits or is the cost associated with this process not worth it given the likelihood of successfully adopting these dogs? What about the risks if you get this evaluation wrong? And if you support this change, do you know who your representative in Sacramento is and how to contact him or her to advocate for this change? Think of this as both a Pet Camp blog and a call to political action and civic engagement.

Thanks for reading.