The New “Aggressive Dog Certificate” Law in Florida

The entire county of Seminole on Florida is now subject to Reese’s Law, which requires owners of dogs who have been labeled as aggressive by animal control officers to obtain a certificate that is to be renewed each year. The current legal definition of an aggressive dog is one that has been reported to inflict a minor injury to any person or chases another person or animal. The law is intended to protect both people and other pets from the overly aggressive actions that have resulted in injury.

The law is named after a Yorkie that had been attacked by two larger dogs who inflected fatal injuries on Reese. Its owner was simply taking the dog for a walk when the two dogs unexpectedly attacked. While there is an existing law protecting the public from dangerous dogs, the two dogs that were involved in the attack had clearly shown aggressive tendencies prior to the attack but did not meet the criteria for classification as “dangerous.” The new law tightens up the existing law.

A quick review of the new law will be made before moving on to the more important points surrounding dog owners and the law. It will be in the purview of the individual animal control officer to label a dog as aggressive. Once a dog is tagged as aggressive they will not be allowed in any public park or dog friendly business within the boundaries of Seminole County. A first violation will result in a $50 fine, with three or more violations within three years upping the fine to $200 and a mandatory court appearance.

With all this established, the question is what does the new law expect to accomplish other than taking some money from the pocket of a dog owner? In the Reese case it was the owner’s dog that was attacked, not the owner. People who choose not to take measures to control their dogs, whether they are Pitbulls or Poodles, are not likely to concern themselves with the new law. The requirement of a certificate is a curious thing because just how is an animal control officer or other law enforcement official supposed to know which dogs have a certificate and which don’t? If there is a registry database then this law is probably cost more to track aggressive dogs than it’s worth.

On the other side of the fence are people whose dogs or person has been attacked by dogs who clearly demonstrated aggressive behavior but were helpless given the existing laws. They should have some type of legal protection and recourse against irresponsible owners, but Reese’s Law does not seem to adequately cover this need. The fines to the owner will not begin to offset the loss of a beloved pet their negligent actions caused. An AKC bred dog will cost 5 or 10 times as much than the total fines imposed on the owner of the dangerous or previously identified aggressive dog. Taking the negligent owner to court will just run up the cost to the victimized owner and dog.

It is not clear if a dog that has been tagged as aggressive will automatically be euthanized. If this happens, the negligent dog owner will just go out and get a couple more. Perhaps one solution is to identify the specific negligence on the part of the aggressive/dangerous dog owner and force them to bear the costs of correcting the problem. For example, if the dog escaped from the fenced-in yard as in the Reese case, then the owner will be required to build a brand new fence based on specifications established in the law. If they choose not to get another dog, the long term problem is solved. The basic concept is responsible dog ownership, not adding money to government coffers that provides no meaningful relief for either the victim or the general public.

Aggressive and dangerous dogs have to be dealt with, but dogs are animals and they will act instinctively – yes, sometimes aggressively – because that is often their nature. When someone chooses to buy a dog for whatever the reason, they are the ones who are responsible for controlling their dog and ensuring they act responsibly within the context of the neighborhood or area they live. A bad dog owner is the same as a bad neighbor. Making your neighbor aware of this is probably the first, best step to minimize or eliminate these types of attacks without the need for another law, no matter how well-intended.

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