February 16, 2012

Rabies Law When a Dog Bites

On February 8, a Denver television news anchor was bitten by a dog while on the air. Kyle went to the hospital. The dog went to jail pending a court hearing and a judge's ruling on his fate.

Dammit, your Honor, it was self defense.

Here's what came down.

Kyle Dyer was interviewing Max, an 85-pound Argentine Mastiff, his owner and a firefighter, who rescued Max from an icy pond the day before, when she was bitten in the face.

The dog's owner was cited with failure to have his dog on a leash, allowing a dog to bite and failure to have a vaccinated dog. Max was quarantined with Denver Animal Control while court officers reviewed his case.

Watching the news segment, Kyle's actions are a classic example of when a kiss can get you bitten. (Turn off the sound to observe the dog's body language.)

Kyle nervously pets the dog under his jowls while talking about his rescue the day before from an icy pond. The energy is hectic, anxious, frantic. The dog is pinned between the legs of the fireman who rescued him the day before. He can't move away, so he turns his head - a signal that he isn't enjoying this. He licks his lips - another sign of anxiety. At the end of the segment, Kyle abruptly leans in to kiss the dog. He bites her in the face, causing an injury that requires 70 stitches.

Denver news stations report today that Max will be released to his owner this weekend, after a 10 day quarantine. This makes him a lucky dog, indeed.

 In most states, a dog that is involved in a bite incident - and that is not current on rabies vaccination - is considered unvaccinated. Rabies is not infectious and cannot be spread until the symptoms show, which can take as long as six months. There are no tests to diagnose rabies. Consequently, an animal is isolated and confined for up to six months at the owner's expense.

Many owners cannot fund this cost so a beloved family pet must be destroyed - all because the person who was bitten did not know or ignored the clear warning signs that the animal was threatened.

Be very clear that any dog - from a tiny Chihuahua to giant Mastiff - is liable to bite when in a similar situation. Nipping is a normal part of self defense for dogs; it's how they tell other dogs to "back off." And it happens lightning fast. So as you saw, even a seemingly benign situation can get out of hand like that.


Know how to approach a dog to prevent a bite. And be extra careful around children who might unwittingly threaten him with excited affection. Indeed, the people most commonly bitten are excitable little boys, says Kathy Porter, author of Healing Rescue Dogs.

Also be very very clear that any dog, including a dog that has been granted a rabies vaccine waiver, is subject to rabies quarantine if involved in a bite incident. For these dogs, an extended quarantine is a death sentence.

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