If a Pit Bull Attacks My Dogs -- Or Me -- Will I Be Prosecuted If I Shoot the Damn Thing?
Yeah, Steve Blow definitely got my attention yesterday with his column in The Dallas Morning News about an anti-pitbull organization, maybe because I just got my socks scared off again yesterday afternoon by the Amazing Flying Pit Bull From Hell in the alley across the street from me.
I walk my dogs in the alleys. No, not for that reason. I always pick up. I walk my dogs in the alleys because the one that's mine, as opposed to the one that's my wife's, has her own little nip-and-tuck problem if people surprise her. It's under control. I keep her on a tight leash, especially if I see an aggressive dog-smoocher coming at me, one of those people who's going to kiss your dog on the mouth no matter what you say to warn them.
So twice now recently we have been walking down the alley across the street from me when the Amazing Flying Pit Bull has come floating like a bird over the eight-foot privacy fence behind the rental house -- I mean flying over the fence like a cartoon show -- and confronted me and my two tightly leashed charges. First time was just sort of a sniff and hello, then the Amazing Flying Pit Bull soared back over the fence into its yard.
Second time, not so cool. He soared into the alley and took a run at us. My dogs both looked up at me, like, "This is what you get the big bucks for, Boss." I stamped my foot as emphatically as I could while thinking, "Please don't rip my face off." I don't know if it was the foot stomp or the pathetic facial expression that did it, but he flew back into his yard. This time.
So my question is this. Can I shoot this dog?
Blow's column was about a group called Dogsbite.org, which lobbies for tougher laws to regulate dangerous breeds, especially pits. They argue that all this stuff you get from pit bull owners -- oh, wouldn't hurt a flea, just a bunch of unfair urban legend -- is total bullshit. Pit Bulls and some other aggressive breeds, they argue, have deeply ingrained genetic traits that can go off like a time bomb even in the otherwise sweetest family pet, depending on the trigger.
It's like wolves. In Michigan where I grew up, there's always some nutcase who wants to keep a wolf for a pet. That works until one day when a lightbulb goes off in the grown wolf's brain, and he thinks, "Hey, Old Master-Guy here, kind and loving though he has always been, would also make a delicious breakfast."
Dogsbite.org argues that pit bulls are canines that have been bred for centuries to viciously attack human beings. Sure, you can jolly them out of it for a long time, but why take a chance?
The immediate focus on pit bull attacks right now in Dallas is spurred by the horrendous attack three days ago in which a pit bull that was a family pet killed a ten-week old baby strapped into a car chair. Why on earth would anyone keep a type of dog so consistently associated with horrific events of that type?
Then, as I say, I have my own problems. I intend to talk to the owner of the flying pit bull. Let's imagine that will take care of it. Let's imagine he says, "Sure, I now see that my pit bull can fly. I can't keep it in the yard. It shows a certain propensity to attack. Therefore I will have it put down."
But let's say it doesn't go that way. Let's imagine instead that he says I'm unrepentantly biased against pit bulls. My question is: can I shoot the damn thing?
I don't know. There are people online who say I can. Nolo.com, for example, says: "Generally, it's perfectly legal to do anything necessary to stop a dog caught in the act of attacking a person or livestock. A dog's owner is not legally entitled to any money from someone who injures or kills the dog while protecting a person or farm animal from attack. Nor is the person guilty of a criminal offense; many animal cruelty laws specifically exempt the act of injuring or killing a dog in these circumstances."
But a quick scan of the Texas Health and Safety Code is not reassuring. Texas law provides legal cover if you shoot a dog that is "attacking, is about to attack, or has recently attacked livestock, domestic animals, or fowls..."
A dog like that, according to state law, "may be killed by any person witnessing the attack or the attacked animal's owner or a person acting on behalf of the owner if the owner or person has knowledge of the attack."
But it looks to me like the law goes kind of gray when the dog is attacking you or another human being. That gets into the "dangerous dog" area of the law, and in that matter the law gets picky about whether a dog is truly dangerous or merely a stray.
"Any person who shoots a non-livestock animal, which includes any stray or feral cat or dog, and a wild living creature previously captured, can be charged with a felony offense. Penal Code 42.092 of the State of Texas law states that a person must have the owner's consent to kill the animal... It is clear that a 'stray' dog or cat either has no owner or that the person who shoots the animal did not get the owner's consent."
Colleen Lynn, founder of Dogsbite.org, told me I was probably worrying too much. She pointed out that the former governor of our state got away with gunning down a coyote he thought was attacking his dog, inspiring what is now known in this area of law as the "Rick Perry principle": you can shoot any animal you want, so long as you're the governor.
She also pointed me toward a 2014 Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in which a guy was exonerated: he went back and roped down a pit bull some time after it had attacked his own dogs, chained it to the bumper of his truck and slashed its throat. The appeals court basically said, "Good job."
Yeah, but that's for attacking his pets. I know Texas law says you can kill a dog that's attacking your animals. But what if it's attacking you? Hey. This is Texas. Texas is weird. I can see Texas law favoring a pit bull over me any day of the week.
Lynn said she would like to see more clarity in the law on this question. Me, too.