A San Mateo County ordinance defines bite as an animal’s tooth or teeth breaking skin. According to national statistics and by local accounts, the great majority of victims are bitten by a dog they know. But people are generally more concerned and much more likely to report bites when they don’t know the dog or owner. Here, people should exchange information much like they would after an auto collision. Our state health code makes this mandatory. A person who willfully conceals information is guilty of a misdemeanor. If someone is bitten and the attacking dog’s owner flees, the victim or victim dog’s owner should attempt to get a photo of the owner/dog with a cellphone, jot down a license plate number, look around for witnesses, call the police, or all of the above. When information isn’t obtained at this time, tracking down the responsible owner is difficult at best. PHS/SPCA becomes involved when we receive bite reports, faxed by hospitals and private vet clinics after victims receive care. We quarantine the animal (at our shelter or the owner’s home, depending on circumstances) and determine if the nature of the bite meets the county ordinance’s definition of dangerous or vicious animal. If an animal is declared dangerous, an owner can keep their animal, with restrictions, and must pay an annual permit fee or contest the declaration. If their animal is declared vicious due to the injuries, their pet can be euthanized. They can appeal, but this usually requires hiring an attorney. All hearings are presided over by county employee — not a PHS/SPCA employee. To avoid bites (and attorneys!), keep pets leashed at all times. If your dog exhibits signs of aggression — especially unprovoked — don’t ignore them. If addressed early on (through classes or consultations), behaviors can be changed. If unchecked, behaviors are reinforced. Lastly, exercise caution when approaching unfamiliar animals, even when owners say they are friendly.
Scott oversees PHS/SPCA’s Customer Service, Behavior and Training, Education, Outreach, Field Services, Cruelty Investigation, Volunteer and Media/PR program areas and staff. His companion, Murray, oversees him.