When is a dog considered vicious?

Friday, July 16th 2004, 5:33 pm
By: News On 6

Summer is a time for outdoor fun; it is also a time when there are more dog bite cases. 95 people have been bitten since May in Tulsa.

After a story on the News on 6 aired earlier this week about a young woman attacked by a pit bull, we received dozens of calls from victims of other dog attacks, all wanting to know what it takes to declare a dog vicious.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright looks at the law.

Dog bites can be both life-threatening and life-altering, hours of surgery, months of rehabilitation, pain for years. Tulsa strengthened its dog bite law after this woman was attacked by her neighbor's pit bull.

The law says after a dog has bitten two people or the same person two times, can it be considered for vicious status. Investigator Garl Willis: "We also have to make sure the bites aren't provoked because if it is provoked, it doesn't count against the dog or owner." Each time a dog bites someone, it must be held for 10 days to check for rabies, and then, it goes home. If there's a second bite, investigators work the case and send it the city prosecutor who decides whether to take it to court. A judge then decides if the dog is vicious, if so, it must be destroyed.

It's not a simple or quick process and not many cases make it that far. Tulsa has around 350 dog bite cases reported every year and about 100 cat bite cases. Yet, only about one dog a year is declared vicious and destroyed.

Animal investigators say that's because bites often aren't the dog's fault, sometimes they're fighting back, other times they're biting out of fear. Their advice, if you don't know the dog, leave it alone. "So many people get hurt because they stop to help an injured animal by the side of the road. If you're not an expert in dealing with animals, don't stop to help an injured dog, call the proper people."

Every dog that bites someone is placed in a database so investigators can keep better track of repeat offenders and move those cases through the system more quickly.

If owners are found guilty of having a vicious animal, they could face a maximum fine of up to $1,200 and six months in jail.