Dangerous and vicious are not just adjectives to describe dogs, but legal labels for them, which have costly consequences for their owners.
Noreen Conroy adopted Conor five years ago and paid thousands of dollars to put the Airedale terrier through service dog training. The price is small compared to what she’s spent since a judge ruled Conor vicious.
A neighbor took her to court for a bite. The judge ruled Conor guilty, and it only takes one bite incident to be considered vicious in the city of Tucson. “I was unaware of how harsh it is,” said Conroy.
Penalties for owning a vicious or dangerous dog vary by jurisdiction, but most include:
Having the dog tattooed and micro chipped
Building a 6’ tall fence around the perimeter of your property
Installing locks and latches at openings of said gate
Displaying county-issued warning signs on your property.
Allowing officers into your home for checks and visits
Having the dog spayed or neutered
Muzzling the dog when it leaves the property
Buying liability insurance
At least $50,000 for dangerous dogs
At least $250,000 for vicious dogs
Nearly 100 dogs have been ruled vicious in Pima County since 2009, according to paperwork recorded by Pima Animal Care Center.
Jeff Carver, an Animal Control Field Inspector, said staff handle about that many cases of dangerous dogs on average each year. He said the regulations for dangerous and vicious are meant to force responsibility on the owner.
“You don’t end up with a dog that’s dangerous if there haven’t been issues,” he said.
The tattoo is meant to alert anyone who comes across a dog outside of its jurisdiction. Carver said some agencies don’t have microchip trackers, so the tattoo can notify them who to contact about the dog.
The practice is cruel and unusual, according to Conroy. She said Conor is unable to perform his service dog duties in public because he has to wear a muzzle. She said she worries that the warning signs in her yard may give the wrong impression to emergency responders.
“I just have an issue in that it would delay care for me,” she said.
She’s made all the necessary changes, but Conroy said she’s still not off the hook. Failing to comply with regulations in time, Conroy could face jail time.
All this and she hasn’t even considered putting her dog down.
“The idea of getting rid of Conor just didn’t even occur to me,” said Conroy. “I may wind up moving because of all of this.”
The three inspectors in Pima County each handle about three dangerous dog cases every month, according to Carver. He warns that there is no such thing as a typical dangerous dog.
“Anything with a mouth can bite under the right circumstances,” he said.
Conroy said the regulations should be revisited and eventually revised so that there’s more leniency. She suggested a plea process so that an owner could accept some of the penalties, but not all of them.