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S: If the dog is licensed and the identity of its owner can be ascertained we would strongly recommend contacting the owner so that they can consult with the veterinarian so that they can make this decision themselves. If the dog is a stray we would recommend the police officer following the professional advice of the veterinarian assessing the dog’s medical condition.
As for paying the bill, if the owner of the animal is known, then the owner would be contractually liable for the treatment furnished. Who is responsible for the bill when the dog is a stray is less certain. State law has no veterinarian reimbursement fund for the provision of care and treatment to stray dogs. Rather, some towns will set aside a set of money in the budget each year based upon expenditure forecasts and pay the bill simply because it’s something everyone agrees should be done. Other towns have an actual contract with the veterinarian for services with this cost projection built into it. If your town does neither of these, odds are the town is still responsible for paying the bill based upon what is known as a quasi or implied contract theory based upon the act of the town placing the dog in the veterinarian’s care. Beyond the legal implications, one practical consideration to keep in mind is that if the town doesn’t pay the bill it may no longer have a relationship with that veterinarian.
Q: A resident has asked the town clerk if she would accept documentation of her dog’s rabies titer test as a substitute for a rabies certificate in order to license his dog. Can she?
S: No. A rabies titers test measures the amount of disease fighting antibodies in a dog’s blood at the time it is drawn to determine its degree of immunity to rabies. Neither the legislature by statute or the Vermont Department of Health by regulation have sanctioned towns to accept titer results as a substitute to a certificate or a certified copy from a duly licensed veterinarian that a dog has received a current preexposure rabies vaccination for purposes of licensure. The only VLCT Big Book of Woof, May 2014 Page 42 exception to a rabies certificate is a certificate of exemption from a duly licensed veterinarian in the State. The State Veterinarians both from Agriculture, Food and Markets and from the Vermont Department of Health have instructed clerks that they could issue licenses for uninoculated dogs based on a certificate of exemption filled out by a licensed veterinarian. In the past, the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health adopted a rule stating that no vaccine is necessary if “in the judgment of the veterinarian, the animal’s medical condition would prevent the development of adequate immunity to rabies.” Q: Dogs from a neighboring town are loose in our town. What can the selectboard do about it?
S: It can impound the dog for running at large as it does with resident dogs. Once those dogs enter the town it is subject to its regulatory authority. The legislature has enabled towns to adopt ordinances regulating the “leashing, muzzling, restraint, impoundment, and destruction of domestic pets or wolf-hybrids and their running at large.” 20 V.S.A. § 3549. Towns that haven’t adopted animal/dog control ordinances may still enforce self-executing provisions of state law.
In particular, 20 V.S.A. § 3806 states that “[a]ny person authorized to enforce state livestock disease control, health, wildlife, or criminal laws…may confine, or impound any domestic pet or wolf-hybrid when: It has been running at large in violation of any of the provisions of this subchapter.” These regulations apply both to residents of a town that own dogs as well as to dogs that find their way into town, including those that do so of their own volition.
Q: A resident has complained that her neighbor’s dog came onto her property and attacked her dog. Does the selectboard have to hold a “vicious” dog hearing?
S: Only if its animal/dog control ordinance requires it to in instances when a dog attacks another domestic pet or animal, otherwise state law does not mandate that a hearing be held. Because the dog did commit the attack while on the neighbor’s property this is at least evidence of the dog “running-at-large” under state law and, most likely, the town’s ordinance. The town should follow its ordinance or state law with respect to enforcing against the dog owner.
Q: A person was bit while petting a dog sitting in the bed of a pick-up truck? The victim required medical attention and has filed a complaint with the selectboard. Does the selectboard have to hold a “vicious” dog hearing?
A: Yes, as the dog is technically “off the premises of the owner.” 20 V.S.A. § 3546(a). The controlling statute requires that a selectboard conduct an investigation and hearing when a dog has “bitten a person while the domestic pet or animal or wolf-hybrid is off the premises of the owner or keeper, and the person bitten requires medical attention for the attack” and such person files a complaint with the selectboard. You’ll note that the law refers to the owner or keeper’s “premises”, not “property”. Legally there is a difference. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “premises” as “(a) house or building, along with its grounds.” This is different from the broader term “property” which is defined as “(a)ny external thing over which the rights of possession, use, and enjoyment are exercised.” This distinction is important because while a car or truck is property it is not considered “premises” in the eyes of the law and therefore a dog in the bed of a pick-up truck is “off the premises of the owner” and a hearing would have to be held. Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed. 1999). You’ll also notice that the legislature made no distinction between a dog that is “off the premises” of its owner and a dog that is running-at-large with VLCT Big Book of Woof, May 2014 Page 43 respect to dog bites. A dog therefore is “off the premises” of its owner when it is taken for a walk regardless of whether it is on or off a leash, under the owner’s verbal command or in or outside the owner’s vehicle. Whether or not the dog was running-at-large when it bit someone doesn’t factor into the analysis of whether a “vicious” dog hearing must be held. The phrasing “off the premises of the owner” informs us as to the Legislature’s intent behind this law: it was primarily concerned with how dogs behaved in public, not while on the private premises of their owners.
Q: A dog bit someone while the dog was on its owner’s campsite. The victim has filed a complaint with the selectboard. Does a campground qualify as the “premises of the owner”?
S: Most likely the dog’s owner is renting the campsite which means that he has a leasehold interest in the property regardless of duration of its term. This incident is then more closely aligned to a dog biting a trespasser. Consequently, the selectboard should consider the dog “on” the premises of its owner, not “off” and does not have to conduct a “vicious” dog hearing.
Q: A resident’s dog bit someone while it was off the premises of its owner. The victim required medical attention and has filed a completed complaint with the selectboard. The dog’s owner however has since moved to the neighboring town. Can/should/must the selectboard still hold a “vicious”dog hearing?
S: First contact the health officer, animal control officer and selectboard chair in the neighboring town and let them know what happened. I think the selectboard has three options: 1. Do nothing.
Generally speaking government employees are shielded from exposure to personal tort liability under the doctrine of qualified official immunity when performing discretionary acts within the scope of their authority. In addition, municipalities themselves are generally shielded from liability for their negligent acts, so long as those acts occur while the municipality is acting in its "governmental" (as opposed to proprietary) capacity. Furthermore, generally speaking, absence a duty of care, an action in negligence will fail. A duty of care derives from the idea that is the party in control who is in the best position to protect against harm. Here the duty of care rests with the owner or keeper of the dogs, not the town as it is the owner who is responsible for properly restraining their dogs. Even if this individual was attacked by a dog that the town knew had a vicious disposition, an action in negligence will fail. Commenting on a town’s failure to act when notified of such a propensity, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that "'Despite the statute's general title, 'investigation of vicious dogs,' it deals specifically with investigation of dogs that bite rather than any general right to control dogs. In this case, defendants' ability to exercise control over dogs exists in narrowly circumscribed conditions and is statutory, not contractual, in nature...The town's right to control dogs that bite does not give rise to a generalized duty to control vicious dogs." Rubin v. Town of Poultney, 168 Vt. 624 (1998).
2. Does the town's ordinance define a vicious dog as one that bites a person without consideration as to whether it a bite occurs on or off the owner's property? If so, the town should move forward with a hearing, provide notice and an opportunity to be heard to the owner, and issue a protective order banning the dog from the town limits. 3. The selectboard and health officer could try issuing a health order to the owner preventing future public health hazards by banning the dog with an opportunity for a hearing after the fact. However, it is advisable to consult with the town attorney in this instance.
Q: Do foster dogs need to be licensed?
VLCT Big Book of Woof, May 2014 Page 44 S: No. Fostering dogs is a way of having people provide dogs from an animal shelter [this word by statute includes within its definition duly incorporated humane societies, animal welfare societies, societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals and other similarly geared nonprofit organizations] who are not ready to be put up for adoption with temporary care. Reasons for fostering include dogs that are too young to be spayed or neutered; are nursing puppies; or are being treated for injuries or illnesses. Once the reason for fostering is over the dogs are returned to the shelter and put up for adoption. These dogs fall under the auspices of the animal shelter’s certificate of registration granted by the Secretary for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and it is not until they are adopted and have an owner that state licensing requirements apply. 20 V.S.A. § 3903.
[Date] [Town of_______________] Attn: Selectboard Chair [Street Address] [Town, VT, zip] [Phone-Daytime-and/or e-mail] State law (20 V.S.A. § 3546) requires the selectboard to hold a vicious dog hearing when a domestic pet or wolf-hybrid has bitten a person while the animal is off the premises of its owner or keeper, the person bitten requires medical attention for the attack, and such person files a written complaint with the selectboard. The information submitted on this form will be used to determine whether such a hearing is warranted.
Person Reporting Attack: _____________________________________
Street Address: _____________________________________
The facts of the attack are as follows:
Place of Attack: _____________________________________
Did the Person Bitten Require Medical Attention? [circle one]: Y/N Victim [name/address]:_______________________________
Other facts that may assist the Selectboard in its investigation [e.g. name/address of owner of
alleged suspected dog/description of suspected dog/circumstances leading to attack, etc.]:
If you need additional space, please attach sheets to this form. Please submit this document and any supporting documentation to the address at the top of this form.