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20 V.S.A. § 3545. Right to kill domestic pets or wolf-hybrids generally This law could be renamed the “dog self defense” law. If a dog is attacking you or someone else, you may kill it so long as the dog at the time isn’t restrained, within an enclosure, or on the owner’s property. So, if you find yourself being attacked by a dog on its owner’s property, you may take whatever action necessary to subdue the animal short of killing it, unless you’re able to cross the owner’s property line with the dog attached to your leg. This protection also extends to dogs wounding, killing, or worrying another domestic pet or animal “when the attendant circumstances are such that the killing is reasonably necessary to prevent injury to the animal or fowl.” A note of caution: a section of the applicable language reads “[a] person may kill a domestic pet or wolf-hybrid that suddenly assaults him or her or when necessary to discontinue an attack upon the person or another person provided that the attack or assault does not occur while the domestic pet or wolf-hybrid is restrained, within an enclosure containing the domestic pet or wolf-hybrid, or on the premises of the owner.” This statute shouldn’t be misconstrued to adopt a “five cent solution” to kill any dog that an animal control or local law enforcement officer finds nipping at his or her heels. Unless the dog is exhibiting signs of rabid behaviour (see 20 V.S.A.
20 V.S.A. § 3809. Killing a domestic pet or wolf-hybrid which attacks a person or domestic animal.
This law affords the same protections from liability as 20 V.S.A. § 3545, but without the restrictions, by declaring open season on any dog suspected of having rabies that attacks a person or a domestic pet or animal. There is no restriction upon killing the dog such as with section
3624. The act isn’t predicated upon where the attack occurs, or if the dog is restrained or within an enclosure. Additionally, “[a] person so killing such domestic pet or wolf-hybrid shall not be held liable for damages for such killing.” In other words, there is no need to exercise any judgment prior to killing the dog so long as the dog is suspected of being rabid.
20 V.S.A. § 3624. Who may destroy; fees.
The law mandates that a police officer or constable “shall humanely destroy or cause to be destroyed dogs or wolf-hybrids whenever a warrant has been issued authorizing such actions.” The form of the warrant is found in 24 V.S.A. § 3622 and is issued by the selectboard. This is a self-executing provision of state law, which means that, unlike an ordinance that requires selectboard action subject to a voter-backed petition, a selectboard may just act upon the express authorization of the statute. On first read, this law, in isolation, appears to lack important details, such as who issues the warrant, when a warrant may be issued, and under what circumstances.
The answers to these questions can be found in Article 2 of Subchapter 1. This article addresses the killing of unlicensed dogs. From the title alone we know that a warrant can’t simply be issued to destroy any dog. This law targets a specific type of dog: the unlicensed. The article VLCT Big Book of Woof, May 2014 Page 14 answers our other questions: who issues the warrant? (the selectboard), and when may the warrant issued? (at any time). Still, the law’s reach is narrower than it first appears. Vacationing dogs (i.e., those brought into Vermont for “a period not exceeding 90 days...”) are exempt. And the law pertains only to those “dogs or wolf-hybrids within the town or city not licensed according to the provisions of this subchapter...” The referenced subchapter is Subchapter 2 of Chapter 193 of Title 20, which contains two articles. Article 1 sets forth when dogs must be licensed and the different types of licenses available; Article 2 is discussed above. Article 1 requires all dogs to be licensed on or before April 1st of every year. Failure to do so, therefore, would be a necessary precondition to a selectboard issuing a warrant for killing the dog. Article 1, however, also imposes some duties upon towns in carrying out the legislature’s dog licensing program. For example, town clerks must issue license tags (20 V.S.A. § 3581) and keep a record of licenses issued, along with the names of the owners or keepers, and the names, registered numbers, and descriptions of the dogs. 20 V.S.A. § 3589.
At any time thereafter, the selectboard may issue a warrant to one or more law enforcement officers or duly designated animal control officers directing them to impound all dogs not licensed according to state law and to enter a complaint against their owners. The form of that warrant is mandated by state law and can be found in 20 V.S.A. § 3622. The warrant need not be issued for each and every unlicensed dog because it encompasses all unlicensed dogs. This represents the direct or proactive approach to enforcing against unlicensed dogs. The reactive or indirect approach would be to condition the release of dogs impounded for violating your ordinance upon proper licensing. Though 20 V.S.A. § 3624 and language in the warrant found in 20 V.S.A. § 3622 say differently, a police officer or constable can’t simply “destroy or cause to be destroyed dogs or wolf-hybrids whenever a warrant has been issued...” The legislature in 2009 enacted changes that direct that a town must first attempt to find suitable homes for these animals before impounding them. Only if they cannot be placed in an adoptive home or transferred to a humane society within ten days may they then be humanely destroyed. “The municipality shall not be liable for expenses associated with keeping the dog or wolf-hybrid at the animal shelter or rescue organization beyond the established number of days.” 20 V.S.A. § 3621(a). The town may waive the license fee for an unlicensed dog that is impounded for this reason upon a showing of a current vaccination or financial hardship on the part of the owner.
20 V.S.A. § 3749. Bounty on dog killing or worrying sheep.
In your local post office you’ll find pictures of the country’s most wanted criminals. Vermont has its own version of this notice, but it involves the selectboard placing a bounty on the head of any dog caught in the act of killing or worrying sheep. The bounty is set by statute at $5.00 per tail. In 1919, when the law was originally enacted, this bounty was the equivalent of $66.67, a pretty penny reflecting the relative importance that sheep played in Vermont’s economy at the time.
20 V.S.A. § 3807. Killing a domestic pet or wolf-hybrid.
The overriding public health concern underpinning much of Vermont’s dog law is the spread of rabies. To try to limit exposure to the disease, the state bestowed broad police powers authorizing selectboards, any officer it designated, and certain state commissioners to order the killing of any dog that has been exposed to rabies, attacked by a rabid animal, or is running at large and is suspected of having rabies. This section of law is the enforcement arm of another statute: 20 V.S.A. § 3806. If a dog is not impounded for the reasons noted in 20 V.S.A. § 3806 (see below), then there is no action to be taken under 20 V.S.A. § 3807. This law directs that VLCT Big Book of Woof, May 2014 Page 15 “(i)n the event that a domestic pet is suspected of exposing a human, pet, wolf-hybrid, or domestic animal to rabies, it shall be managed in accordance with the provisions of this subchapter and the rules of the department of health.” Those rules can be found in the Vermont Department of Health’s Town Health Officers Manual. Since there exists no pre-exposure rabies vaccine for a wolf-hybrid, the rules for dealing with that animal are different: the animal is immediately destroyed and its head is sent to the Vermont Department of Health for analysis. If, however, a dog impounded under 20 V.S.A. § 3806 is not suspected of having been exposed to rabies, it may be released to its owner. If the dog’s owner can’t be found or it is impractical to confine or impound the dog, then it too may be humanely destroyed.
2. Ticketing Title 20 V.S.A. § 3550. Enforcement; municipal legislative body; commissioner.
If your town does not have a dog/animal control ordinance, you need to familiarize yourself with 20 V.S.A. § 3550. This is the statute that allows you to enforce against violations of state law.
The law is somewhat cumbersome and will not address all of your problems, so read it carefully before you rely on its provisions. Specifically, this law allows you to impose penalties for violation of “any provisions of Subchapters 1 or 2, refusal to obtain a pet breeder’s license under Subchapter 3, or refusal to comply with an order issued by a municipal officer under Subchapter 5 of this chapter.” 20 V.S.A. § 3550(a). This means that even if you don’t have an ordinance, you can still enforce against violations for failure to license or immunize, refusal to obtain a pet breeder’s license, failure to comply with certain town orders, and ordinance violations.
Under this law, before an animal control officer or other designee of the selectboard can issue a ticket, he or she or the selectboard must weigh eight factors to determine what civil penalty or fine to assess. This potentially gives the respondent eight different reasons to appeal the selectboard’s fine. This isn’t a one-time determination. The animal control officer or selectboard
would have to make it each time a state law was violated. The factors are:
(1) The degree of actual or potential impact on public health, safety, and welfare resulting from the violation.
(2) Whether the respondent has cured the violation.
(3) The presence of mitigating circumstances.
(4) Whether the respondent knew or had reason to know the violation existed.
(5) The respondent's record of compliance.
(6) The deterrent effect of the penalty.
(7) The costs of enforcement.
(8) The length of time the violation has existed.
The limits of the civil penalty to be imposed is $500, which is $300 less than what the town could charge if it adopts its own standalone dog control ordinance. That’s not all. After the selectboard (or its designee) arrives at this figure, it has to issue a notice of alleged violation to
the owner either in person or by registered mail. The notice must include:
the amount of the penalty;
a description of the alleged violation and the law alleged to have been violated;
a statement that the violator has a right to a hearing before the selectboard or its designee;
a description of how to request such a hearing;
Do you think your town will be able to administer this kind of enforcement program? Well, hold on. There’s more.
The next step is to hold a hearing if the alleged violator makes a request for one to the town clerk no later than 21 days after the date of the mailing of the notice of violation. This hearing must be held within 14 days of receipt of the request. If no request is made, the decision will be final and the penalty assessed must be paid within 35 days following mailing of the notice of violation. If a hearing is held, the selectboard may “affirm, reduce or eliminate the penalty” and deliver its decision by certified mail to the alleged violator. If the violator fails to pay the fine, the selectboard can bring a collection action in either smalls claims court or superior court. Of course, the alleged violator has his or her appeal rights, too – 30 days of receipt of the selectboard’s decision. Still willing to rely on the state’s self-executing enforcement mechanism rather than adopting an ordinance of your own?
3. Impoundment 20 V.S.A. § 3806. Confining or impounding a domestic pet or wolf-hybrid.
State law also confers upon particular state and local officials8 the authority to confine or
impound dogs when they:
1. are suspected of having been exposed to rabies;
2. have been attacked by another animal that may be rabid;
3. have been attacked by a wild animal;
4. have been running at large; and
5. have an unknown vaccination history.