By Los Angeles County ordinance, a dog can be labeled "potentially dangerous" if it threatens or attacks a person without provocation, or if it leaves its owner's property and injures or kills someone else's pet. A dog can be labeled "vicious" if it severely injures or kills a person.
For years, the county's Department of Animal Care and Control took complaints about dangerous dogs that its officers deemed legitimate to Los Angeles County Superior Court for a judge to decide. But late last month, the county Board of Supervisors voted to amend the ordinance to allow the department to settle such complaints through administrative hearings. It's a wise move that will save money and ease a burden on the courts, while preserving the right of animal owners to appeal their cases to a judge.
Under the amended ordinance — which takes effect this month — the department will be required to hold a hearing within 10 working days of an owner's being served with a complaint. Such a prompt action is especially important if the dog has been impounded pending a hearing. No pet should be taken away from its home longer than necessary.
Opponents of the amended ordinance contend that an animal control officer can't impartially decide a case in which a colleague is presenting evidence against a dog and its owner. The county also changed the law to broaden the definition of a "severe injury" by a vicious dog to include any physical harm that results in a serious illness or injury. Opponents suggest this could result in a frisky puppy that knocks someone down being classified as vicious. That seems farfetched.