Integrity, n.1 the quality of having strong moral principles; 2 the state of being whole;Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Edition, 2004
Integrity, n. the quality of being honest and fair; the state of being complete or whole; Merriam Webster
I respect the law and I respect the attorneys with whom I have worked and/or done business. What I don’t respect, however, is when ridiculous legal loopholes exist, and those legal loopholes are taken advantage of to the detriment of others.
Here’s my story. I was attacked by two dogs while walking in my neighborhood on May 7, 2014. While the dogs were in active attack mode – barking and chomping at my feet while I concurrently screamed at the dogs to leave me alone – the owner of the dog, whom I could hear but not see on their property, never came out to discover what the ruckus was all about. Then one of the dogs bit me, and shortly thereafter, both dogs retreated back to their property. I yelled to the owner, whom I still couldn’t see, “Your dog just bit me!” To which she replied, “Sorry.”
I chose not to approach the offending dogs’ house to confront the owner because quite frankly, I was afraid the dogs would consider me an even greater threat than when I was on the opposite side of the street from their house. Instead, because I was still able to walk, I hiked the remainder of the way to my house, cleaned my wounds, and headed to a hospital emergency room. After being treated, I returned home and filed an online complaint with my county’s animal control division.
The dog owner hired an attorney to fight the vicious dog charge and the inherent requirement to keep the dog contained at all times when outside. The attorney postponed the appeal hearing three times. The most recent hearing date was to be November 17, 2014. I planned on attending the hearing, even though I had submitted the following to the appeals court: 1) online official complaint with photographs of my injury; 2) my supplemental statement augmenting the county’s complaint form; 3) ER medical records documenting my treatment; 4) a receipt from the hospital where I sought treatment for my portion of the visit, $50.
The legal loophole was created the day after the incident. An animal control officer interviewed me at home and the dog owner at her home. Immediately after the latter, the officer gave the dog owner a 2-page handwritten citation summarizing the incident and detailing the infractions: 1) two unlicensed dogs; 2) two dogs at large; 3)two dogs without up-to-date rabies vaccinations; and 4) having a vicious dog on the premises. Biting a human being = vicious dog. When the investigating officer returned to the county animal shelter, he inputted all applicable information electronically into the shelter’s database. The written citation which was personally handed to the dog owner who signed the citation as proof that she had received it, did not specify which of the dogs bit me; the electronic citation did. That discrepancy voided the credibility of the animal control citation process.
I’m kidding, right?
A settlement was reached between the dog owner’s attorney and the county animal control agency stating that the dog containment order was rescinded and the vicious dog designation was removed. The attorney would agree to all the citation fees – totaling $850 – if animal control would give the dogs/dog owner a clean record in the matter. Animal control agreed. Keep in mind, part of that $850 was a $500 vicious dog citation. The dogs were vicious, there’s no question about that. The fact that the attorney agreed to let his clients pay all the fees speaks to that, as well as the fact that the dogs’ behavior satisfied the legal requirement to meet the definition of vicious.
The owners were penalized, why should I still care?
Because the only penalty they received was monetary. My neighbors and I did not benefit at all from the dissolution of the matter. The vicious dogs are not required to be contained on their property and there will be no vicious dog record of this incident should they ever get cited again. If the vicious dog designation had been honored, the repeat offender fee would jump to $1,000 just for the vicious dog designation.
This doggie-style loophole is a pain in the rear.