Every dog owner, as well as anyone who works with dogs, must understand the Massachusetts animal control laws in order to properly follow them. Don Famico, certified animal control officer in Salem, Massachusetts, discusses these dog laws and provides tips on dog safety. Listen or read more to stay safe from dog bites.
John Maher: Hi. I’m John Maher with the law office of Mazow McCullough and I’m here today with Don Famico, certified Animal Control Officer in Salem, Massachusetts. Welcome, Don.
Don Famico: Good morning.
John: National Dog Bite Prevention week is the second week of April. That’s April 8th to 14th in 2018, and Don is here to talk about Massachusetts Animal Control Laws. Don, what is the leash law in Massachusetts in regards to dogs and dog owners?
Don: Well, most towns have their own bylaws or ordinances. Here in Salem, a dog must be on a leash of an appropriate length. Some towns will say three feet, four feet, six feet — then there are towns that don’t have leash laws. It’s appropriate that you check with your individual town to see what the actual law is there. The towns have the right to make their own bylaws.
Dog Safety Laws in Massachusetts
John: Okay. Other than the leash law, are there other laws related to dogs and dog bites that people should be aware of?
Don: All dogs in the state of Massachusetts are required to have a rabies vaccine. That’s punishable by a fine if you don’t have it, and it can raise a lot of havoc if your dog were to become in contact with a wild animal. It’s very important that they have that rabies shot. That is one of the most important. Other vaccines are really not required by law, but they do push the rabies.
Breeds Most Likely to Bite
John: Are there certain types of dogs or dog breeds that are the worst offenders in terms of dog bites?
Don: The state of Massachusetts says you can’t discriminate against breed. I find that personally, I’ve had trouble with more smaller breeds versus the larger breeds. Some of the larger breeds will maybe give you a worse bite, but some of the smaller ones, I call them ankle biters, are just as dangerous.
John: Why do you think that that is? Do you think a larger dog may feel safer because it knows that it’s big and smaller dog maybe feels more threatened by big people?
Don: Exactly. I’m not really sure but my experience is the smaller dogs, they yip and they charge you. I’ve had less fear of the bigger ones.
Massachusetts Leash Laws
John: Like you said, most towns in Massachusetts do have a leash law, but if you do encounter a loose dog, that’s not on a leash, what should you do?
Don: Well, a lot of people are concerned, number one for the dog’s safety. You don’t see as many dogs running the streets per se. It could be a lost dog. It could be a stray of sorts that somebody might have dumped. You can call your local animal control or in [our] case in Salem, people will call the police department — not 911 but they will dial 744-1212 here in Salem and report it. Generally, they’ll send a cruiser out to evaluate and see if they can find the owner. If I’m on the road, they’ll send me to the area.
John: Okay. Some friends of mine had an accident where their son was actually bitten by a dog; it was one of those retractable leashes which kind of expands and contracts, and they have some sort of a button, I think, that locks the leash in place. It allowed the dog to run quite far away from the owner and bite this little boy. Are there any rules about the types of leashes or how they are handled or these retractable leashes?
Don: Well, again it comes down to the individual towns or cities. Here in Salem, it’s an appropriate length so that’s left to your discretion. I guess, it could be 20 feet, it could be 4 feet, but some towns are strict and say, “No longer than 4 feet, 6 feet.” Again, you have to look at the local ordinance for that particular town.
John: So, in that case, perhaps a retractable leash that goes out a lot further would not be okay.
Animal Control Protocols After a Dog Bite
John: Right. What do you do when you’re called because of a dog bite, if somebody’s been bitten and they give you a call?
Don: Generally, we’ll try to find out who the owner of the animal is, ask them their veterinary history of the dog, show proof of rabies. If they don’t have it available, I’ll ask them who their veterinarian is so we can consult with the veterinarian to see what the dog’s history is on his inoculations.
John: Are you required by law to put a dog down because of a dog bite or another attack, or is there a certain number of strikes against that dog that have to happen before something like that would happen?
Don: Some people think it is a one strike rule, which I’ve never heard of, it depends on the circumstances. Again, if somebody’s dog bites somebody within their own home, or their own child, or their own grandmother and they’re not going to pursue it legally, there’s not much that we can do with that.
But if the dog has a history of biting, under Mass General Laws people have the right to petition the chief of police for a hearing and the Mass General Laws to declare that dog is dangerous, or to put restraining orders on the dog. Here in Salem, we also have a dangerous dog ordinance which I have the authority to order the dog muzzled and restrained. There’s a whole bunch of rules or regulations. They must post their home as having a dangerous dog. They have the right to appeal that to the chief of police. We’ve had several laws a year but, again, with all of the new laws and regulations, a lot of people are more in tune as to what their responsibilities are civilly.
How to Prevent Dog Bites
John: Right. As we are in National Dog Bite Prevention Week, what do you think is maybe the most important thing for a dog owner to know in terms of dog bite prevention? And what would be the most important thing for just an average person, who’s not the dog owner, to know during this week?
Don: Well, as we spoke earlier, it’s not only the dog owner but we also have under the state law the wording ‘dog keeper’. A keeper as any person other than the dog owner having the control or the custody of a dog at the time of an incident. For example, if you’re walking your neighbor’s dog or taking that dog for a week at your home and the dog bit somebody at your home, you’d have a civil liability on that end for that dog. The courts could be charging you as well as maybe the dog owner.
John: If you’re walking a dog, you are responsible for that dog and making sure that that dog doesn’t attack anybody.
Don: Exactly, as the keeper.
John: Then, what would be the most important thing for your average person to know during this dog bite prevention week that they can do to help prevent being bitten by a dog?
Don: I think, number one, if it’s their own dog, to take steps to keep the property safe. Maybe post up a “Beware of Dog” sign so people will know that they’re walking into a property that has a dog that they may encounter, so they can knock on around the corner and from a blind point and all of a sudden startle the dog. It’s good that the people that own the dog to post those areas.
John: Right. Then in terms of approaching a dog, what’s the one thing that somebody should know in terms of approaching a dog and to make sure that you’re not bitten?
Don: I think if they’re going to approach the dog, again, do it slowly, not to make eye contact and just not to scare the dog. Again, if the dog is wagging his tail, it’s a good sign that you’ve been accepted to come in.
John: All right. That’s great advice, Don. Thanks again for speaking with me today.
Don: Thank you.
John: For more information on dog bite cases or to contact a dog bite lawyer, visit the law office of Mazow McCullough at HelpingInjured.com or call (855) 693-9084.