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The Pennsylvania dog laws are not entirely clear to me.

Scenario:

Just down the block, a home owner with 2 dogs had two 8 foot sections of their fence blown down late last fall. In place of the missing sections, a roll of thin wire mesh was rolled out to cover the span. This mesh is not secured on either end only being held up by a couple of small stacks of fire wood and only approximately 2 1/2 - 3 feet tall (the height of the dog standing). Of the two dogs, one is a pit bull and both charge the fence very aggressively barking, growling, baring their teeth. Neither dog are otherwise secured or on a leash and often allowed to roam the back yard at will even without supervision. The owner finds the aggression funny even in the face of the obvious terror of pedestrians walking along the street.

The Pennsylvania Law:

3 P.S. Section 459-305

It shall be unlawful for the owner or keeper of any dog to fail to keep at all times such dog either:

  1. confined within the premises of the owner, 2. firmly secured by a means of collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured, or
  2. under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting, expedition or field training.

3 P.S. Section 459 (Definition of a dangerous dog.)

  • the dog has injured a person, without provocation, on public or private property,
  • the dog has killed or injured a domestic animal without provocation, while off the owner's property,
  • the dog has attacked a human being without provocation, or
  • the dog was used to commit a crime.

Where it seems there are holes in the law:

2. firmly secured by a means of collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured, or

It seems clear to me that the unsecured wire roll does not comply with other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises, however, the homeowner claims the dogs do not go past the wire. How are they to know? Is it not a matter of time? How would the law see this?

The definition of a dangerous dog requires an attack, kill, or injury. It seems to me any dog that has a consistent history of making a credible or reasonable threat of attack or injury without control of the owner either by confinement or leash is also dangerous. I see it as akin to a drunk driver that has not crashed yet. The drunk driver is still a danger.

My Questions:

My questions are, given the scenario, is it at least reasonable to consider the unsecured wire roll regardless of the claim of the owner inadequate? And what recourse would an ordinary pedestrian walking down the street have?

As well, are there other statutes that govern nuisance dogs, confinement, and otherwise protects a pedestrian from fear of threat from a dog?

Further Background:

I previously lived in a city where you could not walk more than a couple of blocks without being attacked by one ore more pitbulls or rotweilers off the leash and not confined purchased and trained with the expressed purpose of being a weapon.

I have been attacked several times with injuries throughout my life.

I have had to shoot and kill one dangerous dog after police refused to enforce the law. (The police did not go into my neighborhood. Oddly, it was a middle-class development that went rogue.)

I like dogs. I have had them in my life since high school. I hate having to confront irresponsible dog owners since all (so far) have proven to be unreasonable. I do not like being attacked even if no actual contact is made. (We are talking about just inches and not feet.) And I hate the thought of having to protect myself from a dog with a gun.

Hell's bells! I live in a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. This should not be an issue. This is a very relaxed environment. However, relaxed also means that the local police may not respond to a complaint unless forced to legally. Often, this is because the police are so busy chasing down drug offenses, they opt not to enforce quality of life issues such as this one. Even when the police chief is a personal friend. Cripes!

All I want to do is force the home owner to replace the fence lawfully and without delay using the resources available. Nothing more.

I have been around and around on this. Any clarity would help. Cheers!!

  • I think this is a politics problem. You wish the law was more restrictive than it is, pretty obviously the dog owner doesn't. – user4460 Mar 29 '17 at 19:40
  • @notstoreboughtdirt On one hand, you are right, the dangerous dog law could be strengthened, however, on the other hand, the firmly secured by a means of collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured is fairly clear though not specific. The firmly secured ... so that it cannot stray beyond the premises is probably enough. My dilemma is making sure that when I approach my friend the police chief (or even the town counsel) to make a complaint, I am then not going over their head to have it enforced later by less elegant means. – closetnoc Mar 29 '17 at 19:52
  • That really sounds political. Workplace.SE sometimes handles "How do I approach x about y?" The answer seem to pretty reliably be "just talk to them" – user4460 Mar 29 '17 at 20:13
  • @notstoreboughtdirt I talked to the police chief about a problem tenant I had that was a problem to him and the entire area. Remarkable story found here: law.stackexchange.com/questions/8720/… In this case, the police chief did not pursue a violation regarding changing to a PA tag and drivers license as a way to put her on the legal radar. He felt it was legal to have duel residency. It is clearly is not. Yet he pursued other less aggressive avenues even with strong urging from other agencies including the DA. – closetnoc Mar 29 '17 at 20:24
  • Is there no animal control there or covered by a county agency? What do they say? Approach the owner and ask if you can attach zip ties to the existing fence and the mesh and possibly offer to add a second mesh higher and fasten it the same way, or if the dogs are ever instead, do it without contacting the owner. – mkennedy Mar 30 '17 at 17:13
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I assume that the fence and dog are outside, not within the premises (buildings) of the property. An outside dog area with two 8 foot sections missing and patched with thin wire mesh such as chicken wire fails to satisfy the requirements of "other device so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured", though it could satisfy a weaker and non-existent law only requiring that the device "might tend to hinder escape". A first violation of the law is a summary offense, punishable by fine of $100-$500, 90 days, or both.

The question arises what level of culpability attaches to this crime, that is, does conviction require recklessness, malice, or what? State law on culpability §305(a) says

The requirements of culpability prescribed by section 301 of this title (relating to requirement of voluntary act) and section 302 of this title (relating to general requirements of culpability) do not apply to:

(1) summary offenses, unless the requirement involved is included in the definition of the offense or the court determines that its application is consistent with effective enforcement of the law defining the offense

For example, speeding is a summary and strict liability offense: you're guilty if you're over the speed limit. Baehr v. Com, 414 A.2d 415 held that the law (a first violation) "unmistakably speaks in terms of strict liability for its violation". The legislative intent is to prevent risky behavior, not just to punish people for damages that result from risky acts.

There is an escape, though, if the responsible person has already been convicted of this, because a second offense is a misdemeanor, not a summary offense. Culpability requirements thus hold, and it would have to be established that defendant acted "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly", as held in Comm v. Raban.

A pedestrian's recourse is to notify the police (leaving aside his recourse if the dogs break free and attack him). The presence of chicken wire might be proffered as a defense against prosecution, and then it would come down to questions about the effectiveness of the wire patch. A simple test is, throw a reasonable sized pumpkin at it, and if it gives way, a pit bull could escape.

  • Thanks for the reply. I will look at it again in more detail when I can. I do appreciate the detail on summary offense. In this case, the chicken wire is only about 2 feet high. I like you analogy regarding the pumpkin, assuming that the dog cannot jump its own height. [Insert cheesy grin.] I have found out that this particular house has had some issues with the town counsel in the past meaning that the police have had to enforce maintenance issues in the past. It seems the resistance leans toward dealing with the home owner more than anything. Still working on it. Cheers!! – closetnoc Jun 28 '17 at 0:35
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In this case the dog is "confined within the premises" by the fence. If the dog escapes and rips out the throat of some kid, then the owner can be prosecuted for failing to properly confine the dog.

  • While I feel the same way, however, the law does say firmly secure and the wire fence comes no-where close to firmly secure where the dog cannot stray beyond the premises. – closetnoc Mar 29 '17 at 19:44
  • @closetnoc the statute is an OR statute. So we only need to satisfy one of the requirements. Arguably the first is satisfied - confined within the premises of the owner. – jqning Jun 27 '17 at 23:28
  • @jqning Except that is not what is happening. I have discovered that only appropriate fencing will do if and when the dogs are released within the yard. No invisible fence or shock collar is allowed by precedent. Nor is chicken wire sufficient. I am now fighting this at the state level. Already have local law working too. The home owners will be fined heavily now that they have failed to comply and still releases the dogs into the yard. It is a matter of proof at this point which I have. Now to proceed. – closetnoc Jun 27 '17 at 23:47

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