Monday, March 11, 2019
In light of facts set forth in a Court of Appeal opinion filed Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors should be demanding answers from Department of Animal Care and Control Director Marcia Mayeda and County Counsel Mary Wickham as to why resources are being expended in a quest to kill a family dog based on his attacking intruders on private property.
It is, after all, instinctive for dogs to protect—an instinct so deep-seated that frequently, a dog will lose his or her life in valiantly carrying out that mission.
Yet, Venice—a large brown dog belonging to Ethan Adamson, a resident of Newhall—was declared “vicious” by a hearing officer in Mayeda’s department for having inflicted injuries on a husband and wife who were traversing a private road, inside a gated ranch-land community, outside the Adamson family’s residence, without permission of any of the landowners. The hearing officer ordered that the dog be “destroyed.”
Denying a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus, as urged by the Office of County Counsel, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel found that substantial evidence supported the order.
There are three definitions of a “vicious dog” in the County Code; the only one that even approaches applicability to Venice is a dog who “when unprovoked, in an aggressive manner, inflicts severe injury on or kills a person.” Venice did inflict a severe injury on one Michael Smith. However, reference to what a particular dog will do “when unprovoked” implies a trait, a proclivity—which is hardly established by a single episode.
More significantly, a dog cannot realistically be deemed “unprovoked” when someone is invading the terrain he or she is guarding—and particularly where, as here, it is undisputed that the person was aggressively waving a stick. Waving that stick might well have been an understandable self-defense reaction on the part of Smith but, nonetheless, from the standpoint of the dog, that conduct would inevitably have been viewed as threatening—that is, constituting provocation.
EEMINGLY TRUMPING the county’s contention that Venice is “vicious” is County Code §10.37.170, pointed to by Court of Appeal Justice John Segal of this district’s Div. Seven in his opinion reversing Strobel and directing that a hearing officer clear up the murky record with further findings. That section provides:
“No dog may be declared potentially dangerous or vicious if any injury or damage is sustained by a person who, at the time the injury or damage was sustained, was committing a wilful trespass or other tort upon premises occupied by the owner or custodian of the dog….”
The hearing officer reasoned that a private road is simply one that is not publicly maintained but that members of the public may use it, so that those doing so can’t be trespassers. That, Segal said, is not the law. He pointed to Vehicle Code §490 which says:
“ ‘Private road or driveway’ is a way or place in private ownership and used for vehicular travel by the owner and those having express or implied permission from the owner but not by other members of the public.”
The hearing officer also proclaimed that the private road is not “occupied” by Adamson and his family. Segal pointed to authority indicating to the contrary.
HE CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT observed in the 1889 case of Johnson v. McConnell that “while it has been said that they”—dogs—“have nearly always been held ‘to be entitled to less regard and protection than more harmless domestic animals,’ it is equally true that there are no other domestic animals to which the owner or his family can become more strongly attached, or the loss of which will be more keenly felt.”
Adamson and members of his family have been virtually denied companionship of Venice for three-and-a-half years. That this loss is keenly felt is evident from the battle that has been launched to save Venice’s life, entailing attorney fees and boarding costs. Pending resolution of Adamson’s legal challenge to the death warrant for Venice, the dog has been boarded, by court order, at a private kennel. Adamson and his kin—including his 13-month-old son, who mounts the dog, as if he were a horse—may visit Venice there.
But that’s sort of like visiting a family member at San Quentin. The family lacks the dog’s society on a day-to-day basis.
ARTICIPATING IN THE ATTACK on the Smiths was a dog named Max who belongs to Adamson’s sister. Max was permitted to return to the family home, with conditions; Venice wasn’t. It might simply be that Max caused less injury. A footnote says: “Max has a prominent underbite, which may have decreased the severity of his bites.”
Or it could be that the county aroused prejudice by describing Venice—who is half Labrador retriever—as a “pit bull mix.” While pit bulls have been used in organized dog fights, and bear a negative public image, there does not appear to be any validity to the notion that they are innately violent. To the contrary, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals advises:
“These dogs have long been popular family pets, noted for their gentleness, affection and loyalty. And even those pit bulls bred to fight other animals were not prone to aggressiveness toward people.”
1986 COURT OF APPEAL concurring and dissenting opinion comments:
“We know that in any civilized society the authority to kill any living being must be viewed with the greatest of caution. I submit under today’s rules we condone the killing of a dog only as a last resort. We have come a long way from the old common law concept of a dog not even being considered property. Not only is he more than property today, he is the subject of sonnets, the object of song, the symbol of loyalty. Indeed, he is man’s best friend.”
Yet, the County of Los Angeles seeks to kill Ethan Adamson’s “best friend”—notwithstanding that fencing on the family’s property now assures containment of the dogs so that they could no longer run to the private road and deal with an intruder. This means that Venice would not conceivably be a danger to trespassers—whose welfare the county is so intent on protecting—(even though the family is now left un- protected from possible burglars or other invaders of their premises).
Venice has been declared “vicious.” No evidence appears that can withstand the trespassing exception.
HE KEYWORD IS “VICIOUS.”
The viciousness would seem to be not on the part of the dog, but the County of Los Angeles. It has deprived a family of the presence in their home of their beloved pet because he did what any loyal and alert dog ought to do: provide protection against intruders.
The Board of Supervisors would be remiss if it did not call upon Mayeda and Wickham to defend their respective departments’ seemingly indefensible conduct in this matter.
Unless Mayeda and Wickham can provide justification (which appears improbable), the upshot should be a return of Venice to his home in Newhall—and that county departments be directed to act with greater caution in the future in exercising the power to slay dogs who are supposedly “vicious” but who acted in a protective capacity.
Copyright 2019, Metropolitan News Company