Rescues and Liability Issues
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Thread: Rescues and Liability Issues

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    Senior Member CricketLoops's Avatar
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    Rescues and Liability Issues

    A recent thread reminded me that I'm confused by this, and have been many times that this gets brought up.

    Many rescues won't rehome or rehabilitate "aggressive" dogs or dogs with bite histories because of "liability issues." This always seems strange to me, as people often sell dangerous things (like, for example, bicycles) with expressly signed or inferred liability waivers and are protected from lawsuits made by user error. It seems to me that if rescues made those people adopting previous biters sign something like "We have been made fully aware of this dog's bite history and take full responsibility for any risks posed to us by this dog" that the rescues would be protected from liability suits.

    Sometimes it seems as though some rescues use "liability concerns" as a nicer way of saying "sorry, we don't really want to deal with aggressive dogs or dogs that have bitten before." I am not at all meaning to imply that those of you on this forum who are involved with rescues that have a policy like this have done it for this reason. I don't even think rescues that don't want to deal with aggressive dogs are at all wrong.

    I'd love it if someone could shed some light on this topic. Specifically, does anyone know of any lawsuits against rescues that people have won (or settled out of court in favor of the adopter)? I remember, I think, hearing about something where someone sued and won because a rescue lied about a bite history, but I can't find anything about a responsible full-disclosure rescue losing a lawsuit because a dog they rehabbed bit someone.

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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    I think that it is similar to selling a car that you know has bad brakes or faulty steering. So many people are sue happy that organizations have to protect themselves. They could go broke just trying to defind themselves in a single lawsuit. I was able to adopt a dog who had a fear biting issue. He was a sweet black lab mix who lucked out being sent to this rescue organization since he would have surely been put to sleep in most other shelters. We had to sign documents that we had been informed that he had fear biting issues and accepted all liability. He was a wonderful dog who just needed some work and socialization.

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    Senior Member Abbylynn's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    I am sure there are many ways to look at this issue. I only have an opinion on this. I feel that even if a rescue had a liability clause that would be signed by the potential adopter, ... the rescue has no actual way of knowing what the adopter is going to do with that aggressive animal. They would also not know if that adopter had the knowledge to train such an animal. What if the person who adopts this aggressive animal just wants it for a guard dog or a fighting dog of sorts and is irresponsible by letting such animal bite another innocent human or another persons pet ? The rescue or shelter has no knowledge of what could happen once an aggressive dog leaves their hands, clause or no clause. Still, that aggressive animal remains just that ... an aggressive animal with a bite history ... and sometimes history repeats itself. Just my opinion.


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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    I'm not entirely sure of this myself. I'd love some information on it.

    The Boston Terrier Rescue that I am a coordinator for has no problem adopting out dogs with bite histories under the proper liability waivers and upfront information.

    The rescue where I work goes both ways. We have adopted out some dogs with bite histories, and not others. I know of a 3x bite history on a sweet dog recently that was adopted out, though I am unsure if the owner had to sign a liability waiver, I have never seen such a thing in any adoption folders, but it could be on a case-by-case basis. I recently adopted a dog from the same rescue and had to sign a liability waiver because the dog was growly, though she had no bite history...

    The rescue where I used to work would NOT adopt out dogs with a bite history because of liability.. didn't get that.

    Doesn't make a lot of sense to me, altogether.

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    Senior Member brandiw's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    The rescue that I work with has taken in and rehabbed some growly/snappy dogs, however they are very carefully placed, and adopters are made fully aware of the extent of the dog's issues. They also sign a liability waiver. In addition, we also carry a fairly hefty insurance policy, just in case.

    That said, I refused to adopt out Moe after he bit someone. He needs extremely close management with strangers, and I just couldn't guarantee that he could get that somewhere else, so I kept him. Let's face it, there are so many perfect dogs out there languishing in shelters, rescues can be choosy with who they take. Many won't take a bite history case simply because they feel their resources would be better utilized saving many in the place of the time it would take to save one who needed rehabilitation for temperment issues. Plus, rescues don't need bad publicity, and if you adopt out a known biter, and it bites someone else, that can really come back to haunt a rescue just from a PR standpoint.

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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Being fully aware of a dog's aggression doesn't change the fact that the dog may kill someone, as many rescued dogs are from unknown histories it's too much of a risk adopting a potential killer or lethal animal to people with a good heart. I understand if you get an aggressive dog through other means it's your choice but if you go to a rescue and they are giving away a dog that has attacked a child or bitten an old lady then they are potentially handing over a gun to an unknown person and saying you can't tell if the safety is on or off, it's loaded and it has invisible triggers all over it, so please be careful and don't shoot people, someone somewhere is gonna get injured or killed by that gun somewhere down the line and it's not worth it.

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    Senior Member Lindbert's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Any dog with teeth can bite someone, so there is some inherent risk in working with dogs. The rescue is automatically dealing with some risk when they place dogs in a family. It would be additional liability and perhaps negligence to place a dog that has been known to bite people in a home. Some of this may be alleviated using waivers and proper home selection, however their is always greater risk placing a dog who has used his teeth vs. a dog that can use it's teeth, but never has.

    I think it's all about minimizing risks and potential damages to the organization. If someone wins a substantial lawsuit against the org because someone got hurt, it may be an end to their operations, therefore an end to the number of pets they can save.

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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Quote Originally Posted by stationgirl View Post
    Being fully aware of a dog's aggression doesn't change the fact that the dog may kill someone, as many rescued dogs are from unknown histories it's too much of a risk adopting a potential killer or lethal animal to people with a good heart. I understand if you get an aggressive dog through other means it's your choice but if you go to a rescue and they are giving away a dog that has attacked a child or bitten an old lady then they are potentially handing over a gun to an unknown person and saying you can't tell if the safety is on or off, it's loaded and it has invisible triggers all over it, so please be careful and don't shoot people, someone somewhere is gonna get injured or killed by that gun somewhere down the line and it's not worth it.
    A bite history doesn't always equal "killer, lethal dog." I'm sorry but that is a bit of an over statement. There are lots of reasons dogs aggress, and rescues have to figure out which ones are relatively safe bets. For instance, a dog who bit a child for jumping on his sore back is probably not a dog that is going to maul grandma. Besides, I know of no rescue that would adopt a dog that attacked someone unprovoked. I don't really think that is what is being advocated here.

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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    I didn't say all killers, I said at the end that somewhere along the line there will be a killer amongst them in if they are adopted out.

    In Australia we have a strict euthanasia policy on all dogs who have bitten a human. It's a bit sad for the case you're stating but not for the dogs that intentionally bite.

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    Senior Member CricketLoops's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Quote Originally Posted by stationgirl View Post
    I didn't say all killers, I said at the end that somewhere along the line there will be a killer amongst them in if they are adopted out.
    Does this really not seem a LITTLE hyperbolic to you? Wouldn't we have seen this happen before if it's such a big risk?

    I would be interested to learn about any cases where dogs have been adopted out to "forever" homes (as opposed to temporary foster homes) with bite records/liability waivers that were returned to the shelter or euthanized for biting someone.

    Quote Originally Posted by stationgirl View Post
    In Australia we have a strict euthanasia policy on all dogs who have bitten a human. It's a bit sad for the case you're stating but not for the dogs that intentionally bite.
    I wonder what you mean when you talk about an "intentional" dog bite.

    I've been working and volunteering in shelters for many years, and I have only ever encountered a couple dogs that were truly human-aggressive -- that is, predatory, feral animals who wanted nothing to do with bonding with any people and responded poorly to classical and operant conditioning techniques.

    There are different kinds of bites, as I'm sure you know. There are ones that don't break skin and ones that do, there are bites on the hand and bites on the face. There are bites that release quickly and bites that are held on to. Bites can be very different.

    The majority of dogs bite out of fear. They bite a child because the child can't interpret warning signals and gives the "doggy" a hug. They bite the man who reaches over the dog's head. They bite when you get too close to their feat. They bite if you enter their territory. They bite if you reach towards them. They bite the elderly woman because she has a scary looking cane. They bite because they've been taught that all their warning signs are unacceptable and will be severely punished. They bite because they've learned that biting makes bad things go away.

    It's interesting, because on another thread, you mention that you've "rescued more than 20 HIGHLY human aggressive dogs" before. I guess I would consider a "highly human aggressive dog" one that has bitten repeatedly or has attempted to bite repeatedly. I also find it kind of weird that you're pretty much stating that you think those 20 highly human aggressive dogs you successfully rescued should have been killed. I'm having a difficult time figuring out what you really believe.

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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Quote Originally Posted by brandiw View Post
    A bite history doesn't always equal "killer, lethal dog." I'm sorry but that is a bit of an over statement. There are lots of reasons dogs aggress, and rescues have to figure out which ones are relatively safe bets. For instance, a dog who bit a child for jumping on his sore back is probably not a dog that is going to maul grandma. Besides, I know of no rescue that would adopt a dog that attacked someone unprovoked. I don't really think that is what is being advocated here.
    Funny I did not get that, SG said MAY, and as we have all heard of occasionally something bad does happen whether it's a child that gets bit in the face or anywhere else for that matter.

    Actually, waivers signed are worthless any lawyer can work around that The waivers are more so people think they have no legal rights.
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    I rescue privately, the shelters I worked at euthed straight away, these dogs were either brought to me or I went and got them. Completely different situations. I rehomed them to friends and they are all wonderful dogs now. However I was saying what the shelter workers have said to me as to their reasons. I also said I gave up being a behaviourist for some of the reasons above. It's too hard on the emotions.

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    Senior Member CricketLoops's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Quote Originally Posted by stationgirl View Post
    I rescue privately, the shelters I worked at euthed straight away, these dogs were either brought to me or I went and got them. Completely different situations. I rehomed them to friends and they are all wonderful dogs now. However I was saying what the shelter workers have said to me as to their reasons. I also said I gave up being a behaviourist for some of the reasons above. It's too hard on the emotions.
    So, do you or do you not think that dogs with bite histories and aggression issues that have been rehabilitated can be successfully rehomed to responsible owners?

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    Senior Member CricketLoops's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Quote Originally Posted by wvasko View Post
    Actually, waivers signed are worthless any lawyer can work around that The waivers are more so people think they have no legal rights.
    This isn't really true, wvasko. A signed waiver's most important job is getting proof that the risks of dog ownership, and of that particular dog, have been understood by the adopter, and that the adopter agrees that ownership of that particular dog means assuming those risks.

    Waivers are ineffective when they conflict with rights -- for example, a landlord making a tenant sign a "liability waiver" saying that the tenant understands that the apartment management is not liable for, say, normal wear and tear of a unit when, in fact, the law says that management IS liable for this. Or something. I'm not exactly a housing lawyer.

    I guess I would be very interested in seeing a situation where a lawyer worked around a standard signed waiver to win a case where a fully-disclosed rehomed bite history'd dog bit someone. I have searched very hard for an example of something like this happening, and I can't find anything. At these point, I'd even take somebody's made-up example of how, feasibly, a lawyer could render a signed liability waiver null in court if a bite were to happen -- basically, on what legal grounds that person would stand on.

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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    It depends ont he dog, but if successfully rehabilitated then of course I do! I owned one I rehabbed for many years and she was wonderful! But try telling that to aussie shelters and they laugh in your face.

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    Senior Member Pawzk9's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    It likely would not be the adopter who signed the liability waver who would be doing the suing, but a third party injured by the dog who names the rescue along with the owner in the suit. Yes, it is possible that the rescue could "beat" the charge. Even so, defending against a suit is expensive and frequently not only the rescue but the (usually volunteer) directors of the rescue are named. I've noticed that there's a fair amount of variety in rescues.

    Groups who specialize in little cute dogs are often more tolerant. Groups which specialize in breeds large enough to do more damage or breeds with reputations. The group I worked with was close to zero tolerance. They were a bit too radical for me, but I also understood a number of other consideration. One is the toll on foster homes who take on the more difficult dogs and are unable to turn them around. That's a heartbreaker and leads to burn-out, and fewer resources. Nobody wants to get into rescue to kill dogs. Another is the availability of foster homes. I recently evaluated a dog for the rescue rep in the eastern part of the state. Sweet, sweet, cute dog. But he was a submissive urinator. Really minor problem. But with 5 dogs needing to get into rescue that week and only 1 foster space, he didn't make the cut. A dog with no issues that would require a lot of time did. (I did put out the word on him and an all-breed rescue pulled him)

    Another consideration is the nature of dogs who bite. I don't think that biting dogs are necessarily bad dogs, but they are dogs who have shown us that in certain circumstances, their response to a problem will be to use their teeth. And, what circumstances those dogs are put into and how well they are managed is up to the people they live with. A dog may learn to trust the foster, but going to a new home (and even well-screened homes, you're going to get people who sound better than they turn out, or over-estimate their dog skills) all the dynamics change. That's also a reason that I will work with people who want to rehabilitate/improve their dog's behavior. But, if the dog bites, and the owner is looking to fix the dog so they can re-home it, I won't touch the situation. Because helping a dog not need to bite is very much about relationship, management and the humans involved.

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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    This isn't really true, wvasko. A signed waiver's most important job is getting proof that the risks of dog ownership, and of that particular dog, have been understood by the adopter, and that the adopter agrees that ownership of that particular dog means assuming those risks.
    Not being a lawyer I'm surely not gonna debate, we need a lawyer in here. When I was a young man I worked in a livery stable. Veloci-raptors were rode, it was before horses. Anyway the owner made everybody sign a waiver before they were allowed to ride and he said then that they were not worth the paper they were written (actually chipped in stone)

    But I am sure there may have been some changes.
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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Quote Originally Posted by stationgirl View Post
    I rescue privately, the shelters I worked at euthed straight away, these dogs were either brought to me or I went and got them. Completely different situations. I rehomed them to friends and they are all wonderful dogs now. However I was saying what the shelter workers have said to me as to their reasons. I also said I gave up being a behaviourist for some of the reasons above. It's too hard on the emotions.
    So were you a veterinary behaviorist or an applied animal behaviorist (advanced degree in in animal behavior)?

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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    I studied animal science/behavioural science, I've also worked for many trainers and then became one myself. I'm not highly qualified, but I live in an area where there was no one and highly aggressive dogs around, so with my training people started coming to me for help and I started my own business. I then went to america and worked in shelters with the aggressive dogs as a volunteer behaviourist/trainer. I've stopped though as my emotions couldn't take it.

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    Re: Rescues and Liability Issues

    Quote Originally Posted by stationgirl View Post
    I studied animal science/behavioural science, I've also worked for many trainers and then became one myself. I'm not highly qualified, but I live in an area where there was no one and highly aggressive dogs around, so with my training people started coming to me for help and I started my own business. I then went to america and worked in shelters with the aggressive dogs as a volunteer behaviourist/trainer. I've stopped though as my emotions couldn't take it.
    It's possible that the terms are different in other parts of the world. In the US, I am highly suspicious of anyone who calles themselves a behaviorist without the proper credentials (which would be a veterinarian who is board certified in behavior, or someone with an advanced degree in behavior). I bill myself as a trainer with an interest in behavior. But, despite the fact that I've been to a lot of seminars and done a lot of reading, and been working with dogs fo 30+ years, I simply don't qualify as a behaviorist.

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