Yes. I often hear stories that an animal control officer tells people, “The first level is informal and isn’t serious, so you don’t really need an attorney. You can think about getting an animal law lawyer if it isn’t resolved at this level. ”
This advice may not be accurate, and you should contact an animal law attorney immediately to find out your rights and your dog’s rights.
By definition in Virginia, a dangerous dog is a canine that has attacked, bitten, or inflicted injury on a person or companion animal. Dogs bite and attack for a variety of reasons—maybe out of fear, pain, or provocation—and it is important to determine why this happened before going to court.
In Virginia, only a court can determine a dog to be dangerous. The judge has to listen to the evidence that is presented the same as it is in criminal misdemeanors. The judge must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the evidence proved that the dog is dangerous. There are any number of legal and evidentiary issues that come up that make it incredibly helpful to have an animal law attorney there, even at the district court level. At the circuit court level, you can even have a jury decide your case.
All of Virginia’s dangerous dog trials are governed by Virginia Code Section 3.2-6540, Control of dangerous dogs and penalties, which spells out the definition of a dangerous dog, various defenses, and the repercussions of being declared dangerous.
If your dog is in danger of being deemed dangerous, it is in the best interest for you and your dog to contact an experienced animal law attorney.