Aggression Policy

Last Updated October 18, 2011

Small Paws® Rescue Aggression Policy

Dear Small Paws® Volunteer,

We were the last of the large rescue organizations to accept biters and try to rehab them. Now, because of our litigious society, we can no longer put our whole organization in danger over the possibility of a dog bite lawsuit.

The cost of an average dog bite claim has risen from roughly $16, 600 in 2002 to $26, 166.00 in 2010.

Average Dog Bite Claim In The United States: $26,166.00
Dog bite claim costs see biggest jump since 2007

May 11, 20011 “Dog bites accounted for more than a third of homeowner’s insurance liability claims in 2010, the institute” said.

III – Dog Bite Liability

Also a sad fact of the dog bite story is the number of small children who are harmed by dogs in a wide variety of fact patterns. In 1997 the Personal Injury Verdict Reviews reported a number of dog bit cases in which settlement amounts vary: $1,500 for dog bite with puncture wounds to the upper thigh, $30,000 for dog bit causing laceration of the lip causing scaring, and $100,000 for an attack by two pit bulls that bit a 10 year-old male causing facial scarring. One study suggest that over two-thirds of the incidents involved single bites with the next largest set being multiple bits, and the final category of injuries caused by being knocked down or thrown.

Detailed Discussion of Dog Bite Laws

We want to be here in the future for the thousands of Bichons yet to cross our doors. If any person were ever to be injured and if it ever ended up in a court room situation, a judge would ask us if we had any previous knowledge of a dog’s aggression. If we did, we could be held civilly liable, as judges are holding rescue groups civilly liable in California.

Civil liability is potential responsibility for payment of damages or other court-enforcement in a lawsuit, as distinguished from criminal liability, which means open to punishment for a crime.

If you are a volunteer foster home for Small Paws, YOU personally could be held liable if your foster dog were to injure anyone.

Small Paws is unable to be insured for liability as we have over 800 foster homes across the country, and this insurance is available only for programs that have a central shelter. There is no one else who has ever done what SPR has done, on the scale that we have.

For this reason, we absolutely must look for any signs of aggression, and remove those dogs from our adoption program before they are given the chance to injure anyone. When you report any signs of aggression, it does NOT mean that the dog will be euthanized.

We have a few Humane Societies across the country that know how hard we work to rescue and place Bichons. They understand that now that we have become so large, we may become the target of a potential law suit, and these groups are often willing to take some of these dogs and work with them.

Some of you have asked for clarification defining aggression. If you are picking up or fostering a Bichon for Small Paws, these are the things to watch for. These things also need to be immediately reported to the home office and to your Team Leader. In addition, if a dog is reportedly showing aggression in a shelter, we cannot take this dog into rescue with SPR. This is true even if we are told that the dog has “cage aggression” and is fine outside of a cage. We have been told this on numerous occasions in the past, only to find out it wasn’t always true.

Aggression Definitions:

1. Human aggression:

a. Any bites of human beings. (If a dog only shows aggression to one sex of humans or dogs, it still needs to be reported.)

b. Any nips of human beings.

c. Any snapping or attempted biting. (If a dog only shows aggression to a groomer, it still needs to be reported.)

d. Growling when accompanied by snapping, nipping or biting.

e. Lunging at human beings.

f. Showing teeth to human beings. (This behavior may precede an actual bite.)

2. Food aggression:

a. Food aggression is when a dog becomes aggressive protecting his food or treats. Food aggressive dogs can bite either human beings or other dogs. Both of these things need to be reported to us immediately.

3. Other dog aggression:

a. If you see your foster dog going after one of your dogs, consistently, this is dog aggression.

b. If one dog is ever hurt or injured by another, this is dog aggression and needs to be reported.

c. If a dog shows aggression only while getting his favorite treats, it still needs to be reported.

4. Cage Aggression:

a. This is true even if we are told that the dog has “cage aggression” and is fine outside of a cage. We have been told this on numerous occasions in the past, only to find out it wasn’t always true.

We have come dangerously close to being sued three times in the past year. None of these threatened suits were instigated by our own volunteers, but by outside parties, including a plumber, a medical health insurance company, and the non-custodial father of a child who was bitten in his Grandmother’s foster home. As I said, one of these cases was from the medical insurer of a child who was injured by one of our foster dogs. That child’s parent wrote the following letter, and asked that we share it with you.

Dear Robin,

I want to share with you my thoughts on what happened with my child after we took in a dog that showed minimal sign of aggression at the vet’s office.

We found this little stray and he was so scared and needed medical attention. He seemed calm and sweet when we picked him up and nothing seemed amiss.

We took him to our vet’s office for medical attention, shots, and whatever else he needed to allow him to come home with us.

When we went to take him home a couple of days later, the vet mentioned that the dog didn’t seem to like men as he growled and snapped in his kennel when men approached, but he was fine with the girls.

We presumed that the little dog was frightened at the vet’s office so our vet advised just to keep an eye out but felt it was safe to take the dog home.

Once home, the dog happily seemed to integrate with our dogs and was absolutely delightful.

I know, I know you told me to be careful. Now our 10 year old child is exceptional with animals and always has been. We advised our child of keeping distances and making sure not to unintentionally corner the dog.

Once that was all said and the better part of a day passed with the dog at our house, we felt it was safe for the dog to be in the same vicinity our child. We felt strongly that our child was quite savvy enough to keep distances, not corner the dog, keep hands away from his food, and let the little dog initiate the approach so he wouldn’t feel threatened in any way.

The dog showed no signs of aggression whatsoever toward any of us and even wanted to cuddle with us when we sat on the couch. After another 24 hours or so we had a couple of instances where he snarled or snapped only at me when I was dealing with feeding him in the kennel.

Surprisingly, all turned bad very quickly. Without warning the dog turned on my child jumping up and attacking her in the face, causing a puncture wound. My child has health complications and the biggest concern was dealing with potential complications that a dog bite could cause.

There was no time to comfort our child from all that had transpired or ease any concerns with respect to dogs in general. We rushed down to the hospital and spent the better part of the day at the ER. When all was said and done, our personal bills totaled close to $2000.00 for medical treatment. (Editor’s Note: Not to mention what was covered by the health insurance company)

Robin, please tell anyone considering fostering or adopting an aggressive dog that it isn’t worth it. I know myself and I know my child and never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that something like this would happen.

We are so careful, our child was savvy and protective, but that doesn’t matter because you just don’t know an animal’s history. They seem sweet and docile one moment and in the blink of an eye, I’m not kidding, it happens so quickly, next they can turn on you.

When a dog shows ANY, and I mean A-N-Y, signs of aggression that should be a HUGE red flag flashing “danger will Robinson, DANGER!”, run, do not walk, away from any notion in your head that you might foster this dog, that it will be ok around you or that you and your family know how to protect yourself.

If you love your children, your grandchildren, and if you love dogs, do the loving thing and do not bring an animal into the house that puts him/her in a position to harm someone you love.

Do not set yourself up for a liability either! If a neighbor or family friend had been at our home and was the recipient of the bite, and not my child, we could have been sued.

As much as we love dogs, we have to be realistic and logical and fair to everyone, including the animal. It is unfair to put an animal in that position as well.

We are so fortunate that our child was able to recuperate without serious consequence.

Another person may not be so lucky. I cannot stress enough how serious this matter is and I urge you to show this letter to anyone who might be considering taking in an animal that has shown a hint of aggression.

Please save them the grief that we went through, in addition to saving the financial expense. Robin, please for the sake of the hundreds of fluffs that Small Paws Rescue saves every year, and for the sake of all of your supporters and volunteers, please, please, please, I beg you and the Board to never put SPR legally at risk by taking in or placing an aggressive animal. It is not worth it! We we’re lucky (if you can call it that) but the next person may not be. Sincerely, Andrea>

For all of these reasons, we need to make sure that our Team Leaders pass this information onto on to each volunteer and that they understand the issue of aggressive dogs and how they pertain to Small Paws Rescue Inc.

With regard to this issue, our National Team Leader, Joanne Raus, sent this to us.

Finally, here are some links about dog bite liability. It is enough to curl your hair. Dog bites are the fastest growing type of personal injury lawsuits, today.


DOG BITE LAW – Buying, Selling, Rescuing and Adopting-Out Dogs

Dog bite lawsuits dog rescue – Google Search for “dog bite lawsuits dog rescue adoption”

Adopted dog bite lawsuits

Please let me know if you have any questions we have not covered here.


Robin Pressnall

Please re-read the following letter that was sent out to Team Leaders originally on October 5, 2006.