Dangerous or Vicious Dogs Laws in California
A state statutory procedure for declaring a dog potentially dangerous or vicious is set forth by the Food and Agricultural Code, including petition, notice, and a hearing by the appropriate municipal court or administrative hearing entity. (Food & Agr. Code, 31621 et seq.)
A dog determined to be vicious may be destroyed if it is found that the release of the dog would create a significant threat to the public health, safety, and welfare. (Id. at 31645, subd. (a).)
If the order made at the original hearing is appealed, the court hearing the appeal must conduct a hearing de novo, without a jury, and make its own determination as to the dog's potential danger and viciousness. (Id. at 31622.)
However, this legislation does not evince an intent to occupy the entire field of the regulation and disposition of vicious and dangerous dogs to the exclusion of local legislation on the subject. To the contrary, Food and Agricultural Code section 31683 expressly provides that a city or county is free to adopt and enforce its own program for the control of potentially dangerous or vicious dogs that may incorporate "all, part, or none" of the state statutory provisions.
Food and Agricultural Code section 31683 reads: "Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent a city or county from adopting or enforcing its own program for the control of potentially dangerous or vicious dogs that may incorporate all, part, or none of this chapter, or that may punish a violation of this chapter as a misdemeanor or may impose a more restrictive program to control potentially dangerous or vicious dogs, provided that no program shall regulate these dogs in a manner that is specific as to breed."
Reasonably construed, section 31683 gives a local government the discretion to proceed under its own program for the disposition of potentially dangerous and vicious dogs, to proceed under the program outlined by the state statutory provisions, or proceed under a combination of the two.
San Francisco has adopted its own program with detailed procedures for the disposition of vicious and dangerous dogs. (Health Code, 42 et seq.)
Unlike the state statutory provisions providing for a trial de novo on appeal, under the Health Code the hearing officer's determination is final, making a petition for a writ of administrative mandamus to the superior court the only appellate remedy. (Health Code, 42.3, subd. (c)(iv).)