We are often asked about attacks by dogs. Can you shoot a dog that is approaching you aggressively? Do you have to wait for it to bite before defending yourself? What level of force can you use to defend yourself against a dog or other animal? If you are out jogging or walking your dog and another dog approaches in an aggressive manner, teeth bared, snarling, do you have a right to stand your ground and use deadly force to protect yourself and your dog? Most people are surprised to learn that nowhere in Florida law do our statutes give authority to use force of any kind against an animal if being attacked. Instead, Floridians must rely on case law and the animal cruelty statute. Our law prohibits the killing of an animal unnecessarily.
The relevant part of the animal cruelty law states that a person who unnecessarily mutilates or kills any animal, commits animal cruelty, a misdemeanor of the first degree, which is punishable by up to a year in jail. Further, a person who intentionally commits an act which results in the cruel death or excessive or repeated infliction of unnecessary pain or suffering, commits aggravated animal cruelty, a felony of the third degree punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine up to $5,000. Necessity is an affirmative defense in Florida. For actions to be found necessary, the following requirements must be met:
- The actor reasonably believed a danger or an emergency existed which was not intentionally caused by him or herself.
- The danger or emergency threatened significant harm to himself, herself, or a third person.
- The threat and harm must have been real, imminent, and impending.
- The actor had no reasonable means to avoid the danger or emergency, except by committing the crime.
- The crime charged must have been committed out of necessity to avoid the danger or emergency.
- The harm that the actor avoided must outweigh the harm caused by committing the crime.
Unfortunately, even though Florida law specifically tells us we can stand our ground against attacks from other humans, it is silent on animal attacks, leaving the fate of those who defend themselves against animal attack in the hands of a jury; who must decide if the defender’s action were necessary under the circumstances. Further, the cases show us the force used can only be as much as is necessary to stop the attack. If you shot a pit bull attacking you and one shot stops the attack, as the animal turns to flee, you cannot shoot again or your actions may be considered unnecessary and therefore in violation of the animal cruelty statute. If you have further questions about using force to defend yourself against a dog or other attacking animal, please give U.S. LawShield a call and ask to be connected to your Independent Program Attorney.