Do I have to let a dog bite me before using deadly force to protect myself? When can I shoot an attacking animal, and what crimes could I be charged with? Now, the most basic question, perhaps the most important that we have to answer with this topic, is can I legally use deadly force against an attacking animal?
Yes, you absolutely can. When it comes to the laws of the use of force and even deadly force to defend yourself, someone else, or property against an attacking animal in Georgia, the statutes are a mixture of different laws and they’re not contained in just one section of statutes. Recall that there is no general defense against animal statute in Georgia. We’re dealing with several different avenues where potentially you could be justified.
To begin with, the standard laws of justification would prevail. In other words, if you believe that you must act to prevent death or great bodily injury, then you would be justified potentially in the amount of force that you used against a potential animal attack.
Georgia has no dedicated self-defense or defense of others statute that deals with all animals. But statutes do exist that justify acts against animals in general, and more specifically, statutes that grant freedom from liability for acts committed against animals involved in specific conduct.
Now, you may be legally justified in using force or deadly force, as in firing a weapon, against an attacking animal if you reasonably believe that such act is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of injury or damage to any person, or animal, or property.
While the general theory of justification under the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 16-3-21 would apply to a defense of animal attack, the cruelty to animal statute or that subsection would discharge an individual of any criminal responsibility for the death of an animal after he or she shot that animal so long as that person felt it necessary to protect himself or herself from an imminent threat of injury.
Now, the code section also says this: a person who humanely injures or kills an animal under the circumstances indicated in this subsection shall incur no civil liability or criminal responsibility for such injury or death. That is the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 16-12-4(h)(3).
The law on permitted action appears to become broader when it pertains just specifically to dogs. While the justification provisions of the cruelty to animals statute that we just went through absolve an individual from criminal responsibility for the death of an animal when necessary against an imminent threat, the cruelty to dog statute arguably lowers the threshold for freedom from liability for killing a dog, only requiring a showing that an individual has defended his or her person or property from injury or damage. We’re talking about the Official Code of Georgia Annotated 4-8-5. This is the cruelty to dogs statute. Again, it arguably lowers the level of danger in order to respond, only requiring a showing that an individual has defended his or her property or person from injury or damage caused by a dog.
This is the language of that statute. No person shall perform a cruel act on any dog, nor shall any person harm, maim, or kill any dog or attempt to do so, except that a person may defend his or her person or property or the person or property of another from injury or damage being caused by a dog or kill any dog causing injury or damage to any livestock, poultry, or pet animal.
Can we protect ourselves from an animal attack? Yes. Under the general theory of justification, you can do so. Under the cruelty to animals statute, you can do so. And, under the cruelty to dogs statute, you can do so. General theories of justification when death or great bodily injury is perceived under the cruelty to animals statute when there is an imminent threat to person or property and under the cruelty to dogs statute when person or property may be potentially damaged, then you can protect yourself under any of those theories by the use of force or even deadly force. If you do so, your actions must be as humane as is possible under those circumstances, but you can protect yourself.
Now, if you are charged, you can be charged with cruelty to animals. You can be charged with cruelty to dogs. But under those specific statutes, there are subsections that grant you civil and criminal immunity if you act according to the law.