Have you ever been chased down by an aggressive dog? Do you have to let that dog bite you before you defend yourself with force or deadly force?
One of the oddities about Texas law is that there’s no specific legal justification that allows you to defend yourself from an attacking dog. Texas law details a slew of other areas where you’re legally justified in using deadly force, such as preventing murder, sexual assault, or carjacking, but contains nothing when it comes to defending yourself or your loved ones from a marauding dog attack.
In fact, Texas specifically recognizes your right to protect your livestock, fowl, or domestic animal against such an attack, but says nothing about humans. The Texas Health and Safety Code says, “A dog or a coyote that is attacking, is about to attack, or has recently attacked livestock, domestic animals, or fowls, may be killed by any person witnessing the attack, or the attacked animal’s owner, or a person acting on behalf of the owner, if the owner or person has knowledge of the attack.”
Does that sound like your domestic animals and livestock have more rights when it comes to dog attacks? It’s because they do. The Texas legislature has declined to remedy this problem in the past, though we can always hope that 2019 might bring some positive change. Fortunately though, Texas provides some protection for your actions through the defense of necessity. This is a defense, not a bar to prosecution, and it has a lot more bark than it does bite.
Boiled down, the Law of Necessity says that your actions are legally justified if you reasonably believe your conduct was immediately necessary to prevent imminent harm, so long as the harm you prevented clearly outweighed the harm you cause, and the law doesn’t otherwise exclude this type of defense. But the defense of necessity is just that—a defense. It must be asserted in court. It may not stop the investigation, your arrest, or prosecution.
What crimes could you be charged with for shooting a dog? There’s a variety of Texas crimes that you could be charged with, including animal cruelty, deadly conduct, and disorderly conduct. On top of that, depending on where the incident occurred, you could be charged with discharge of a firearm in certain municipalities.
Here’s the good news: if you do happen to be charged with one of these offenses, your lawyer will bound into action with your necessity defense. Though this defense may be ultimately up to a jury of your peers, it’s a strong legal argument in your favor. So, if a dog is about to attack you or another person, you can rely on necessity to shoot that dog.
You don’t have to wait for the dog’s teeth to sink in before necessity kicks in. The law only requires that the threat be imminent, but you must exercise extreme caution if you plan to rely on the defense of necessity. Police and prosecutors rarely evaluate a case with this little-known defense in mind. That means we see justified, law-abiding folks getting arrested, even when they’re in the right, and put into the position of asserting the defense to a jury.
If you have any questions about defending yourself against an attacking dog, call Texas LawShield and ask to speak to an Independent Program Attorney.