dog playing with stick

Statewide Challenges Lawyers Face in Aggressive Animal Law Cases

Article Reviewed By Justin McMinn, JD
Justin McMinn is a lead personal injury attorney at McMinn Law Firm.


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Update: City of Austin Officials Considering Change to Aggressive Animal Rules

City-level code revisions could protect the community from a very small number, but physically threatening number of dogs.(1)

The Animal Advisory Commission in Austin has proposed rollbacks to changes made by Austin City Council in October of 2019. The largely controversial ordinance they want to change prevents Austin animal shelters from euthanizing an animal without first giving two days notice to other shelters.

A proposed exception would give shelters the authority to euthanize dogs for humane reasons or if an animal is seen as an immediate threat to others.

A member of the Animal Advisory Commission of Austin told the Austin Monitor that out of the 18,841 dogs and cats taken into Austin animal shelters in 2019, the proposed exception would have applied to three dogs.

A dog attack on an Austin Animal Shelter employee provoked the Animal Advisory Commission to review the language in Austin’s latest animal ordinance.

In November of last year an employee of Austin Animal Center was bit by Snowball, a resident dog of the center with a known history of aggressive and biting behavior. That weekend Snowball was euthanized. The employee was hospitalized over the weekend with serious injuries.

Following the attack, in January members of the Animal Advisory Commission formed a work group to evaluate ways of forming an exception to the city’s two-day euthanasia notice.

The group proposed a couple of exceptions to the rule:

  • In cases where an animal bites a shelter employee or community member without provocation
  • Or in cases where the animal is seen as an immediate threat to others.

Those close to the incident say that they could have prevented the serious injuries suffered by an Austin Animal Center employee with one of these amendments.

City Council has not yet considered the ordinance because no member has sponsored it.


Reports of Dangerous Dogs Adopted Out of Austin Animal Center

In September of 2019, KXAN News reported about dangerous dog adoptions out of Austin Animal Center.(2) The staff says they keep detailed records of the animals.

KXAN received multiple reports of Austin citizens who claim that their own pets were brutally attacked by animals adopted from the shelter.

Dogs with histories of aggressive behavior are said to be adopted out of the shelter, including one dog that killed another dog while the owners were away.

In some cases where dogs that have suffered severe psychological damage rehab may not be a viable option. An amendment to the ordinance is an effort to protect the public from danger.

Multiple jurisdictions? How a lack of communication among municipalities makes for a complicated landscape for dog bite victims – and their lawyers.

The nuances of dog bite law among different jurisdictions in Texas can make successfully filing a claim more complicated. In this post, we discuss a lawsuit we filed in which it was possible for a Bee Caves woman to maintain custody of dogs with a history of violent attacks. Dog bite victims can experience hardship after a case that’s unrelated to the bite. Attorneys need to be well-versed in the complications that can arise in dog bite cases.

Three things you need to know about Texas dog bite cases:

  • Many face challenges reporting animal attacks – leaving many unreported to authorities.
  • Dangerous dogs aren’t always surrendered or removed from the custody of a negligent owner.
  • A lack of communication between Texas municipalities can leave communities at risk of encounter with dangerous dogs.

Under state law, a “dangerous” dog falls under two definitions:(4)
(A) makes an unprovoked attack on a person that causes bodily injury and occurs in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own;  or
(B) commits unprovoked acts in a place other than an enclosure in which the dog was being kept and that was reasonably certain to prevent the dog from leaving the enclosure on its own and those acts cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person.

Few cases garner such attention as that of a 2019 dog attack that happened in Lakeway. Our client, Erica Curtis, suffered severe injuries when a pair of unleashed dogs attacked her and her dog on a hiking trail. The dogs were owned by Lakeway resident Patricia Stanford. What made this case stand out was the dogs storied past of previous vicious attacks.

Violent Bee Caves Dogs at a Glance

Between 2014 and 2019, dog owner Patricia Stanford was at the center of 5 different dogs attacks and three different incidents involving her dogs. Despite police reports, news reports, orders to have her dogs moved, and more, Stanford still maintained custody of violent dogs.

Even after multiple attacks, Patricia Stanford maintained care of animals and allowed them to roam in the neighborhood and attacking a neighbor’s dog. Read more about this case at McMinnLaw.com.

Deep Dive into the Aggressive Pit Bulls in Bee Caves

News of the case broke on several Austin media outlets when a lawsuit was filed on May 29 against dog owner, Patricia Stanford. This was the second time Stanford’s dogs were in the news for vicious attacks.(5)

Several other dog bites were reported about Stanford’s dogs. A reporter from KXAN, Kevin Clark, included footage in the report of Melissa Melot. Her dog and a man who attempted to help were attacked by one of Stanford’s dogs in a dog park. Previously, Stanford’s dogs had bitten a tenant in her home as well as a neighbor’s dog.

Despite being involved in multiple previous attacks, the dogs were still being walked off-leash and out of sight of Stanford. In her account, Curtis says that the dogs came running up and it took some time for the owner to arrive. Curtis claimed that they were safe, but a long 20 minute drawn out fight occurred between the pair of pit bulls, Curtis, and her dog.

Since the horrific accident, Curtis has had to undergo several surgeries to repair her hand. Her dog, Boomskie, was so injured veterinarians were not sure that he would make it. Fortunately, her dog survived the attack and both have been able to go through recovery.

The dog owner, Patricia Stanford, recently passed away on December 3, 2019 at 67 years of age. Her obituary states that her health had been declining for several years. Patricia Stanford lived in Bee Caves, but during the attack she was walking her dogs unleashed at a park in Lakeway.

Despite a history of dangerous attacks, no protection for Lakeway or Bee Caves residents.
  • January 21, 2014: An incident was reported involving Stanford’s dogs.
  • December 29, 2014: An incident was reported involving Stanford’s dogs.
  • 2016: Stanford was issued a citation for dogs at large, or unleashed.
  • April 3, 2018: Attack in Bee Caves Off-Leash Dog Park A dog named Astro, owned by Melissa Melot, was attacked at a dog park. Melot says that the dog attacked Astro unprovoked. A man who attempted to separate the dogs suffered a hand injury. Astro suffered a punctured eardrum and wounds to the neck and head. Following the attack, Stanford’s dog was quarantined by Animal Control for 10 days. Bee Cave Police say that Stanford was banned from the city’s dog park following the attack.
  • Curtis case 2019 A woman, Erica Curtis, was attacked by two off-leash Pitbulls along a community hiking trail in Lakeway. Both Curtis and her dog were seriously injured during the attack.
  • Dog Bite Law: Challenges in Reporting Dog Bites and Communication Among Jurisdictions

    Unfortunately, challenges for dog bite victims don’t stop at treatment for injuries. When lawyers handle dog bite injury cases, they face the reality that dog bite law is governed differently across jurisdictions that don’t communicate with each other. Dog bite victims often face challenges when reporting bites to authorities.

    Reporting the Bee Caves Attack

    In Curtis’ case, she found that reporting the attack required diligence, and extensive effort. Some municipalities require dog bites to be reported at the scene of the incident. But dog bites require immediate medical attention. And understaffing can mean that a qualified person may not be immediately available to investigate the claims.

    Because of the challenges involved, some dog attacks go unreported. In the City of Austin, a victim has to initiate a hearing to determine whether the dog is dangerous.

    Since the lawsuit has been filed, Erica Curtis has conducted a hearing with city authorities to report the circumstances of the attack. She was told that she should have stayed at the scene of the attack to report the bite to authorities, but Curtis had sustained serious injuries and needed to seek immediate medical attention.

    Because Erica Curtis required immediate medical attention, getting the reports for a hearing proved onerous for Curtis. It took months before the dogs were removed from the custody of Stanford.

    Communication Among Jurisdictions

    For instance, after the attack at Austin Bible Church, authorities in Lakeway did not label the dogs as “dangerous” after Curtis was injured. The City of Austin reports a registry online of dangerous dogs. But often the lists of dangerous dogs published online are incomplete.

    The jurisdiction where the attack happens must reside over an incident. In Curtis’ case, the attack happened in Travis County. However, at the time the dogs lived with Stanford in Lakeway. A lack of communication between jurisdictions can make dog attack reports more difficult.

    Following the attack, Lakeway Police Officer Andrea Grieg investigated the dogs. Grieg was contacted by Austin Animal Control about the dogs because they reside in her municipality.

    Three previous times the dogs were involved in reported attacks, but none triggered the designation of dangerous dog under Texas state law. All because they weren’t reported in the same place.


    Across Texas, Dog Bites Go Under-Reported Endangering Lives

    But the problem is much bigger than just cases falling in central Texas.

    In most areas, reporting of bite is mandatory and following the bite, quarantine of the animal is mandatory. These rules act to protect people from dangerous animals and diseases. Quarantine is required because there are many diseases, including rabies, that can be transferred from animal to person through blood and saliva.

    State rules are spelled out in the Rabies Control Act of 1981.
    “A person who knows of an animal bite or scratch to an individual that the person could reasonably foresee as capable of transmitting rabies, or who knows of an animal that the person suspects is rabid, shall report the incident or animal to the local rabies control authority of the county or municipality in which the person lives, in which the animal is located, or in which the exposure occurs,” the law states.

    In some cases,(6) pet owners are required to quarantine their pets. But in many instances, dog bites go unreported and animals are not quarantined. The problem occurs when injured persons seek immediate medical attention and owners of dogs flee the scene.

    In a case inside the DFW airport,(7) a young boy was attacked by another passenger’s dog who was off leash and outside of a carrier. When the 2-year-old was bit in the face by a dog, his parents rushed him to an urgent care inside of the airport. But in the midst of the panic, the dog owner and pet simply walked away and no one formally reported the incident.

    Here, standard protocols were not followed. No animal control officer was on duty. And in response, an expert from the DFW airport says it doesn’t need to follow any local ordinances because it falls between multiple jurisdictions. Instead, the authority from the airport said that officers are suggested to use their best judgement.

    Dangerous Dog Lists
    Some cities fail to report which animals in their area are dangerous. For residents, it can be onerous and difficult to find info because not all registries are public. In some places, the location of dangerous dogs is kept a secret. Texas advocacy group, The Ones for Justice, have called out many cities in the state for keeping their dangerous dog registries offline or completely private.(8)

    Lawyers Have an Opportunity to Protect the Public from Harmful Dogs and Disease

    Dog owners of dangerous dogs have been known to keep their animals as a result of underreported dog attacks. Understaffed animal control services and a lack of communication between municipalities on dangerous animals put a burden on injured individuals to hold the dangerous dog owner accountable.

    A pet owner who was attacked in Kyle saw the effect of a local rule change after the vicious attack she experienced with her chihuahua.(9) Because of new rules passed by Kyle City Council, dog owners of dangerous dogs must pass go through and investigation and pass home inspections after an incident.

    Attorneys in Texas can help ease the burden of reporting dangerous animals. In dog bite cases, injured individuals may seek compensation to restore them from injuries. But in many cases, they may also seek reassurance that others may be saved from the horrific, traumatic event. Lawyers must use the authority of Texas law to hold negligent dog owners accountable.