It is dangerous to defend dogs and other animals from attack. If you intervene in a dog fight and receive a bite, for example, you will suffer pain, possible disability and possible disfigurement. The owner of the other dog may assert that your own dog bit you. For more information about injuries in such an attack, see below, Legal rights of a person who is injured while defending a person or pet from attack.
The legal consequences vary, depending on the state and the circumstances. For that reason, you are reminded again that you must seek the advice of an attorney if you have defended your dog against a dog attack. Only very general information can be provided here.
In California, people have a statutory right to kill dogs that attack certain listed animals, and a common-law right to defend their other domestic animals from attack under most circumstances. Other states have laws that are similar in nature; however, the list of animals might be different, so the laws have to be read carefully.
California provides a privilege to kill any animal that is worrying, wounding or killing certain other animals. California Civil Code section 3341, subdivision 2, states that any person can kill any animal (including a dog) that is off the premises of the owner and is worrying, wounding or killing certain listed animals:
3341, subd. 2. Any person on finding any dog or dogs, or other animal, not on the premises of the owner or possessor of such dog or dogs, or other animal, worrying, wounding, or killing any bovine animals, swine, horses, mules, burros, sheep, angora or cashmere goats, may, at the time of finding such dog or dogs, or other animal, kill the same, and the owner or owners thereof shall sustain no action for damages against any person so killing such dog or dogs, or other animal.
If a dog comes into your backyard and is killing your pet rabbit, you cannot kill the dog and claim a privilege under this statute, because rabbits are not listed. However, your fault (if any) for killing the dog would be compared with the fault of the dog owner. While you would not be entitled to claim a privilege to kill, a jury might decide that you nevertheless acted reasonably, or that the dog owner was principally at fault. This is because there is a common law privilege for defending domestic animals from attack:"
The section [Civil Code sec. 3341] was not intended to, nor does it, abridge the common law right of a person to defend his domestic animals against the attacks of dogs, or to kill such dogs when the circumstances warrant the belief that his property is in peril. At the common law the justification for the killing was complete when it appeared that the dog was engaged in worrying and terrifying domestic animals in their own lawful enclosure, and where the necessity of the killing in order to protect the property was apparent." (Sabin v. Smith (1915) 26 Cal.App. 676, 678-9.)
The right to kill a dog or other animal that is attacking a domestic animal is not affected by consideration of which animal is more valuable. " The right to kill a dog found trespassing and endangering property is not affected by the relative value of the dog and the property being injured." (Sabin v. Smith (1915) 26 Cal.App. 676, 680.)
In some states it is legal to kill a vicious dog that is running at large. For example, the law of Alaska makes it legal to kill a dog if (a) it "has ever bitten or attacked a human being" when "unprovoked", and (b) is running at large:
Sec. 03.55.010. Killing of vicious or mad dog authorized.
Any person may lawfully kill any vicious or mad dog running at large.
Sec. 03.55.020. Dogs deemed vicious.
Any dog which when unprovoked has ever bitten or attacked a human being is considered vicious within the meaning of AS 03.55.010.
The compensation the owner of the injured dog may be entitled to receive is discussed in Compensation for Injury to or Death of a Dog.