The law must ensure that owner education begins before the selection of the dog. A person or family that wants a dog has the need for, and the right to receive, accurate information about the dogs being offered for adoption, including where a particular dog came from, its history of aggression toward people and other animals, its probable breed, the good and bad characteristics of its breed, its age and health.

The scope of the law should encompass any breeder, person, firm, company, organization, humane society, rescue group, adoption organization, animal shelter, pet store, or other person or legal entity that sells, transfers, adopts-out, offers or provides any dog for any purpose, including without limitation ownership, guardianship, custody or fostering of the dog.

New owners also should receive general advice about the care of their dog, including the following points:

  • Pick a dog that is right for your household.
  • Train the dog, hopefully with a professional trainer or at least some classes given by the city.
  • Learn the behavioral characteristics of the dog you are thinking of getting. Some dogs are too big and too powerful for small apartments or small children. Other dogs will bond only with one member of the family and will be a threat to the other members.

There is nothing new to this concept. Instructions and warnings are part of everyday, modern life. Electrical cords warn of shock, plastic bags of suffocation; trucks beep when they back up. Just about everything comes with advice, instructions and warnings. Many activities have their own safety attire (like batting helmets) or special rules (like adult supervision of playgrounds). The courts have mandated warnings about:

  • Violent kids (Ellis v. D'Angelo (1953) 116 Cal.App.2d 310, upheld a cause of action against parents who failed to warn a baby-sitter of the violent proclivities of their child.
  • Violent foster children (Johnson v. State of California (1968) 69 Cal.2d 782 upheld a suit against the state for  failure to warn foster parents of the dangerous tendencies of their ward.)
  • The release of dangerous prisoners (Morgan v. County of Yuba (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 938 sustained a cause of action against a sheriff who had promised to warn decedent before releasing a dangerous prisoner, but failed to do so.

Here are the top causes of childhood emergency-room injuries:

Cause of injury  Emergency room incidents annually Comes with warnings or safety attire?
Baseball/softball  404,364 Yes, safety attire.
Dog bites 333,687 No.
Playground accidents  268,810 No, but adults usually supervise.
All-terrain vehicles, mopeds, etc. 125,136 Yes, warnings.
Volleyball 97,523 Yes, safety attire.
Inline skating  75,994 Yes, warnings and safety attire.
Horseback riding 71,162 Yes, safety attire exists.
Baby walkers 28,000 Yes, warnings.
Skateboards 25,486 Yes, safety attire.

(Source: Journal of the American Medical Association. See also When, where and why kids get bit.)

You'd think the second highest thing that injures children would come with warnings too! But you can go to an adoption group, rescue organization, pet store, etc., buy a dog like a pit bull, Akita or Chow-chow, and not receive or have to demonstrate any knowledge about it. You don't have to consider whether it is correct for your household (should Presa Canarios be confined in a small apartment, or will doing so make them crazy?). You don't leave the place knowing any more than when you walked in.

That has to change. Legislation on the state level is urgently required.