Differences Between Animal Control Orders and Judicial Orders

There are several possible remedies for dangerous dogs, including an animal control proceeding or “dangerous dog hearing,” a court order such as an injunction or statutory remedy imposed by a court, and remedies which are civil in nature, such as claims against the dog owner for the payment of compensation, eviction from leased premises, etc. The focus of this section is on the difference between animal control orders and judicial orders.

Under a properly drafted dangerous dog ordinance or statute, the animal control department or an administrative hearing officer can often issue orders pertaining to the dog itself. For example, the bench officer at a dog court proceeding might be empowered to order the destruction of the dog.

The ordinance or statute usually gives the animal control department specific powers to enforce such an order. Those powers might include coming onto the property of the dog owner, seizing the dog and related items such as things used for dog fighting, and other authorizations. This often contrasts sharply with what a judge can do.

When a judge issues an order, and the order is not complied with, the remedy is a conviction of being in contempt of court. In other words, when a judge orders a dog destroyed or confined in a certain manner, a person’s failure to do as ordered is punished with jail or a fine. The court cannot send someone to pick up the dog unless there is a specific ordinance or statute empowering the judge to direct animal control or the police to the dog owner’s home for that purpose.

Because of the constitutional separation of powers — meaning the equality that every branch of government has with the other branches — a judge usually cannot order animal control to do anything, without being empowered by a specific statute. The judge operates under the judicial branch, and animal control is under the executive branch. These are equal branches of government that cannot order each other to do anything. However, the judge has full power to order the arrest and incarceration of a person who violates a law or is in contempt of court. That is because the penal statutes grant that power to judges, authorizing them to issue arrest warrants and to direct the sheriff to keep a person in jail for specific length of time.

Therefore, when animal control issues the order, the remedy can actually relate directly to the dog, meaning its confinement or even euthanasia. When a court issues orders to the dog owner, the remedy is to have the dog owner prosecuted and thrown in jail or fined or both. These are very different remedies, in that one is against the dog and the other is against the dog’s owner.

This can have important ramifications in dog bite cases. Most cases involve a friend, family member or relative. If animal control gets involved, the dog can be dealt with directly. However, if there is an inadequate dangerous dog ordinance or statute, and the court has to issue the order regarding the dog, it is possible that the reluctance to see a friend, family member or relative thrown in jail can result in the order being a useless act.