Adopting a shelter dog is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, prospective adopters do not always receive much information about a dog’s life and behavior before it entered the shelter. Instead, choosing a forever pet is about making a connection and picking a breed and size that fits the adopter’s lifestyle. But when shelters do have knowledge that a dog has bitten someone in the past, should the facility disclose that information? Under a new California law, sharing those facts is now a legal requirement.

California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed into law AB No. 588, which requires an animal shelter or rescue group to disclose in writing when it has knowledge that a dog over the age of four months bit a person and broke that person’s skin. The shelter must share the dog’s bite history and the circumstances related to the bite before releasing the dog to a new owner. When a person decides to adopt a dog with a bite history, the law requires the shelter to obtain a signed acknowledgment that the adopter has received this information.

This law adds to the already stringent legislation in California meant to prevent dog attacks and protect those who are bitten. California Civil Code section 3342 imposes strict liability on dog owners, which means that an owner is liable for damages if his or her dog bites another person who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place. This law stands regardless of whether or not the owner knew if the dog had previously acted viciously. A person who is attacked by a dog may file a claim to seek compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and more.

California animal shelters took in more than 400,000 pets in 2019 alone. With overpopulated facilities and limited resources, it’s no wonder that shelters aim to rehome as many pets as possible. Offering up information about a past bite incident could, of course, hinder a dog from being easily adopted. But preparing prospective adopters with the facts has the potential to prevent future dog bite incidents.

For more information on California dog attack laws, visit our legal resources.

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