When Dogs Injure Livestock
In the eyes of the law, injuring economically valuable livestock is traditionally a more serious matter than injuring a person. Strict liability statutes (which make an owner liable just because he owns a dog, not because he is at fault in any way) are relatively new when it comes to personal injury caused by dogs, but for years dog owners have been strictly liable for damage done to livestock. Many states that still don't impose strict liability for injury to persons do impose strict liability if the dog injures livestock. In at least one state, Minnesota, a dog owner is even guilty of a minor criminal offense—a petty misdemeanor—if the dog kills or pursues domestic livestock. (Minn. Stat. § 347.01(b).)
The two cardinal rules, which apply almost everywhere, are:
- A livestock owner is free to kill a dog that is killing, wounding, chasing, worrying, harassing, or attacking livestock. (See "When Killing a Dog Is Legally Justified.")
- A dog's owner or keeper is financially liable for any livestock damage the dog causes.
In some states, the dog's owner may be liable for double the amount of actual damages. In California, for example, the owner of livestock injured or killed by a dog may sue the dog's owner for twice the amount of the financial loss. (Cal. Food & Agric. Code § 31501.)
Several states have funds to reimburse farmers or ranchers who lose livestock to dogs. The animal owner must file a claim with the state, following procedures set out in the statute. To seek reimbursement from the Illinois Animal Control Fund, for example, an owner must:
- be an Illinois resident
- report the loss to the state within 24 hours, and
- appear before the County Board and make a sworn statement setting out how many animals were killed, their value, and the owner of the dog, if known. (510 Ill. Comp. Stat., § 5/19.)
The Board investigates and files a written report with the county treasurer, who makes payments once a year. Unless the county sets the amount to be paid at the reasonable market value, maximum amounts per injured or killed animal are set by state law.
The livestock owner may still sue the owner of the dog responsible for the damage. An amount equal to what the livestock owner has received from the Animal Control Fund is simply deducted from what is awarded in court, if anything, and paid back to the fund.