You are out taking a walk in your neighborhood and suddenly an apparently vicious dog comes running toward you growling and showing its teeth.
All you have for protection is your legally-carried handgun. Is the dog really dangerous and will it actually attack? You have a decision to make in a split second. What are your options? Should you stand your ground and let the dog attack/bite you, attempt to avoid the attack by running knowing that you cannot outrun it, or should you draw your handgun and use deadly force by shooting the dog?
Does the self-defense law apply to dog attacks and will it protect you? Do you have to be bitten first before you respond with deadly force?This is almost a daily situation faced by joggers and people out walking, and there is little time to react. There are many things to consider in a short period of time.
- Was the risk of serious bodily injury or even death by this dog imminent?
- Was this a “dangerous dog” by definition?
- What signs did you observe that led you to believe it was an aggressive, vicious dog that was about to hurt or kill you?
- What is the potential extent of your injuries and medical bills?
- Is discharging a gun in the city limits a crime?
- Is it animal cruelty if I shoot?
Vernon’s Annotated Missouri Statutes. Title XVII. Agriculture and Animals. Chapter 273. Dogs—Cats.
Here is what the law in Missouri is:
273.033. Killing or injuring a dog–reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful contact
1. In any action for damages or a criminal prosecution against any person for killing or injuring a dog, a showing by a preponderance of the evidence that such person was in reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful contact by the dog or was acting to prevent such imminent harmful contact against another person by the dog shall constitute an absolute defense to criminal prosecution or civil liability for the killing or injuring of such animal.
2. If a person has, on at least two occasions, complained to the county sheriff or to the appropriate animal control authority in his or her jurisdiction that a dog, not on a leash, has trespassed on property that such person owns, rents, or leases or on any property that constitutes such person’s residence, and when at least one of the prior two complaints was motivated by reasonable apprehension for such person’s safety or the safety of another person or apprehension of substantial damage to livestock or property, then any subsequent trespass by such dog shall constitute prima facie evidence that such person was in reasonable apprehension of imminent harmful contact. The county sheriff or animal control authority to which any complaint under this section is made shall notify the owner of the alleged trespassing dog of such complaint. Failure by a county sheriff or animal control authority to notify a dog owner under this subsection shall not invalidate or be construed in any way to limit any other provision of this subsection.
3. The court shall award attorney’s fees, court costs, and all reasonable expenses incurred by the defendant in defense of any criminal prosecution or in any civil action brought by a plaintiff if the court finds that the defendant has an absolute defense as provided in subsection 1 of this section.
4. This section shall not be construed to provide an absolute defense to a person who is engaged in or attempting to engage in a criminal activity at the time of the apprehension of imminent harmful contact, or to a person for any damage or injury to any person or property other than the dog itself that may result from actions taken in an attempt to injure or kill such dog.
“In Missouri, if you get attacked by a dog or see someone else being attacked, you are lawfully allowed to shoot the dog,” says US. Law Shield Independent Firearms Program Attorney John Schleiffarth.
“The key word is imminent”, he adds, “so you do not have to wait until you are actually bitten to defend yourself. However, your apprehension of an attack must be reasonable under the circumstances and you may have to be able to articulate that fear before a jury if charges are filed.”
“The good news is,” Schleiffarth continues, “that if you are successful in your defense, you will be awarded your attorney’s fees and court costs in any criminal or civil case brought against you.”
Schleiffrth warns that “if the neighbor’s dog is annoying you by barking at you, and the dog has never bitten anyone, and you have no reasonable belief that it is about to bite you, you do not get to shoot the annoying dog. That dog is probably someone’s family pet. You may be subjected to both criminal and civil charges and will have to bear the cost of your attorney’s fees.”
So there you have it. In Missouri, you have the legal right to defend yourself using deadly force against an attacking dog.