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California Animal Shelters must now keep dog bite records.
AB 588 will require shelters to list dog bite incidents for each dog. (Shutterstock)

Animal Shelters Must Now Report Dog Bite History Under New California Law

AB 588 will fine shelters who don’t comply

By Evan Symon, October 4, 2019 1:23 pm

Assembly Bill 588, which requires animal shelters to give the dog bite history of adopted dogs to new owners, was signed into law by Governor Newsom. 

AB 588 specifies that animal shelters or rescue groups also have to give the circumstances of each bite, which needs to break the skin to be reported, that is listed. The person buying or adopting the dog will need to sign a paper acknowledging they know about the history. If the shelter or group in question fails to give a history that they know about, then they can be fined up to $500.

Assemblyman Phillip Chen authored AB 588.

Assemblyman Phillip Chen (R-Brea) authored the bill following many complaints from people who had adopted dogs only to find that they were more inclined to bite at home. It is also a matter of safety, as many dog bites are reported to break the skin, with a possibility that it could become infected. The bill is designed to reduce that danger and give buyers and adopters the information to make a better choice.

The bill, which received bipartisan and unanimous support in both houses,  has also been supported by many rescue groups as well as family organizations for allowing them to know more about the dogs history beforehand.

“The temperament of the dog you’re looking for is a big part of the decision,” said Ellie Stowe, who helps run a dog adoption database. “This makes sense, and it can help lead to an informed decision. Someone who wants a more aggressive dog for, say, home protection, may want one who can bite, but if a family of four is going there for a house dog, they need to know that. If they go in blindly and pick a dog who has the propensity to bite, it may cause someone injury.”

The bill’s signing has been opposed by many shelters themselves, as getting a dog’s history is not always easy.

“We get these dogs off the street sometimes,” Glenn Kovich, a dog shelter worker in San Diego County, told the Globe. “We don’t know their history coming in. So for this new law, we need to keep constant reports on when their bites puncture the skin. That’s not the end of the world, but it doesn’t correctly give the dogs’ history out there. They may bite because they’re initially scared, or because they’re protecting pups. We need to list the reason, but we can’t give full context. Good and bad reasons for biting could be blurred.”

“And also, if we don’t file paperwork we’ll need to pay a fine of $500. That is a big chunk out of some shelters, but you know where the money goes to? Right back to the shelters. So we’d be essentially paying ourselves. Meaning fines are meaningless.”

“A lot of this bill was thought through, but not all of it, and we should have had a bill that wasn’t so open-ended or running around in a circle.”

AB 588, now a law, went into effect immediately, and all dogs in shelters and rescues will need to start reporting biting incidents.

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