Can I file a complaint against a vicious dog even if it has never bitten anyone?

Yes, it's possible to file a dangerous dog complaint even if the dog hasn't bitten anyone yet. Des Moines follows a two-tier system for regulating vicious and dangerous dogs. If a dog is declared either vicious or dangerous, the city can take steps to protect the safety of its citizens.

Vicious dogs are defined under Sec. 18-41 of the Des Moines, IA Municipal Code as a dog that meets one of the following conditions:

  • any dog which has attacked a human being or domestic animal without provocation; 
  • any dog with a tendency to attack, to cause injury or to endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals;
  • any dog that snaps or bites;
  • any dog that has been trained for dog fighting or other animal fighting;
  • any dog trained to attack humans, upon command or spontaneously in response to human activities, except police dogs;
  • is one of the specified dog breeds: Staffordshire terrier, American pit bull terrier, or American Staffordshire terrier, or has the appearance of such a dog.

Under this definition, dogs that growl, bark, become rigid or otherwise appear threatening can be labeled vicious. Also, if a dog harms a person in ways other than biting, like knocking them down or clawing at their face, it can be declared vicious by the city.

Not every vicious dog is a hurtful dog, however. Perfectly docile pit bulls and Staffordshire terriers are preemptively labeled vicious by the city. Des Moines has decided in the law that these dogs have a predisposition to violence. If a dog is more violent, it can be labeled a dangerous dog.

To be declared dangerous under Sec. 18-196 of the Des Moines, IA Municipal Code, the dog must:

  • bite or claw a person on two separate occasions within a 12-month period;
  • bite or claw once causing injuries above the shoulders;
  • could not be controlled or restrained by the owner at the time of the attack;
  • attack any domestic animal or fowl on three or more separate occasions; or
  • has killed any domestic animal while off of the owner's property.

Many of these conditions require the dog to seriously attack a person or animal on more than one occasion. Some of them include the dog inflicting grave injuries, like ones to the head, face and neck. So if a dog did not attack, you cannot have it declared dangerous.

How do I file the claim?

Des Moines contracts with the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Iowa to provide animal control and rescue services. To file the claim, call the ARL and describe the dog to them. They will investigate the claim and make a determination about the dog. The agency staffs three officers from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 7 days a week.

To reach the ARL, you can call 515-243-4526 or 515-284-6905 during on-duty times. The emergency number for the agency is 515-283-4811 and can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What will happen to the dog?

Vicious dogs are subject to regulations by the city including a separate license, $100,000 liability insurance policy requirement, and special rules that keep the animal confined in a house, structure or on a leash.

Additionally, if the Chief Humane Officer doesn't believe in the reasonableness of the owner maintaining the dog, they can have the dog put down. Dangerous dogs are seized by the Chief Humane Officer after three days of the declaration and impounded for seven days or until seven days after an appeal upholds the declaration of the dog as dangerous. If the declaration is reversed on appeal, the owner will get the dog back.

If you'd like to learn more about dog bites, download Walker, Billingsley & Bair's dog bite eBook. You can also call our office at 888-435-9886 to speak about a dog bite lawsuit.

Corey Walker
With over 20 years legal experience, Corey has been recognized for his work as an injury attorney.