The Expert Witness Role in Dog Bite Cases

Expert witnesses in animal injury cases – particularly ones that are high profile or controversial – must be able to step back from the media whirlwind, evaluate events and the dog’s behavior objectively, be meticulous about fact checking, and not take anything for granted.

A good example is the current case in our home state of Colorado.  (All of this information is available online, see sources at end of article).  Back in November 2012 two dogs that were apparently known to each other got in a fight in their backyard.  One dog was identified as an American Allaunt named Dutch and the other a pit bull.  The bite victim in the case attempted to break up the fight and had to resort to hitting Dutch, the larger dog, in the face with a tiki pole after other intervention attempts failed.

After Dutch was brought into the house, he launched an attack on the victim that resulted in severe injuries – several bites went to the bone, and one resulted in a compound fracture of her finger and a severed artery.  Dutch continued to try to get to her after she was able to confine herself to the bedroom and call for help. Dutch re-launched his attack on the pit bull when it was brought into the home after help arrived (we know, sounds like the scene was not well managed, but we also know how people often aren’t thinking straight in the middle of a crisis).  You can read the official account of the incident at the City of Montrose’s website HERE.

After the attack the dog’s owners registered Dutch as a service dog (anyone can list any dog on this registry).  This action was apparently done in an attempt to avoid or mitigate the penalties the court could impose on the charge of harboring a vicious animal.  The efforts to have Dutch become a service dog all happened after the attack.  There is no evidence that Dutch was anything other than a pet, no evidence (even from the owner) that Dutch ever performed in the role of a service dog, had any training for specific tasks to assist his owner, or any evidence his owner even needed a service dog.

But the case has been mis-represented on the web and by several media outlets as a service dog that bit a woman after she beat it with a pole.   Clearly, that’s not the entire or even the accurate story.  You can read the online firestorm that has resulted, but we’d recommend first going to the City of Montrose website which gives an account based on physical evidence and testimony. 

What would you do if you were asked to serve as an expert in this case? Would you want to become involved to try to bring some rationality and science based information to the case, but be intimidated by the really ugly comments online?   Offering an opinion or analysis that was not in favor of Dutch opens one up for vicious verbal attacks from Dutch’s supporters.  Would you be prepared to handle that, both personally and professionally?  What skills would you employ?

Would you know how to sort through the case materials to develop the clearest possible picture of what actually happened?  Would you know what sorts of materials you would need to form an opinion? What would you do if you found disputes of facts – accounts of witnesses or others that differed?

If asked to write a report, what do you think should be included in that document? Remember, you must be prepared to defend in court every word you write in a report.

To learn the answers to these questions and more and discover the professional and personal skills needed to be an effective expert witness, register for our upcoming class “How To Be an Expert Witness in Dog Bite Cases”.  You have only a few days left to register as the two session course begins Monday February 18th.

Click HERE for a course description and registration details. 
(Just FYI – we scheduled this course back in January before we even were aware of Dutch’s case.  But his case serves as a timely example of why knowledgeable experts are needed and how they can make a difference).

UPDATE: As we were writing this article, the judge in the case upheld the order for euthanasia at a court hearing and Dutch is now or will be in the custody of animal control pending the owner’s appeal.


The City of Montrose’s account of the incident based on victim and witness accounts and physical evidence from the case – HERE.

The announcement of the judge’s decision –  read the update HERE

Here is the 9News Story

Although a bit wordy and overly judgmental, THIS ARTICLE provides an in depth coverage of the issues.

And here’s the website that was one of the main sources of the controversy and includes mis-representations of what happened.  Take note of the picture of Dutch’s behavior when being “evaluated”.


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