New York Supreme Court: No legal basis to find dogs dangerous based on breed

On April 4, 2013, an Order was entered in the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, in the matter of The People of the State of New York v. Diana Shanks. Just to clarify, the Appellate Division hears appeals from the New York Supreme Court, which is the state’s general trial court.

On appeal was an order entered on February 17, 2012 by the Otsego County court, affirming the judgment of the lower court in The Town of Oneonta v. Shanks, in which Ms. Shanks’ dog, Ghost, an American pit bull terrier, was found to be a “dangerous dog” within the meaning of Agriculture and Markets Law, Section 123.

The case stems from an incident that occurred in November 2011, when Ms. Shanks was walking Ghost, who was collared, harnessed and leashed, in the town of Oneonta. A German shepherd named Ranger owned by Oneonta resident, Ana-Maria Blasetti, was tethered to a porch in the front yard of the Blasetti residence. As Ms. Shanks and Ghost passed the yard, Ranger broke his tether and ran at Ghost, and a fight ensued. Ghost remained leashed the entire time.

Both dogs were injured, and Ms. Blasetti filed a complaint against Ms. Shanks. The Town Court deemed Ghost a “dangerous dog,” and found Ms. Shanks was 65% culpable for the incident, and responsible for that percentage of the vet bills. Ghost was ordered to be muzzled and kept on a short leash whenever on public premises.

Shanks appealed the Town Court’s ruling to the County Court, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Ms. Shanks then appealed to the Supreme Court Appellate Division.

In its Memorandum and Order dated April 4, 2013, the Supreme Court found there was insufficient evidence to sustain a finding that Ghost was a dangerous dog within the meaning of the Agriculture and Markets law:

A [d]angerous dog is defined as a dog that “without justification” attacks a person, companion animal … or domestic animal … and causes physical injury or death” or “behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to one or more … companion animals. Notably, a dog shall not be declared to be dangerous if its conduct “was justified because the dog was responding to pain or injury, or was protecting itself [or] its owner…” At a hearing held pursuant to Agriculture and Markets Law Section 123, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing, by clear and convincing evidence, that the was at issue is dangerous.

The Court noted that no dispute existed that Ranger had broken free of his leash and that Ghost remained leashed and did not at any time pull free of his owner. Further, no testimony was presented to contradict Ms. Shank’s account that Ranger attacked Ghost first, and the Town Court acknowledged this fact, as well. Given the undisputed evidence presented, the Supreme Court found that Ghost acted in defense of himself and his owner, thus his actions were justified and did not meet the meaning of “dangerous dog” as defined by the statute.

Moreover, Blasetti specifically argued that Ghost was dangerous because he was a “pit bull,” and she asserted that pit bulls are a breed that courts can take judicial notice as having a history of being violent.  The lower court apparently concurred with Ms. Blasetti, and even described Ghost as an “aggressive, powerful and vicious pit bull,’ while failing to identify Ranger’s breed, although German shepherds “are regularly characterized as an aggressive breed of dog.”

The Supreme Court cited the case of Roupp v. Conrad in its Memorandum, specifically noting:

The condemnation of an individual dog in the context of a dangerous dog proceeding solely by virtue of its breed is without any legal basis. We have repeatedly held that “‘there is no persuasive authority for the proposition that a court should take judicial notice of the ferocity of any particular type or breed of domestic animal.'” (Emphasis added.)

The Supreme Court found that “absolutely no evidence” was submitted that Ghost had on any prior occasion attacked another person or dog, or that he exhibited any aggressive behavior toward the people attempting to the end the fight between he and Ranger.  Rather, attacked by another dog with his owner at close range, Ghost’s protective and defensive instincts were entirely understandable and expected.

The Supreme Court reversed the ruling and dismissed Blasetti’s complaint against Shanks.

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51 responses to “New York Supreme Court: No legal basis to find dogs dangerous based on breed

  1. Praise to these Judges that have used common sense and have exercised their legal authority to the helms of government and justice, recognizing that a “Canine should NOT be judge by the breed that it was born as but the content of character that it may become”.
    Shame on the small town judge and the county judge both should take canine awareness courses and learn how a canine see’s their world around them because when we do then and only then will we understand them.
    A dog reads our body language so why in the world aren’t we going to read theirs.
    This ruling by these Supreme Judges makes me proud to be a New Yorker K9 Partners Of Monroe County which I founded is to deal with change with law enforcement in getting training for officers on dealing with unfamiliar dogs and to bring laws that will further protect domestic pets against animal abuse.

  2. Wow, what wonderful news. I do not own a pit bull and never will as they are way to big for me but I totally agree that BSL is just plain BS. What a step in the right direction with this court decision. All we ever hear is really bad news about the BSL situation and this was such a treat to see that, finally, a court that doesn’t have their heads up their behinds.

  3. Finally, a sensible decision about a pit bull. I was walking my properly leashed and licensed pit bull on a public road when a neighbor’s German Shepherd went through her screen door and after my dog. I was bitten–by the German Shepherd. Fortunately in our case sanity prevailed; my neighbor was able to pull her dog off and horrified that it had attacked us. But how easily things might have gone the other way with my dog being called the aggressor for walking down the road with me. Yes, the discrimination against breeds on the BSL list has to stop. It’s time to start a human BSL list. People cause this problem.

  4. It is unbelievable that it even got this far – it only did because poor Ghost was persecuted for being a pittie. Thankfully, reason and common sense prevailed. I am so sorry that Ghost & family had to go through this – but very thankful that they did because they stuck with it and proved that it was unfair and wrong! Congratulations! Truthfully, pitties are the gentlest of the dogs – anyone who has one knows that!

  5. Thanks for understanding and not misjudging the situation, as the other courts did based on the breed. Pitbulls are wonderful animals.

  6. So proud to be a New Yorker…a win for Pit Bulls everywhere but a little sad that it had to go so far before the right ruling was made. Why, when it is so obviously a biased ruling does it take so long for common sense to prevail??

  7. I really just wish that dog discrimination would end. It was never the breed. The behavior of the dog is a direct reflection of the owner ask my daughter. When one of her friends moms said a child was a pill she said that child’s behavior was a direct reflection on the parents.We may not be perfect. But we do the best we can

  8. Hallelujah! It is about time!. Staffordshire Terriers and American Staffies are a wonderful breed. When given trainging and loveearly on, they can become wonderful members of the family. THERE ARE NO BAD DOG BREEDS, ONLY SOME BAD HUMANS!

  9. Id like to know where to send a thank-you letter. It will be so good to snd a thank you instead of a protest letter for once.

  10. Finally…thank you!! BSL is bullpucky!! That would be like judging us by our nationality. There is good and bad in all and should NOT be judged by breed!! Thank you once again, I hope to see others follow by example and use common sense.

  11. This is fantastic! Finally! Thank you NY for recognizing that you can NOT condemn a dog based on breed alone!

  12. Matthew Blake

    Finally!

    I was wondering when this dispute would finally be settled in the favor of Ghost. He was always innocent and remained innocent until proven guilty. Mrs. B, you should hang your head in shame, have your dog taken away, AND pay for ghost’s vet bills. The court who also ruled in Mrs. B’s Favor because Ghost was a pit bull should cited and fined for injustice due on biased grounds. Win 1 for the pit bull terrier!

  13. WOOOO HOOO GO NEW YORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. The owner that tied her dog to the front porch should be held 100% responsible for the vet bills and court costs. It is well documented that tying your dog up to your yard or porch will make him aggressive. This is, in fact, against the law here in Ga and should be anyplace. The dog needs to be under the control of the owner at all times. I’m surprised (and disappointed) that the “Pit Bull” owner did not counter sue. I hope she will now, if only to draw attention to the widely used but dangerous practice of tying your dog in the yard or on the porch. Thank you Diana Shanks, for your courage and persistence!

  15. Huh? The owner of Ranger, Ms.Blasetti, the one who’s dog attack Ghost, was the one who filed the first suit! I hope you hang your head in shame Ms.B! Your dog was the guilty party and you tried demonifying Ghost because of his breed?! Your the demonic and dangerous one! What did you hope to accomplish, easy pay day? the death of the other dog? ! News press about poor ‘ol you and your poor ‘ol dog? Lady I pity you either way! I am glad that your selfish desire to harm Ghost and his owner were NOT successful! BSL fighters and responsible bully breed owners everyone let out a little “Hurrah!” today, because your ignorant display has helped us get one step farther in the right direct 🙂 So, “Thank you!”, at least something positive and good came out of your evil intent!

  16. The only thing I see missing is that Rangers’ owner, who started this horrid circus should be ordered to pay all Diana Shanks legal and veterinary costs as it was her dog and her negligence that were at the root.

    • Cherie Levinsohn

      No kidding intended, does this mean that we can now sue our insurance companies for discrimination ? My insurance company dropped my liability from $300,000.00 to $25,000.00 because I refuse to ” GET RID ” of my Pit ! You “GET RID ” of trash, NOT your beloved companions.!!!!!!

  17. Shawn Morehouse

    well my one daughter has two pit bulls and they are and think they are lap dogs, my son has a pit bull and he plays with the cat that he was raised with has never hurt him can be taken around other dogs and has never hurt them, my other daughter has two english bull dogs and they are big babies who think thaey are lap dogs. It is and always will be people that change a animals attitude towards others we should be the one with the punishment, more than a slap on the wrist! Thank you from an animal lover for protecting their rights since they have no voice.

  18. Marcia Robbins

    Thank you New Your State, government showing common sense.

  19. Thanks for a great fight in your dogs defense and many more that will benefit from this. I love when the justice system works. There is hope that BSL will be defeated.

  20. Finally, They are using some common sense in this matter. Dogs are trained to act a certian way. The owners are to blame not the animal

  21. Denise Vernier

    It is a great day indeed! Finally some legislators that “get it” – punish the deed, not the breed. Thank you NY Supreme Court for seeing this issue clearly and thinking it through rationally. Not all Pit Bulls are vicious. Not all German Shepherds are nice. Not all Cocker Spaniels are docile. Thank you for bringing legislature that will hopefully end, once and for all, the great Pit Bull Ban. Hopefully other legislatures in other cities, states, and countries will see it your way.

  22. If Ms. Blasetti had been walking her dog and was set upon under the same circumstances, I’m sure she would be arguing the exact opposite view.
    Thank goodness there are still some judges that use some common sense in their rulings.
    Thank you Ms. Shanks for your determination to see that Ghost was finally sbsolved for blame for an incident that was Ranger’s fault.

  23. This is such a wonderful ruling! It gives me hope that BSLs everywhere will be overturned.

  24. About damn time! Standing ovation here!! Get this straight and move on to the school bullies that seem to be getting away with crap as well. We need to take our neighborhoods, kids, and animals back and tell these officials to work on the important issues we pay them for! Blessed BE!!!!

  25. Way to go,,Kudos to the fact of someone taking up for a pitbull,,,I love it…Its like I have said before in the 70’s it was german shepards in the 80’s it was chows and dobbies in the 90’s it was rotties now its pittbulls when are people gonna relize its NOT THE BREED ITS THE DEED!!!! many pitbulls have save many lives as police dogs search and rescue and theropy dogs, Its all in how you raise them……

  26. andrew cutting

    If my dog attacked another dog I would feel terrible and want to do anything I could to make this right. The owner of the shepard is a piece of garbage and should have to some kind of punishment for her behavior and should not be allowed to own a dog I mean really how irresponsible can you be and then to attack someone who is being responsible that is just sick + 2 judges took her side this makes me sick

  27. One for the Bullies!Finally,some justice for this misunderstood,unfairly vilified,wonderful breed.Lets hope this continues.Golden Retrievers bite more people than Pitties do!The ignorant have to be EDUCATED!

  28. Linda Peterson

    So happy for this decision, I hope other States will follow. BSL needs to stop, labeling a dog because of the breed is wrong. Thank you so much.

  29. Wonderful news! Hope this becomes the rule for all jurisdictions! Blessings to Ghost and his great mom!!

  30. We have had several wonderful pitbulls and they are wonderful dogs. The only thing dangerour about a pitbull is it’s owner. This outcome is as it should be.

  31. this is a great article and thank you for posting it…CUDO”S to Ms Shanks and good job GHOST for being the great dog you are!

  32. Way to go New York Supreme Court. It’s about time the law uses some common sense as well as a little intelligence! Now if only the rest of the country would follow!

  33. About time! The mind set of the shepherd is unbelievable. Her dog breaks free and attacks and she blames the dog who was attacked!! Really!! And the lower courts went with that. Says a lot about our court system.

  34. Good for you Judge!!! this is what justification is.. ppl think just because of the breed it should be blamed!!!! happy to say i am proud of this Judge for up holding the law on this issue!!

  35. Just what I wanted for the pit bulls! I am and have been on their side the whole time this sick debate has been going on. Well done!

  36. This is great for the breed I love

  37. This is major and incredibly wonderful!!! Let this set the stage for many such rulings to come in the future.

  38. So the muzzle order was lifted? And what about the German shepherd? Did they never consider that he should be muzzled, and if so, why not?

  39. WONDERFUL AND IT’S ABOUT TIME THAT SOCIETY UNDERSTANDS AND RESPECTS THIS FACT!!!!

  40. Sharon Whitehead, Republic, Missouri

    Well done, New York Supreme Court!! Thank you!!

  41. beautifulone2012

    What a superior and realistic ruling by the Courts. Thank goodness we still have intelligent political representatives who live in the real world. Thanks from the voiceless and all of us who appreciate all creatures of this earth to be treated humanely with Love, Care, and Respect. Love, linda.

  42. Cherie Levinsohn

    This is the first step in keeping the insurance companies from discriminating against Pits, the courts should be aggressively punishing those who engage in dog fighting !

  43. Kudos to the NY Supreme Court for doing the right thing. Ms Blasetti should have been more forgiving, considering that her dog’s breed is often wrongly targeted as being dangerous.

  44. patricia crockett

    if that is the case then any dog should fall under that. the German sharpere should have been under that some order and needed to do the exacted order…if he attcked the pit he is the one that need to mustled and contained….and from what I read, the only can’t handle the sherpered …as a dog owner tht was ruled in the wrong direction……

  45. As it should have been. Just because Ghost is a pitbull has no bearing on why he protected himself and his owner. ANY dog would have done that. The courts did make the right decision in this case.However, labeling a breed of dog as an aggresive animal just because of it’s breed is wrong. WE need to stop BSL before all of our dogs are banned. 25 breeds are on the BSL list already and it has to end.

  46. So glad this owner stayed the course untill the voice of reason was upheld! Hear hear! well done! And thank God, man’s higher court got it right on this one!

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