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Are shelters putting dangerous dogs back in homes?

Imagine this: You go to a shelter to adopt a dog. You fall in love with a dog that is described as happy or gentle by the shelter — and the dog certainly seems docile. Then, the sedatives wear off and you’re faced with a dog that is suddenly aggressive or prone to snapping. You only find out much later that the dog had a history of biting, which the shelter knew. 

Think it’s not likely to happen? Think again. A late-2019 investigative report that looked into incidents of drugged and mislabelled shelter dogs in California found at least 23 incidents at a single shelter where information about a dog’s violent history was withheld.

Shelter officials defended their actions by saying that leaving such important info off a dog’s card isn’t hiding anything. Instead, they say they disclose the info sometime before the dog is adopted — likening the deception to someone holding back potentially problematic information about themselves until after “the first date.” Since human beings are rarely inclined to take an unprovoked bite out of each other, that doesn’t seem like a particularly valid comparison. 

The same investigation found dozens of dogs had been drugged with Trazadone and other medications that could affect the demeanor they present to prospective owners. While a new law took effect on Jan. 1, 2020, requiring shelters to disclose a dog’s bite history whenever the animal broke the victim’s skin, the law doesn’t mention the use of personality-altering drugs.

If you or your loved one suffered a serious dog bite from a recently adopted shelter dog, find out what rights you have to compensation for your losses.

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