I was recently riding solo along a flat country road when a black dog began barking and chasing me down the street. He was not restrained in his yard and he started coming after me at full speed. I changed gears and started a full sprint to get away. Despite my acceleration, he was still coming. As the lactic acid began to build in my legs, I looked back and saw that he was still chasing me. In spite of his efforts, I was able to open a gap. I kept pushing until I was certain he wouldn’t catch me. But he still he kept coming. When we were about a half mile from his house, he gave up chase and watched me ride away. It was a frightening encounter and a little too close for comfort. Had I been a tad slower on the sprint or fatigued a bit sooner, he might have caught me. Thankfully, I got away without incident.
Another time, I was riding with a group of experienced cyclists on a quiet farm road when we encountered a highly-aggressive, unrestrained pit bull and an intimidating (albeit, much more passive, but equally unrestrained) Akita. This time, we were climbing up a hill and, naturally, I was in the back of the pack. I was about 50 yards behind the two leaders of the ride. From that position, I observed the pit bull rush down from his yard, approach the lead rider, and bite him on the foot!
I immediately pulled up and straddled my bike. I was joined by one of the other riders. Together, we watched as the pit bull continued to chase our friends up the road for about 30 yards. Thankfully, they rode free without another incident. But, as the dog lost interest in them, it turned back around and refocused its attention on us!
As the pit bull approached at a full sprint, I imagined the worst. I didn’t know whether to turn around and race down the hill or to prepare to fight. I tried to stay calm. My buddy hopped off his bike and placed it between himself and the dog. So, I did the same.
As the dog got close, we both yelled (loudly) for him to stop and sit. Thankfully, the dog listened. But he did not retreat. I still did not know whether to turn around and flee or try to walk past his yard. Our friends were now at least 100 yards down the road. My buddy made the decision to walk on, so I (reluctantly) followed. We were able to walk our bikes up the hill to our friends, but not without the pit bull staying within 10 yards of our every step. Every time we tried to remount our bikes, he would come closer! We yelled at him and he would retreat a little bit each time. The Akita kept a watchful eye on us, but (thankfully) never got to the road. Once we were about 50 yards down the road, the pit bull finally let us go. The rider who was bitten was wearing thick shoes and booties to protect his feet. So, he wasn’t injured. I’m not sure if he will ever ride that road again, but I will definitely think twice about it.
Incidents with dogs (on or off the bike) are frightening. Even the best, well-trained dogs can be unpredictable. They can bite, knock you down, or injure you while you attempt to flee from an attack. You might suffer a puncture wound, a broken bone, or a head injury. An encounter with a vicious dog may even leave you with post-traumatic stress. The encounters that I had will not be forgotten any time soon.
If you have suffered an encounter with a vicious dog (or other animal) while riding, it is important that you protect your rights. You should immediately:
- Seek medical attention;
- Notify local animal control;
- Take photographs of your injuries;
- Gather information, including the location of the dog’s residence and the names and addresses of any witnesses; and
- Consult a lawyer.
In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, you can report a dog bite or attack incident to the Dog Warden at (412) 418-2163. In Pittsburgh, attack victims and medical personnel may also report the incident to the Bureau of Animal Care and Control at https://pittsburghpa.gov/publicsafety/animal-control. A police officer or Animal Care and Control Officer will then investigate the incident. For more on what to do in the event of a dog bite or attack, see here.
If you were injured and need to seek recovery for your pain and suffering, it is not enough to show that the dog was an allegedly “vicious breed.” Rather, the critical question is whether or not the dog exhibited vicious tendencies, i.e., a history of aggressive behavior and attacks, and whether or not its owner knew about those tendencies.
In Pennsylvania, vicious propensities can be exhibited by the dog’s conduct on the day in question. In other words, the dog (and its owner) are not entitled to “one free bite.” Further, it must also be shown that the dog’s owner failed to properly restrain the animal. Pennsylvania has leash laws that prevent owners from permitting dogs to leave the owner’s premises while uncontrolled. An owner can claim that his/her dog escaped. In that case, the question for the jury will be whether or not the owner took reasonable steps to restrain the dog. For example, if a dog can jump a six foot fence, then (clearly) a four foot fence is not sufficient to restrain that dog.
Avoiding an incident in the first place is always better than dealing with the aftermath. For some tips on what to do in the event of an encounter, see here. If you are involved in a dog attack, please do not hesitate to contact me for a free consultation and to discuss your case.
In the meantime, be safe out there and thank you for reading.
Matthew F. Dolfi
Dolfi Law PC
1100 Washington Avenue
Carnegie, Pennsylvania 15106
Important notice:The information provided in this blog article is not legal advice. The information and opinions provided herein are solely for the general interest of the visitors to this website. The information contained herein is only applicable to general principles of law in Pennsylvania and may not reflect current legal developments or statutory changes in various other jurisdictions. Therefore, the information and opinions contained in this blog should not be relied upon or interpreted as legal advice. No aspect of this blog article should be interpreted as establishing an attorney-client relationship between the reader and its author. Anyone reviewing this article should not act upon any information contained herein without first seeking the advice of legal counsel.