Once Bitten
Linda Shick, partner in Doylestown’s Naftulin and Shick P.C., helps victims of dog bites and similar events recover from their trauma
by Bill Donahue


The responsibility associated with owning a dog—or any pet, for that matter—goes far beyond the physical requirements of food, water and walks on a leash.


Owners have a social obligation to protect anyone who might come into contact with the animal. An escaped or uncontrolled animal could easily injure another’s person or property and, as a result, face unwanted legal problems, according to Linda Shick, partner with Naftulin and Shick P.C., a Doylestown-based firm with offices throughout Pennsylvania.


“As an owner you have a duty not to put your dog in a bad situation, where it feels it has to defend you or itself,” says Shick, whose practice focuses on personal-injury cases.


“You also have a duty to others, even if that dog has never bitten before or committed other aggressive behavior, like chasing people or barking aggressively. Everyone thinks their dog is sweet and nice, and most of them are, but you can’t assume it will be sweet and nice with everybody.”


Pennsylvania state law requires that all dogs must be under control and must not be allowed to run at large; dogs are regarded as personal property, after all, and owners are responsible for damages caused by their dog. Dog bites—or those from horses, cats and other domesticated animals—can leave extensive scarring and physical damage. But such an event can also cause lasting emotional trauma.


“Dog bites affect different people in different ways,” Shick says. When someone is bitten on the face, leaving significant scarring, that is evident to them every time they look in the mirror. Our society judges people on their physical experience. An injured, badly scarred person feels that’s all anyone else sees and judges them negatively.”


Some victims harbor a lifelong fear in the aftermath of a bite. The fear can be associated with the dog that bit them, or it can be every dog in the whole world, whether it’s a teacup poodle or a bull mastiff. Or the fear could be associated with a particular breed, such as German shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, chows, pit bulls—even beagles.


Dogs should be fenced in to give the animal a safe place to exercise and explore but also to keep it separated from others. Shick recalls a case involving a newspaper deliveryman who was asked by a homeowner to place a daily newspaper on the front porch. One early, dark morning, the homeowner let his dog out front instead of the backyard, and as the deliveryman approached, the small but aggressive dog began barking menacingly. As the deliveryman turned to flee, he fell in the driveway and broke his knee.


“The homeowners asked that person to come onto their property for their benefit, and that dog was a hazard that they created,” she says. “It never bit [the deliveryman], but its behavior caused his injury. … Some dogs are submissive and others are not; it has nothing to do with the breed. If you have an aggressive dog, you should not subject your friends, neighbors, and other people to the potential danger.”


Although homeowners might feel their dogs are well mannered, it’s easier to encounter a dog-related legal entanglement than one might think. Broken gate locks or doors that a dog can open easily can create problems and injuries.


“I represented a music teacher who went to a student’s house, and when she came to the door, this little dog opened the front door and came out and started racing around the music teacher’s ankles,” Shick says. “The dog tripped the teacher, and she fell down the steps. It’s not like the dog set out and said, ‘I’m going to see if I can break this lady’s hip today,’ but that homeowner had a responsibility to the teacher to make sure that didn’t happen.”


At Risk

Encounters often happen despite one’s best precautions. Dog parks, which have become increasingly popular in the suburbs and elsewhere, are a good example.


“People are more at risk in a dog park than they are walking down the street,” Shick says. “When they go to a dog park, there may be dogs running around, and some of them may fight. People might wind up in the middle of it. I recall one incident in Quakertown, where a boxer was tearing around in a dog park and lunged at [a client] and knocked her to the ground and injured her shoulder joint. It never bit her—she didn’t have a mark on her—but when a 90-pound dog launches into someone, that’s a lot of force.


“A lot of times they don’t mean any harm,” she continues. “The dog that ran by and lunged at [the client] was probably just playing, but it caused a big problem.”


When a dog bite or other related injury occurs, a victim should seek necessary medical care immediately, according to Shick. Although any dog and cat aged three months must have a current rabies vaccination, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, not everyone follows the rule. Besides the threat of rabies, dog bites also tend to leave wounds that are prone to infection.


“If you know who the owner is, make sure the dog is current on its shots, and if records can’t be produced, you’re going to have to endure rabies shots,” she says. “The police should also be called. If you know the dog and it lives next door, communicate with its owner to get the necessary information. But if the appropriate records can’t be produced, the dog will have to be quarantined for 10 days [to make sure it does not have rabies].”


In short, dog owners should take some precautions to protect themselves and their animals. Whether they own or rent their homes, dog owners should make sure they have an insurance policy that adequately covers the dog; pit bills and other so-called “high-risk breeds,” however, could make it difficult to qualify for homeowners insurance or, at the very least, increase the likelihood of being dropped in the event of a liability claim.


In addition, owners who see aggressive tendencies in their animals should take it for appropriate training. That said, most of the unfortunate situations between man and beast are created by the owner rather than the dog.


“I’ve always felt it’s not so much the dog as the owner who created the situation for the dog,” she says. “Especially these days, with all the encouragement to get a shelter dog, you don’t know what might have hurt the dog before or how it’s going to react in a given situation. The best advice is that no matter what kind of dog you have, be a responsible owner.”



40 East Court Street, Doylestown

215-348-5455 | 800-560-3388 | LindaShick@Naftulin-Shick.com



Rob Hall is a photographer based in Doylestown.