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Dog Attacks Becoming More Common Due to "Pet Friendly" Businesses

Dog attacks on customers inside "pet friendly" stores are becoming more common in western North Carolina. Lowes, Home Depot, Tractor Supply, and other stores are "pet-friendly", meaning dog owners can bring their dogs into stores while they shop. Restaurants are prohibited from allowing non-service animals (including emotional support animals) into areas where food is prepared and served by North Carolina health codes. Other businesses, however, in an attempt to attract pet lovers, are more than willing to allow dogs into their stores.

On April 13, 2018, Mr. Millis Bryson was visiting an Asheville bar called Dalton Distillery. The bar allows patrons to bring their pets onto the premises. According to Mr. Bryson, once he entered the bar, he was attacked by two dogs owned by another customer. The dogs bit Bryson on his left hand and stomach, according to a report by WLOS. Mr. Bryson required medical care at Mission Hospital which included stitches. Mr. Bryson reports that he did not have health insurance and, as the dog owner quickly left the scene and failed to identify himself, wondered how he could pay for his medical bills.

Mr. Bryson's experience is becoming more common in western NC. Although many people love their dogs and want to spend time with them, problems can arise when dogs that are not trained to interact with the public are placed in busy shopping areas. These public areas can be confusing and stressful to dogs, increasing the likelihood of aggressive behavior. Some dog owners are oblivious to the difficulties they are creating for their dog and their fellow customers. These owners would rather risk the safety of other customers than inconvenience themselves or sacrifice their own desire to be with their dog.

When a dog attack does occur, the dog owner can face liability usually if one of three (3) situations are present. First, a dog owner will face liability if the dog is off a leash and the county or town has a leash ordinance. Second, the dog owner will face liability for a dog attack if the dog has shown aggression previously. Third, the dog owner can face liability for a dog bite if the dog's breed is one which is a more aggressive breed. If a dog owner is liable for a dog attack, the dog owner's homeowner's insurance may provide coverage for the dog bite damages.

Unfortunately, sometimes the dog owners flee the scene of a dog attack before the injured person can learn their identity. Other times, the dog owner does not have any insurance or funds to pay for a dog attack victim's medical bills and other expenses. In these situations, the dog bite victim may be without recourse unless the business can be held liable.

A busienss has a duty to protect its customers from known dangers. If a store is aware of a hazard to customers, such as aggressive dogs, the store can be liable to the customers if a customer is injured in a dog attack. The difficulty with these cases, however, can be proving that the store knew or should have known of the danger posed to its customers by the dog. If the dog is completely unknown to the store and properly on a leash, proving liability in these cases may be difficult. However, if the store knew or should have known of the dog's likelihood of attack (via breed or prior conduct), or allows the dog to go off leash in their store, the store may be found to have created an unsafe environment for its customers.

Another increasingly common problem with "pet friendly" businesses involves service animals. In western NC, service animals have been attacked by non-service dogs in these businesses. When this occurs, the business may be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for failing to provide proper accommodations to the service dog. An environment where the service dog will be harassed or attacked is not providing a proper accommodation.

In summary, as stores and businesses attempt to attract more customers by being "pet friendly", more dog attacks on customers will likely occur. Pet owners should leave their pets at home as they can never be 100% certain that their dog will not be aggressive with customers or interfere with service animals. If a customer is a victim of a dog bite in a store, they should contact an experienced attorney to learn their options.

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