Frequently Asked Questions
Updated, December 11, 2020
What is a court-ordered evaluation?
A court will order an evaluation when a dog has bitten or been accused of biting a person or domestic animal. Some courts routinely order an evaluation for all alleged "aggression" cases. The cities of Lakewood, Denver and Thornton order evaluations for all dogs charged with aggression, vicious dog or dangerous dog. Other courts may request/order an evaluation on a case-by-case basis.
The purpose of the evaluation is to determine if the dog is a threat to the general public, and what can be done to prevent the "bite" situation from occurring again. Court-ordered evaluations are done so that each situation can be properly assessed and the best actions can be taken for the dog, the owner and the community. This case-by-case analysis replaces the older black-and-white determinations such as those that required euthanization if a dog bites twice in its life. It also can replace breed-specific legislation.
What is a court-involved evaluation?
A court-involved evaluation is conducted when a dog bite is involved, but an evaluation has not been ordered by the court. Often these evaluations are requested by the owner before a court proceeding to determine and address the cause of their dog's biting behavior. An evaluation also may be requested in a personal injury case, usually by the dog's owner. The dog's owner is usually responsible for the cost of the evaluation.
Who can conduct a court ordered/involved evaluation?
The cities of Lakewood, Thornton and Denver have a pre-approved list of accepted evaluators. We are on these lists. In other jurisdictions, each judge makes the determination if he/she will accept an evaluation or the testimony of a behavior specialists. Our reports have been accepted in Jefferson County, Arapahoe County, Aurora, Arvada, Westminster, Sheridan, Broomfield, Colorado Springs, Lafayette, Centennial, El Paso County, and Vail County.
What is the purpose of a court-ordered evaluation?
The evaluation determines why the bite occurred and how to prevent it from happening again. The evaluation also determines if the dog is a threat to the general public under normal circumstances. If the dog is determined to be a threat, the evolution reviews what can be done to keep the public safe while treating the dog humanely.
The purpose of the evaluation is NOT to determine if the dog is "aggressive," "bad" or "good." Aggression is a subjective term that has many different meanings according to the situation. Sometimes the aggression is considered appropriate. Any dog is capable of biting in certain situations (such as when it is in pain, or when a family member is threatened). We do not make determinations whether you are a good pet owner. Our job is not to judge the past, but to provide practical and humane options for the future.
Evaluations are conducted as objectively, and free from bias, as possible. Our first goal is to protect the public safety. After this has been addressed, we are here to assist you as you help your dog resolve whatever issues contributed to the bite incident.
What is involved in a court ordered/involved evaluation?
There are several steps to the complete evaluation process:
1. All information provided about the cited incident (the one that the dog was ticketed for) is reviewed and analyzed. We look at questions such as the circumstances surrounding the incident (was the dog's response provoked and reasonable given the situation?), the dog's history, any verbal or physical warnings given by the dog before the actual bite, the depth and degree of tearing of the bite itself, the part of the victim's body that was bitten, and the number of times the dog bit. This information is analyzed according to standards set by the American Society Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) and the Ian Dunbar bite scale. It is very important that our questionnaire is completed in detail. The more detail we have, the better we can determine all factors that may have contributed to the dog bite incident.
2. The dog is placed in a tightly controlled situation approximating the cited incident, and the dog's body and verbal language are observed. The dog's response to various stimuli is observed. We always video record our evaluations so we can review them in detail after the observation portion of the evaluation. The dog's responses are analyzed according to the dog's body positions, vocalizations, reactions to specific stimuli, and for any evidence of medical issues.
3. Recommendations are made to protect the general public in normal situations, to give the owner better control of the dog, and to resolve any medical or behavioral problems that were observed. It is very rare that we recommend euthanasia. We only do so if the dog is unpredictable and cannot be safely or humanely controlled. Again, it is crucial that you provide all the information you can on the pre-evaluation questionnaire. The more information we have, the more alternatives we can offer and the more we can help you and your dog.
4. All of this information is combined into a detailed written report, usually 3-6 pages in length. This report is submitted directly to the court to prevent tampering. We also provide a copy of the report and video to our clients. It generally takes us 5-7 business days to complete and submit this report.
In most cases, the judge will order the owner to follow our recommendations. When the recommendations are completed, we will notify the court that the dog is being released from mandatory behavior modification. You can always continue working with us and your dog, but we will not report these activities or your progress to the courts. Sometimes, charges are dropped or withdrawn based on our report. We might report, for instance, that the bite was obviously provoked or occurred in extenuating circumstances that are unlikely to occur again.
Be aware that failure to follow the recommendations for a court-ordered evaluation may result in a charge of contempt of court or violation of a court order. This offense is punishable by a fine, jail time and/or the removal and euthanasia of your dog (by the involved animal control organization).
How much does a court evaluation cost?
Within 30 miles of Aurora (80012), we charge $200 for a court ordered/involved evaluation. This includes review of the submitted information, the observational evaluation (which occurs at or near your home), video of the observation evaluation, and a detailed written report. If more than one dog has been cited, we charge $25 for each additional dog (to compensate for the additional time involved in writing the report). For areas out of the 30-mile radius, visit our pricing page.