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Renegade Squirrel Offers Reminder of Pet Owner Liabilities

A grey squirrel that is believed to have been domesticated but is now menacing residents of a southern Vermont community is providing a cautionary tale about the liabilities people may face if their pets escape or are set loose and injure someone.

The Associated Press recently reported that the rogue squirrel has attacked several people in Bennington over the past few weeks. The animal repeatedly attacked one man while he was shoveling snow. One woman was even being treated for rabies. Vermont’s public health veterinarian said the squirrel might have been kept as a pet, lost its fear of humans and is now prone to going “ballistic” when encountering strangers.

Reports about the renegade squirrel make no mention of the creature wearing any collar, making it unlikely its owner will be tracked down. However, dogs are more likely to wear such identifiers, and if they end up running away and biting someone then their owner could be hit with a personal injury lawsuit.

Under New York State law, when a dog, which has previously exhibited symptoms of viciousness, bites someone, its owner could face civil and, possibly, criminal penalties.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 365,245 Americans were treated for dog bite-related injuries in 2001, with 42 percent of those injuries occurring among children below 14 years old. A 2000 Journal of the American Veterinarian Medical Association study noted that out of 227 reports of dog bite-related fatalities, 24 percent involved unrestrained dogs off their owner’s property.

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