Integrity Matters
July 9, 2003

Dog owner should help victim of canine bite

Question: (E-056)

Dear Jim:

A neighbor's dog bit a friend of mine -- and this dog has been a nuisance in the neighborhood for some time. She asked the neighbor for reimbursement of her medical costs, but the neighbor is dragging her feet and won't give a straight answer. I know you are not an attorney, but what is the ethical discussion of this episode? It sure seems to me that this dog should be put down and the medical costs reimbursed with a sincere apology, but perhaps I'm over-reacting.


This situation might need to be addressed by lawyers and judges. However, despite our lack of legal training, our integrity-centered leadership criteria can be applied to this situation. After all, as human beings who must share space with one another, sometimes in very tight spaces, it is important that we maintain a social climate where we can live together peacefully and cooperatively.

Next-door neighbors certainly fall within the category of those with whom we should strive to live in harmony. Respecting a neighbor's privacy, while remaining alert to potential safety threats for one another, can strengthen relationships and a neighborhood. Allowing an isolated dog-biting incident to escalate into a legal confrontation could be compared to "pole vaulting over a molehill" - and when individuals do over-react or under-react, the financial damages can be staggering.

Hopefully, those parties involved in this incident will choose the following integrity-centered actions:

  • Owner of the biting dog will pay all appropriate costs to person who was bitten.
  • Medical knowledge will be used to safeguard the victim and the dog.
  • Individual who was bitten won't escalate situation into legal action unless necessary.
  • Neighbors will utilize this dog-biting incident and its resolution to strengthen relationships

Readers of this column will be reminded that unless we regulate our behaviors, including those related to neighborliness, there could be a need for an intervention by our government's justice system, which in this dog-biting situation, could include:

  • Tying up a great deal of time that affects job performance/income.
  • Costing money (perhaps more than anticipated) for lawyers and advisors.
  • Eroding or even souring a relationship with a neighbor and friend.
  • Weakening our neighborhood safety net -- all because the parties involved chose self-interest over cooperation.

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