I recently testified in a dog bite case as a dog behaviorist expert witness. This case culminated in a 3 hour deposition and 3 hours of videotaped testimony for the jury. I don’t know yet the outcome of the case. So, here are a few thoughts regarding what it is like and why I did it. Being a dog behavior expert witness is hard work. Not everyone is cut out for it, regardless of their amount of dog training and behavioral experience. I appreciate the work, of everyone involved… the attorneys, their staff, the courts, witnesses, and so on. The legal system in this country works, but it has its own rhythm and official ways.
I feel I have been preparing for this kind of work all of my life. I have many life experiences, with people and dogs, which become valuable for being an expert witness. I have business experience. I have experience working with attorneys and the courts. I have many years of animal welfare experience. And I have over 20 years of experience working with dogs, other pets, the public, pet owners, and everything in between. If you look at my resume on my website, you will see years and years of involvement.
It is relatively easy to contact me to inquire about my services… first, read my bio on my website. Then call, email or phone me. I will want to know the basics of who you are and what the case is about. I will probably want to review some preliminary evidence before I agree to work on your case. Then we will set some ground rules about how we will work together, payment, testimony, affidavits, notes, and such. I prefer to meet your attorney in person, if at all possible, though a lot can be done online these days.
It is also important to note that I will be honest. I’m not going to favor you or be against someone. I’m here to give my professional opinion, and to be able to reasonably substantiate what I’m saying based upon what evidence I’m given and with what I know or find out.
With that being said, you should know that I am going to be very selective in who I work with. Here are some of those reasons why…
First, I must say that the work of being a dog behavior expert witness isn’t a whole lot of fun. It is often troubling and tiring work. In most cases, someone has been severely injured, and I have to not only read and hear the evidence, but I have to see the horrific pictures. It is traumatizing. Seeing someone who was torn apart is revolting (I will spare you the gory details). It is also emotionally and physically draining work to be involved with this kind of thing over a long period of time. I don’t think any normal person wants to see this kind of thing. You have to have a good reason, a higher purpose. Not everyone is willing to see this trauma, and that is partly why I am compensated for this work, to offset the natural aversion to dealing with these topics. Further, I am going to eventually be put into a hostile environment, cross examined by lawyers, who are not there to be my friend but to best represent their clients. If they think that being harsh on me will benefit their case, then I get to be their target. That is part of this business.
Second, as a professional, in the case mentioned above, I had to dispassionately evaluate why the dog did what it did, and if the parties involved acted reasonably. I did this. I am a professional. I have decades of experience in the real world, dealing with pets and people. All of that animal welfare work, volunteering to work with tough situations in shelters, on the streets, with veterinarians preparing for surgery, irresponsible pet owners, and such, all give me a well grounded viewpoint regarding what is reasonable pet care and ownership. I have seen a lot, stuff you don’t learn from a book. You can’t learn that in a class or school. You have to pay your dues for many years, and I have. Because of all that, I’m not so sensitive that I can’t wade through this material and pick apart the situation and develop an opinion on the incidents involved. I am being hired to do the same things I do all the time in my daily business. The difference is only the setting. I take those things I’ve learned in the real world and bring them to the courtroom.
Third, this is business, it isn’t personal… even when you are being hammered by an attorney while under oath. I have confidence in myself and what I know because I have paid my dues. I have spent the money, invested the years, studied animal and human behavior extensively, read the dog news on an almost daily basis for over 20 years, met all kinds of people and dogs, kept a large library of materials, and consumed extensive amounts of information and other experiences. I have filled my brain with the dog world, willingly and for a purpose. I am an expert in those areas mentioned in my resume.
But, even so, during those 6 hours of recent testimony, all that was put under intense scrutiny, through tough cross examination. I had my life, background, education, experience, character, memory, opinions and findings aggressively and repeatedly challenged. That wasn’t fun, either. No one likes to be put under the microscope for 6 hours. It required me to draw upon many years of experiences and life lessons to do it properly. I couldn’t have done this when I was 25 years old. If I had been younger, had less experience, or doubted myself as a person or a professional, I might have done something emotionally stupid. If I had lost my cool, or been a jerk, or panicked or anything similar, someone else might have been “hurt” by the legal system. I kept the case as the most important matter, not myself. People were counting on me to do the right thing, and I had to do that, regardless of the pressure involved. Doing the right thing, regardless of how you feel under pressure, is a burden. You have to focus on what is honest. I did that.
Fourth, as a Christian, we are told not to judge others unless we have judged ourselves first. I can’t, and didn’t, play favorites with anyone involved… the attorneys, witnesses, plaintiff or defendants. It is exceedingly hard to say that this or that person did wrong, however. No moral person takes delight in judging the actions of others. I felt I had to walk a careful line, to make sure I was factual, evenhanded, honest, prepared and reasonable. I had to trust that the decision makers, the judge and jury, would discern from my testimony the facts that were needed to make the right legal decision. I believe I kept that balance.
In closing, as I said earlier, I think you do this work best if you do it for a higher purpose. My mission still is, “to educate the public about responsible dog ownership.”
I don’t think someone shouldn’t do this type of work for just a paycheck. I do this work because I got into the dog training, originally, to preach about responsible dog ownership… which included stopping breed bans, stopping puppy mills, preventing animal abuse, reforming animal sheltering, preventing innocent people from being hurt, promoting good laws, teaching correct animal training techniques, and teaching proper dog management. Those kinds of things were what originally drove me to train dogs for other people. It still motivates me to do animal welfare and rescue work, and to go out there every day to work with pet owners. I am here to make a difference in this world, by doing right for individuals, families, our communities, our legal system, and for the welfare of the dogs. I don’t believe enough of the general public truly understands what responsible dog ownership means.
To me, the expert witness work is just another extension of this mission. I figure, if my work brings justice and truth and kindness to our world, then I have done a good work, and I can live with that. If what I say saves the next person or animal, then I have done a good work.
I did a good thing. I know it. So, I’m ready for my next case. If you are interested, please contact me.