WALNUT CREEK (CBS 5) – Dog bite claims are way up across the nation and California leads the pack, according to the Insurance Information Network. If it’s your dog doing the biting, you’re likely to pay dearly.

One such case was that of Poppie, a flat coated retriever owned by Michael and Monica Delehanty of Walnut Creek.

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The family was in the driveway preparing to take Poppie to the park when out of nowhere she rushed out into the street and attacked the neighbor’s daughter.

“It’s not like she went up to her and barked,” said Monica Delehanty. “She had a purpose like she went out and bit her, so we are trying to sort out what triggered that.”

In six years Poppie had never shown any signs of aggression.

“She’s relatively high strung, but she has never had a problem with children. We have young girls, they always have friends around,” said Delehanty.

The little girl next door required multiple stitches. Her family didn’t want to talk to our reporters.

Since the incident the Delehanty’s house life has changed, especially Poppie’s.

She’s now officially listed as a “dangerous animal” and has to be kept in confined in a newly built kennel when left alone, something the family is trying to get her used to.

But the hardest change has been that, under Contra Costa County’s strict regulations, Poppie may “only be removed (from the house) for the purposes of obtaining veterinary care.”

“Essentially she has life imprisonment in our home,” said Delehanty.

The rule may seem extreme, but its not surprising, according to dog bite expert Ron Berman.

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“The whole attitude about dog bites has changed,” he said. Berman testifies as an expert witness in dog bite trials and said the Diane Whipple dog mauling case in San Francisco a decade ago set the bar much higher. In California, county ordinances have gotten stricter ever since, according to Berman.

“Now it’s a much more difficult situation for everyone,” said Berman.

The biggest issue has been insurance. Some companies will now also exclude dogs labeled dangerous or vicious, no matter what the breed is.

That’s why Contra Costa County Animal Services director Glenn Howell insisted that specific language to be written into the Delehanty’s policy.

“There has to be some recognition in the policy that this particular dog’s name as a dangerous animal is covered,” he said.

The family ended up having to buy separate insurance just for Poppie. They currently pay $500-a-year, plus another $500 annually to renew the dangerous dog permit with the county.

Spending $1,000 a year to keep the family dog is expensive but necessary said Howell.

“We don’t issue very many dangerous dog permits in the county, but if they want to keep the dog they will go through the process,” he said.

“You know you’re held hostage. They have your animal. You want them back,” said Monica Delehanty.

“The easy answer for us would have been to put her down. It’s just that we need to give her another chance,” said Michael Delehanty.

Next week is Dog Bite Prevention week. For more information on how to prevent dog bites visit the American Humane Association.

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