Dangerous Dogs Does The Law Protect Us?
Unprovoked dog attacks have been the subject of many media reports lately. Kids mauled, sometimes fatally, by a neighbours dog. Dogs attacked by others in the park.
Under the NSW Companion Animals Act, anyone who owns a dog has to follow certain laws. But there are also specific rules in the legislation for dangerous or restricted dogs (DORDs).
A dog is classified dangerous if it has attacked or killed a person or animal (other than vermin), or has repeatedly threatened to attack, repeatedly chased, or displayed unreasonable aggression to a person or animal. Or if its kept for hunting.
Regardless of breed, any dog can be declared dangerous by the council or Local Court. And anyone can make a written application to council to have a dog declared dangerous, although the council must first consider an owners objection.
Restricted dogs in NSW include pitbull terriers, Japanese tosas, Argentinean fighting dogs and Brazilian fighting dogs. The council can also declare a dog restricted if its a cross-breed of any of these (unless the owner can prove the dog isnt a danger, such as by providing a written statement from a temperament assessor). Under the Act, its illegal to sell, acquire or breed restricted dogs.
Having a DORD means the owner must ensure that when the dogs away from home its on a leash and muzzled (unless its lawfully hunting), and that its been microchipped, registered, de-sexed and wears a distinctive collar (red and yellow striped). There are also strict rules about the kind of enclosure the dogs kept in at home. For example, it must be made from certain materials (eg. brick) and fully enclosed so the dog cant escape over, under or through it. Plus it must be designed so that children dont have access. And there must be warning signs on the property.
Failing to comply with the rules can result in a fine of up to $16,500.
If a DORD bites or attacks a person or animal (other than vermin), due to the owner not complying with one of the requirements, the owner can be fined as much as $55,000 or serve two years in jail. And the dog may be seized and destroyed, depending on the circumstances.
Typically, the penalties for breaking a law under the Act are harsher if its a DORD. For example, all dogs are prohibited from some areas, like kids playgrounds or school grounds. While the penalty for owners is $1,100, its ten times that for the owner of a DORD.
Some believe that penalties should be even tougher, including the addition of a criminal manslaughter charge for irresponsible owners whose DORD attacks and kills someone.
In any case, current laws do serve to offer some protection.