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 neighbour’s 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 as “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 it’s 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 owner’s 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 it’s a cross-breed of any of these (unless the owner can prove the dog isn’t a danger, such as by providing a written statement from a temperament assessor). Under the Act, it’s illegal to sell, acquire or breed restricted dogs.
Having a DORD means the owner must ensure that when the dog is away from home it is on a leash and muzzled (unless it’s lawfully hunting), and that it has 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 dog is kept in at home. For example, it must be made from certain materials (eg. brick) and fully enclosed so the dog can’t escape over, under or through it. Plus it must be designed so that children don’t 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 it’s 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, it’s 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.
For more information please see Dog attack in Sydney park costs owner $50,000.