Dangerous Dog Declarations (Vic)
In Victoria, the Domestic Animals Act 1994 covers various offences in relation to the management and control of domestic animals. This encompasses offences from minor offences, such as animals not being leashed correctly or under effective control, to more serious charges of animal attack which results in serious injury or death to a human or another animal. When an offence is committed under this act, there are substantial powers granted to authorised officers to declare a dog a dangerous dog. When a dangerous dog declaration is made, very stringent obligations are imposed on the owners of the dog and there are severe ramifications for contravening them.
Restricted Dog Breeds
The first category of dangerous dogs are dogs that are restricted breeds. Currently, there are five restricted dog breeds in Victoria. These are Pit Bull Terrier, Presa Canario, Dogo Argentino, Japanese Tosa and Fila Brasileiro. Owning a dog of any of these breeds automatically triggers various obligations under the Domestic Animals Act, with severe penalties for non-compliance.
Under Section 34A of the Domestic Animals Act, a dog is also classed as dangerous, if at any time:
- The dog has been kept as a guard dog for the purpose of guarding non-residential premises; or
- The dog has at any time been trained to attack or bite any person or any thing when attached to or worn by a person.
Dangerous Dog Declaration
Under certain circumstances, a council may seek to declare a dog to be ‘dangerous’ due to certain conditions being met, namely if:
- The dog has caused death or serious injury to a person or another animal by biting or attacking that person or animal; or
- If the dog has been declared ‘menacing’ and the owner has received at least two infringement notices with respect to various other offences regarding the control and management of a ‘menacing’ dog; or
- The dog has been declared ‘dangerous’ by another state or territory; or
- There has been a finding of guilt (or the serving of an infringement notice) with respect to two or more offences relating to dog attacks or rushing.
Once the council has made the decision to declare a dog dangerous (due to the above), it is required to provide the registered owner of the animal with notice of its intention to do so and allow them an opportunity to respond.
In most situations, councils are receptive to owners who take mitigating steps as to ensuring that an offence is isolated. Such steps may include attending a dog obedience course, dog training or handling training (for the owner). Whilst this might not stop an application for a dangerous dog being made, it may potentially avoid the need for a declaration to be made.
A person will not be prohibited from owning a dog that is declared dangerous. However, once such a declaration is made, there are various obligations imposed on an owner. These include ensuring that:
- The dog is confined in a manner in which it cannot escape;
- That a person cannot enter the dwelling (where a dangerous dog is residing) unless admitted by an occupier of that premises (who is over the age of 18);
- A prescribed warning sign is displayed at all entrances of the property where the dog is being kept, to warn people that a dangerous dog is on the premises;
- That the dog wears an approved prescribed collar at all times;
- The dog must be under effective control at all times by means of a chain, cord or leash, when not at the owners’ premises; and
- That the dog is muzzled at all times (when not at the owner’s premises).
Contraventions of the above obligations can lead to substantial fines in excess of $7,000 (per offence).
Offences involving dangerous dogs
Should a dangerous dog (regardless of compliance with the above), be involved in any other offence under the Domestic Animals Act, this can result in substantial fines and even imprisonment for the owner.
If a dangerous dog is found ‘at large’ and is suspected of having committed an offence under the Domestic Animals Act, the council has the power to seize and destroy the dog.
Should a council declare a dog to be ‘dangerous’ the owner of the animal has the option to appeal that decision through the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT).
Under Section 98 of the Domestic Animals Act, any such appeal needs to be made within twenty-eight days of the decision to declare the dog a ‘dangerous dog’.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.