Menacing Dog Declarations (Vic)
In Victoria, the Domestic Animals Act 1994 contains various offences in relation to the management and control of domestic animals. This act encompasses minor offences, such as animals not being leashed correctly or under effective control, to more serious offences of animal attacks resulting in serious injury or death to a human or another animal. There are substantial powers granted to authorised officers under the act to declare a dog to be a menacing dog. Stringent obligations are then imposed on the owners and there are severe ramifications for an owner who contravenes their obligations. This article deals with menacing dog declarations in Victoria.
Menacing dog or Dangerous Dog?
It is important to note that there is a significant difference between a dog that is declared to be ‘dangerous’ and a dog that is declared to be ‘menacing’.
The owner of a dangerous dog is required to ensure that the dog is:
- wearing a prescribed collar at all time;
- housed within a dwelling that cannot be accessed by anyone under the age of 18;
- muzzled and on lead at all time (when outside the dwelling); and
- housed at a dwelling with appropriate signing (that being that there is a dangerous dog on site).
The owner of a menacing dog need only ensure that the dog is:
- muzzled and leashed at all times when outside of its dwelling;
- microchipped; and
- under the control of a person who is over the age of 17 (when outside of its dwelling).
When is a Declaration made?
In certain scenarios, a council may seek to declare a dog ‘menacing’ due to certain conditions being met. This may occur if:
- the dog ‘rushes’ at a person, which essentially means coming in close proximity of that person in an aggressive manner;
- the dog causes a non-serious bite to another person and/or animal; or
- the dog has been declared a menacing dog by another council.
Once a council has made the decision to declare a dog menacing (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.
Avoiding a menacing dog declaration
In most situations, councils are receptive to owners who take mitigating steps as to ensuring that an offence relating to a dog attack is isolated in nature. This can include participating in a dog obedience course, dog training or handling training (for the owner). Whilst this might not stop an application for a menacing dog declaration being made, it may potentially avoid the declaration being made.
Failure to comply
Whilst a person will not be prohibited from owning a dog that has been declared ‘menacing’, once such a declaration is made, there are various obligations imposed on the owner. The owner must comply with these obligations and failure to comply can lead to very severe penalties. Penalties for non-compliance can exceed $2,907.84 per offence (depending on the offence) and commonly result in a conviction being imposed against the owner.
Furthermore, should the owner of a menacing dog (regardless of compliance with the above), be issued with at least two infringement notices for failing to comply with the obligations imposed on an owner of a menacing dog, the council may upgrade the declaration and seek that the dog now be declared dangerous. Should such a declaration be made, the owner of the dog will now need to comply with the obligations of an owner of a dangerous dog which are far more onerous.
Lastly, should an owner of an animal be charged with an offence that may trigger a menacing dog declaration and such a declaration is not sought, the court has the discretion to make such a declaration on its own initiative, should the magistrate deem it appropriate to do so in the circumstances.
Should a council declare a dog to be menacing, the owner of the animal has the option to appeal this 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 28 days of the declaration.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.