Offences Involving Dogs
They might be supposed to be our best friends, but misbehaving dogs have landed hundreds of people before the courts across the years.
Owners face harsh penalties – including imprisonment and thousands of dollars in fines – for a multitude of offences under the ACT’s Domestic Animals Act, which came into force in 2000.
This page sets out the many impacts that the law has on dog owners, from serious charges where dogs have attacked people, to matters concerning the proper care of pets by their owners.
Penalties the court can impose for any of the offences listed below:
- Imprisonment (Jail – Full Time)
- Intensive correction order (previously periodic detention)
- Suspended sentence
- Community service order (CSO)
- Good behaviour order
- Fine order
- Section 17 non conviction order
Dogs That Attack, Causing Serious Injury
A dog’s carer or keeper who intends for or is reckless about the dog attacking another person or animal causing serious injury faces a maximum penalty of one year’s jail and/or a fine of 100 penalty units.
If you are found guilty of this offence, the court must order the dog be destroyed, unless satisfied there are special circumstances. If satisfied there are special circumstances, the court must declare the dog to be a dangerous dog and order the dog and its owner to complete an approved course in behavioural or socialisation training for the dog.
“Serious injury” is defined as endangering, or likely to endanger, the person or animal’s life; or is, or is likely to be, a significant or long-standing injury.
What the Police Must Prove
- That you were the careror keeper of a dog;
- The dog attacked or harassed another person or animal.
This is a strict-liability offence meaning that there are no fault elements for any of the physical elements of the offence; that is, the police do not have to prove any intent, nor act nor omission on your part, only that you were the carer or keeper and that the dog attacked or harassed.
It is a defence if you can prove that the person or animal provoked the dog, or the person or animal was attacked or harassed because the dog came to the aid of a person or animal the dog could be expected to protect, or if the attack or harassment was on premises occupied by you and the person attacked was on the premises without lawful excuse.
Attack by a Dog that was Declared to Be Dangerous
Courts can declare dogs to be dangerous if they have attacked or harassed a person or animal. Such a declaration renders the dog’s keeper liable to harsher penalties if the declared dangerous dog attacks again.
If a subsequent attack causes serious injury to a person or animal, the dog’s keeper is liable to a maximum penalty of five years’ jail and/or a fine of 500 penalty units. In other cases, the maximum penalties are one year’s jail and/or a fine of 100 penalty units.
Destruction of the dog or a further dangerous-dog declaration follows conviction.
Taking Dog into A Prohibited Area
Canberra has declared exercise areas for dogs and a list of places from which dogs are prohibited. Taking a dog into a prohibited area, which must have adequate signage declaring it to be so, carries a maximum penalty of 5 penalty units.
What the Police Must Prove
That you took a dog into the grounds of a child-care centre, preschool or primary school (unless a keeper of the dog resides in the grounds or the dog is taken into the grounds with the permission of the principal or person in charge).
That you took a dog into the grounds of a high school or secondary college during school hours or when school sport, including training, was being conducted unless the same conditions are met.
That you took a dog to a field or playing area where sport was being played or training for sport was being conducted.
That you took a dog into a public place that was within 10m of anything designed for play by children in the public place if children were playing on it, or a fireplace or heating appliance in the public place designed for cooking food, or a swimming area as defined by a sign officially erected, placed or displayed.
An assistance animal with a person with a disability is exempted.
A dog need not be restrained in public places by its carer or keeper if it is a working dog working livestock, or taking part in a dog show, field trial or obedience trial, or a dramatic performance or other entertainment.
“Animal nuisance” exists if the keeping or behaviour of an animal causes “a condition, state or activity that constitutes” damage to property owned by a person other than the keeper, or “excessive disturbance” to a person other than the keeper because of noise, or danger to the health of an animal or a person other than the keeper. Allowing animal nuisance carries a maximum penalty of 10 penalty units.
If found guilty, the keeper may find that the court orders the return of the animal, or it can direct the registrar to destroy or sell the animal or otherwise dispose of it to a person other than its keeper or a person who lives with its keeper. The costs or expenses of the sale, destruction or disposal can be ordered against the keeper.
What the police (or rangers) must prove:
- That a complaint of animal nuisance was made in writing to the registrar, who must investigate unless satisfied that the complaint is frivolous or vexatious.
- That the registrar issued a written notice to the keeper of an animal believed to be causing nuisance, or, if the keeper cannot be identified or is not the occupier of the premises, a person who occupies the place where the nuisance exists, or from which it emanates.
- That the registrar, in deciding whether to issue a notice, considered the number of people affected, or potentially affected; the damage, disturbance or danger resulting, or likely to result; any reasonable precautions that a person whose animal was causing the nuisance had or had not taken to avoid or minimise the effects, or potential effects; and any reasonable precautions that a person adversely affected, or potentially adversely affected, had or had not taken to avoid or minimise the effects, or likely effects.
If, after investigation, the registrar decides not to issue a nuisance notice, the registrar must give written notice of the decision to the complainant and advise of any methods available for settling the issue privately.
Notices can be revoked if the registrar is satisfied after an inspection that the notice has been complied with and adequate steps taken to prevent repetition of the nuisance.
Cleaning Up After Your Dog
The carer of a dog must hygienically dispose of any faeces dropped by the dog in a public place or in a stormwater drain or channel (whether on public or private land) or face a maximum penalty of 5 penalty units. Taking your dog into a public place or a stormwater drain or channel without carrying equipment suitable for the hygienic disposal of faeces dropped by the dog is punishable by a fine of 1 penalty unit.
Female dogs on heat must not enter or remain in a public place, with a maximum penalty of 5 penalty units for a carer who allows this. This section does not apply if the dog is confined in a motor vehicle in a public place, or under control in a dog show, field trial or obedience trial, or a dramatic performance or other entertainment. It is specifically not a defence that the dog was under the control of a competent person.
What You Can Do When A Dog Attacks
A person may destroy a dog that attacks a person or animal if the destruction of the dog is necessary to bring the attack to an end.
A person may destroy a dog found in an enclosed field (or paddock, yard or other place) if the person reasonably believes that an animal confined in the field has just been killed, injured or attacked by the dog – but not if the dog cannot move freely about the field because of a leash or other form of restraint.
An authorised person or police officer may ask a keeper or carer of a dog to produce the dog for inspection if the authorised person or police officer reasonably believes that the dog has attacked or harassed a person or animal. Failure to comply carries a maximum penalty of 50 penalty units.
Compensation is payable by a dog’s keeper to a person who suffers personal injury or property damage because of an attack or harassment by the dog. The same is true for the owner of an animal that is killed or injured by a dog.
Compensation may be recovered whether or not a prosecution for an offence against the Domestic Animals Act has been brought against the keeper of the dog and even if a prosecution has been brought and the keeper acquitted.
It is a defence to prove that the attack or harassment happened to the plaintiff or plaintiff’s animal while the plaintiff or the animal were, without reasonable excuse, on premises occupied by the defendant, or the plaintiff failed to take reasonable care for his or her own safety, or the plaintiff or his or her animal provoked the dog.
The public authorities with control over dog records can provide information to a purported victim if a registrar is satisfied that the purported victim has suffered injury or other loss because of a dog attack.
Seizure – And Getting Your Dog Back
An authorised person may seize a dog if it is in a prohibited area, not properly restrained or is on premises occupied by a person other than the keeper of the dog and the occupier asks an authorised person to seize the dog.
Dogs can be seized also if a court has ordered that the dog be destroyed or the keeper is disqualified from keeping the dog.
Dangerous dogs can be seized if the keeper has contravened a condition of a dangerous-dog licence and the authorised person reasonably believes, having regard to the safety of the public, that the contravention justifies the seizure. Dangerous dogs can be seized also if a dangerous-dog licence is not in force for the dog, or if the dangerous dog licence in force for the dog has been cancelled.
An authorised person may seize a dog if the authorised person suspects on reasonable grounds that the dog has attacked or harassed a person or an animal.
The registrar must impound a seized dog and make reasonable inquiries to find out who is the keeper. If the registrar can find the identity of the dog’s keeper, oral or written notice should be given about the seizure.
The notice must say when and where the dog was seized, the reason the dog was seized and where the dog may be claimed, as well as the fee payable for the release of the dog and the fact that the dog may be sold or destroyed if it is not claimed and the period in which that could happen.
The registrar must release the dog to a person claiming its release if, but only if, the registrar is satisfied the person claiming its release is the dog’s keeper and the dog is registered and the premises where the dog will be kept are secure enough to prevent the dog escaping. Any relevant fee must be paid before release.
A dog that has been seized subject to a pending prosecution must be released if 28 days have elapsed since seizure and a prosecution has not been started and if an infringement notice has not been served for the offence, or an infringement notice has been served for the offence and the infringement notice penalty has been paid or the notice withdrawn.
Similarly, the dog must be released if a prosecution for the offence was started not later than 28 days after the day the dog was seized and the prosecution has been discontinued, or the keeper has been convicted or found guilty of the offence but is not disqualified from keeping the dog.
The registrar may sell or destroy a dog (other than a dangerous dog) seized under general or the Act’s “attacking and harassing” power not later than 7 days after the day of the seizure if the registrar cannot find out who is the dog’s keeper after making reasonable inquiries, or if the dog’s keeper relinquishes ownership. The same applies if, not later than 7 days after the day notice was given to the dog’s keeper, the keeper does not tell the registrar, in writing, that the keeper wishes to claim the dog and, if the dog is not registered, apply to the registrar to register the dog.
The registrar may sell or destroy a dangerous dog (whether the dog was declared to be dangerous dog before or after it was seized) if not later than seven days after the day of the seizure, the registrar cannot find out who is the dog’s keeper after making reasonable inquiries, the dog’s keeper relinquishes ownership, or not later than 28 days after the day notice was given to the dog’s keeper, the keeper does not tell the registrar, in writing, that the keeper wishes to claim the dog, and (if a dangerous dog licence is not in force for the dog) apply to the registrar for a dangerous dog licence, and (if the dog is not registered) apply to the registrar to register the dog.
The registrar may sell or destroy a dog if the dog’s keeper applies for a dangerous-dog licence for the dog and is refused and the keeper receives notice of the registrar’s decision and either the keeper does not, not later than 7 days after the day the keeper receives the notice, make an application for review of the decision, or such application is refused.
The keeper of a seized dog may relinquish ownership of the dog by signed writing given to the registrar, who must not sell or destroy the dog until the instrument relinquishing ownership of the dog takes effect, which happens at the end of three days beginning on the day the signed instrument is given to the registrar.
WHERE TO NEXT?
If you suspect that you may be under investigation, or if you have been charged with an offence, it is vital to get competent legal advice as early as possible. Our lawyers are highly specialised in criminal law and will be able to guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.