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Dogs and Cats and the Law (NSW)

The Companion Animals Act sets out the responsibilities that owners and councils in New South Wales have in respect of domestic dogs and cats. It also provides for what steps can be taken by councils and courts if a dog or cat is not adequately controlled. The Crimes Act 1900 also contains criminal offences involving dogs and the Companion Animals Act sets out the steps that courts can take in relation to dogs involved in those offences. It also contains provisions about the use of assistance animals by disabled people. The NSW legislation on animal cruelty is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. 

Responsibilities of owners of dogs and cats

Section 9 of the Companion Animals Act provides that dogs and cats must be registered from the age of six months and section 8 states that such animals must be identified prior to being sold.

The act provides that dog owners must take certain steps, such as ensuring the dog is collared and tagged (Section 12), ensuring that the dog prevented from escaping the property it lives on (Section 13), that it is kept under control when in public (Section 13) and that it must not be encouraged to attack (Section 17).

Responsibilities of councils

Section 11A provides that when a dog or cat is killed by traffic, the council must take reasonable steps to find the owner of the animal and notify them that the animal has been killed.

Nuisance dogs and cats

A dog causes a nuisance by defecating on property, barking, chasing persons or vehicles, endangering health or causing damage to property. A cat causes a nuisance by damaging property or making noise.

If a dog or cat causes a nuisance, a council can issue an order to the owner requiring them to prevent the behaviour causing the nuisance from continuing or recurring.

An owner can object to a nuisance dog order within 7 days of the notice being given. If the owner does not object to the order within 7 days, the council may issue it.

A nuisance cat order stays in force for six months and failure to comply with such an order can attract a fine of 3 penalty units for a first offence and 8 penalty units for a second or subsequent offence.

Dangerous and menacing dogs

Under the Act, a council may declare a dog to be a dangerous dog or a menacing dog.

A dog can be declared dangerous if it has done any of the following:

  • attacked or killed a person or another animal without provocation;
  • repeatedly threatened to attack;
  • repeatedly chased a person or animal;
  • if the dog is kept for hunting.

A dog can be declared menacing if it has done any of the following:

  • displayed unreasonable aggression towards a person or another animal;
  • without provocation, attacked a person or animal (but has not caused serious injury).

When an owner is notified of a proposed declaration by the council that their dog is a dangerous or a menacing dog, they must ensure that it is under effective control and has a muzzle on whenever it is away from the owner’s property until the order is made or discontinued. If the order is made, the owner must obtain a permit to own the dog within seven days of the order taking effect. It is an offence punishable by 50 penalty units to own a dangerous dog without a valid permit.

The owner of a dangerous dog must:

  • Have the dog desexed;
  • Never leave a person under 18 in charge of the dog;
  • Keep the dog in an enclosure;
  • Display a sign on the property reading ‘Warning dangerous dog’;
  • Keep the dog on a lead and muzzled when outside its enclosure;

The owner of a menacing dog must:

  • Keep the dog under effective control, leashed and muzzled when outside its property.

Failure to comply with these control requirements can attract a fine of up to 150 penalty units.

Offences under the Crimes Act involving dogs

Under Section 35A of the Crimes Act 1900, a person who has control of a dog and causes it to inflict grievous bodily harm on another person is guilty of an offence and can be sentenced to up to ten years imprisonment. A person who causes a dog to inflict actual bodily harm on a person is guilty of an offence and can be sentenced to up to five years imprisonment.

When a person is found guilty of this offence, a court may make a control order or an order for the destruction of the dog.

A control order requires the owner of the dog to take action to prevent or reduce the likelihood of the dog causing injury – for example. desexing the dog or training it. A destruction order means the dog must be euthanised.

The court may only make a destruction order if it is satisfied that a control order would be insufficient to protect the public from the animal.

Assistance animals

The Companion Animals Act provides that a person who has a disability is entitled to have an assistance animal with them in any public place or on public transport. A person must not be refused entry because they have an assistance animal with them.

If you require legal advice in any matter please contact Armstrong Legal.

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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