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Are You a Dog Owner?

Did you know that you can be held criminally liable not only for the actions of your own dog, but also any other dog in your possession?

The Dog Control Act 1996 sets out obligations for dog owners, including anyone who is in possession of a dog. Failure to comply with some of these obligations can amount to a criminal offence - even if the failure was accidental.

I left my dog in my fully fenced backyard but he dug a hole and escaped onto my neighbour's property. Am I criminally liable?
Yes, the Act requires owners to ensure their dogs are kept under control at all times. A dog that has escaped from its property and is either roaming at large or on a neighbouring property without permission is not under control. The maximum penalty for this offence is conviction and a fine of up to $3,000.

I was walking a friend's dog on the beach and it attacked a child who tried to pat it. Am I criminally liable?
Yes, under the Act it is an offence if you are the owner of (or person in possession of) a dog that:
a. makes an attack on a person (maximum penalty for this offence is conviction and a fine of up to $3,000); or
b. makes an attack on a person causing serious injury (maximum penalty upon conviction of imprisonment of up to 3 years or a fine not exceeding $20,000).

Accordingly, if you are in possession of an unfamiliar dog, or a large or aggressive dog capable of causing serious harm to others, you should take extra care to ensure that the dog is well-controlled in public. Once a person is convicted of an offence involving a dog attack, the Court must also order the destruction of the dog, unless the circumstances of the attack were exceptional.

I went away on holiday and hired a student to look after my dog. One night the student left the gate open and the dog ran next door and killed the neighbour's pet rabbit. Am I criminally liable?
Yes, not only does the Act require owners to ensure their dogs are kept under control at all times, but it is an offence if you are the owner of (or person in possession of) a dog that makes an attack on a domestic animal (such as a pet rabbit), stock, poultry, or protected wildlife. (The maximum penalty for this offence is conviction and a fine of up to $3,000.) Take care to satisfy yourself that anybody who is looking after your dog for you is responsible and informed of any risk factors relating to your dog (e.g. a tendency to chase cars or small animals, or a habit of jumping up at people).

Where can I find out more?
Your local Council has the primary responsibility for enforcing the Dog Control Act and local dog control bylaws and can provide you with further information about the responsibilities of dog owners and tips for how to best manage your dog's behaviour.

Written by Victoria Brewer at 09:00

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