2 November 2017

ACT Government to toughen up on dangerous dog laws

| Glynis Quinlan
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Beware of DogThe ACT Government has bowed to pressure from the ACT Opposition and the community in announcing plans for tougher laws to deal with dangerous dogs.

The mooted changes, which include greater powers to seize and destroy dangerous dogs, also follow on from the tragic death of a woman from a dog attack in Watson early last week.

However, the forecast changes initially appear weaker than the bill tabled by the ACT Opposition in the ACT Legislative Assembly yesterday which requires that dogs who kill or seriously injure a person or kill an animal should be destroyed as “the default position”.

ACT Transport and City Services Minister Meegan Fitzharris yesterday conceded that the ACT’s laws on dangerous dogs need to change and said the Government will carefully consider the Opposition’s bill and expects to reach agreement on many areas.

“Many people in the community have spoken to me about their experiences, as owners of dogs who have attacked or others who have been attacked,” Ms Fitzharris said.

“The number, range and diversity of these issues in our community has demonstrated to me that we need change. Legislation needs to change, services and enforcement needs to improve.”

The ACT Opposition yesterday tabled the Domestic Animals (Dangerous Dogs) Legislation Amendments Bill 2017, with Opposition Leader Alistair Coe saying the bill aimed to provide clearer direction on the handling of complaints about dog attacks and harassment by dogs.

“The Canberra Liberals have been inundated with disturbing stories from members of the community who have been let down by the Government’s dog laws after experiencing a vicious dog attack,” Mr Coe said.

“In response, my colleague Steve Doszpot spearheaded tough legislation to provide stronger protections for the community and clearer instructions for Domestic Animal Services to investigate complaints.

“The Government’s default position on dealing with dog attacks that have resulted in injury or death has been to hand the dog back to its owners who then let it back into the community.

“The Canberra Liberals bill seeks to change the Government’s default position. In the case where a dog kills or seriously injures a person, or kills an animal, the default position should be that the dog is destroyed.

“The Bill also requires that a dog must be seized and impounded during an investigation into complaints of injury or death. It also provides for a significant annual fee for dangerous dog licence holders, and the issuing of control orders.”

Ms Fitzharris said that the Government will consider a range of amendments to ACT laws including creating regulatory powers whereby:

  • a dangerous dog may be seized and destroyed if it attacks or bites a person or animal without provocation, or its keeper fails to abide by the special licence conditions
  • the registrar can authorise the euthanasia of a dog deemed too dangerous to release
  • the registrar can refuse to grant the registration of a dog if the owner fails to, or is unable to, demonstrate responsible dog management, care and/or control.

The other main law changes to be considered include:

  • increasing penalties for owners who do not comply with dangerous dog laws, including consideration of dog-ownership bans for those who repeatedly fail to comply with conditions
  • mandating a legislative timeframe for the owner of a declared dangerous dog to meet their obligations of a dangerous dog licence
  • significantly increase the cost of dangerous dog licences to help cover the cost of increased enforcement
  • requiring the registrar to give written notice of decisions to the complainant and the keeper of the dog. This would include notifying neighbours when dangerous dogs are returned to owners.

“In addition, we will strengthen our understanding of dog ownership across the Territory,” Ms Fitzharris said.

“The current, one-off lifetime registration does not provide an adequate understanding of dogs in our community nor further responsible pet ownership. The Government will explore alternative registration schemes.”

The Opposition’s bill is likely to be debated in the last sitting week of November. Ms Fitzharris said that as the Government develops legislative amendments it will also work with the Opposition on their amendments.

Are you pleased to see more action being taken on dealing with dangerous dogs? Do you think proposed changes go too far or don’t go far enough? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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At the start of the year, someone was handed back their three dangerous dogs after they tore apart someone’s dog at Yerrabi Pond. In August, the dog from this article attacked someone, nothing.

In fact, three ‘related articles’ on the riotact from this year alone refer to the ACT community’s discussion around dogs. The ACT Government is usually proactive in their legislative agenda.

On this occasion, an easily foreseeable tragedy has occured, and they should not only be forced to explain what their changes are, but also why they took so long to implement them.

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