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The ACT government says no to tougher dog laws

By David Tuckwell - 3 April 2017 10

Young Man's Best Friend

The ACT government has put out a draft animal management strategy, which, in effect, says no to stronger laws and restrictions on dogs.

The past ten years, state governments in VIC, NSW, TAS and WA have introduced tougher dog laws, aimed at reducing dog attacks. The laws have included harsher penalties on owners whose dogs attack people or other pets, as well as restrictions on certain breeds, particularly the American pit bull terrier.

But the ACT has proved immune to what is otherwise a nationwide trend.

“While the ACT has strong legislation governing the management of domestic animals, including dogs involved in attacks, it is a fact that legislation alone cannot prevent dog attacks,” said Meegan Fitzharris, Minister for Transport and City Services.

“Canberrans love their pets, and the Government is committed to ensuring we become an Australian leader in ensuring the highest standards of welfare.”

In publishing the strategy, Ms Fitzharris is delivering on an election promise for more proactive animal management.

However, her strategy, which mostly consists in calling for internal reviews, has disappointed the opposition, The Canberra Times, and some dog attack victims, who have been pushing for stronger dog laws.

“The Barr government has demonstrated it doesn’t care about the victims of dog attacks, with its complete inaction on the issue,” said Shadow Minister for Urban Services Steve Doszpot, one of the most vocal MLAs calling for tougher dog laws.

“I brought a motion to the Assembly to get the government to commit to action on dealing with dangerous dogs and dog attacks that have been plaguing the community. However, Minister Fitzharris has completely shelved the issue, showing she doesn’t care.”

Last year, a fiercely critical petition calling for an inquiry into Domestic Animal Services gained almost 1,000 signatures. Petitioners asked to “change the culture and reprimand staff”. Unlike in other states, there appears to be no institution or victims group calling for tougher dog laws.

The strategy has been welcomed by the RSPCA ACT as further evidence the ACT is a national leader in animal welfare.

“The ACT has some of the best dog laws in the country,” said Tammy Van Dange, CEO of RSPCA ACT.

“We are the only place in the country with laws protecting against puppy farms, we have requirements for desexing at much younger ages and better laws on microchipping and registration.”

Ms Van Dange notes that the number of puppies coming into the shelters has been cut in half since legislation requiring desexing for was introduced.

Transport Canberra and City Services estimates there are 120,000 dogs in the ACT of which almost half are unregistered.

Government statistics show that the dog attack numbers are rising. As the statistics are self-reported however it is unclear if attacks are rising or if they are just being reported more.

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10 Responses to
The ACT government says no to tougher dog laws
Coco_Black 7:51 am 07 Apr 17

“The strategy has been welcomed by the RSPCA ACT as further evidence the ACT is a national leader in animal welfare.”
Well, the RSPCA would say that, woudn’t it? – as RSPCA sits on the Animal Welfare Advisory Committe (AWAC)!
I’ve just checked out the Animal Welfare & Management Strategy…(I didn’t know it existed) and have done a bit of reasearch into who sits on the committee. The Introduction tries to make out that the ‘strategy has been developed in collaboration with the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (AWAC), the RSPCA ACT, ACT Wildlife and the Veterinary Surgeons Board…. and also ….informed by discussions with other relevant stakeholders including ACT Government directorates and the Rural Landholders Association.” This statement is misleading as it is these very people who sit on the AWAC, and not separate from it. Interestingly, Animal Liberation is also on the AWAC – slipping in under the criteria of a ‘community based organisation involved in animal welfare, other than the RSPCA’. It is highly arguable that Animal Lib is an animal Welfare organisation like the RSPCA!
The fact that the government has ‘outsourced’ this document to be written by a group of organisations with inherent bias and vested interests is of concern. There appear to have been no real community input into the draft Strategy – save that the real community can now have their say on a done-and-dusted document.
A quick glance at the Strategy suggests that the community apparently has no interest in breed specific laws (when the government appears to have set up a community liaison group to discuss this very issue?); and has no issue with greyhound welfare?
So glad that the Strategy appears to be reviewing the list of exotic circus animals though (4.6.2) – despite the ban on exotic circus animals having been in place since the early 90’s.

wildturkeycanoe 9:55 pm 05 Apr 17

petunia petal said :

Every few weeks there is a story in the paper about a pathetic ‘sentence’ these types of people receive. Fines? they have no money to pay. Warnings? meh. Enforcement? government too busy worrying about what our licence plates say. So what else is there? nothing.

So because it’s too hard we simply give up and let people keep getting away with this? Wouldn’t it be better to at least try and do something, like at least enforce the existing laws?

dungfungus 8:51 pm 05 Apr 17

petunia petal said :

The answer isn’t to destroy the animals – the owners are to blame for breeding or raising dogs without proper care and socialisation. Those dogs are also victims of awful owners who probably also flout every other rule out there because in the ACT you can get away with it. Kill/take away their dog and they will just get another one and repeat it. You can starve and abuse animals and not get a ban from owning animals in the ACT. Every few weeks there is a story in the paper about a pathetic ‘sentence’ these types of people receive. Fines? they have no money to pay. Warnings? meh. Enforcement? government too busy worrying about what our licence plates say. So what else is there? nothing. You can commit murder in the ACT and get away with it. Being a lowlife without any sense of responsibility for the welfare of an animal or caring about the safety of your community is a viable option in the ACT. For those wanting to end their RSPCA donations please consider any of the other wonderful organisations that rescue and rehabilitate animals or work to improve animal welfare. The RSPCA lost my respect many years ago.

It’s easier to adopt a child from an orphanage than a dog from the local RSPCA. I don’t know what their problem is but I think they are too much into self-promotion and attending to life long customers who want another pet takes second preference.

That’s my experience anyhow and I am a life member of the NSW RSPCA. I got my last doggy from the RSPCA in Orange, NSW.

petunia petal 8:11 pm 05 Apr 17

The answer isn’t to destroy the animals – the owners are to blame for breeding or raising dogs without proper care and socialisation. Those dogs are also victims of awful owners who probably also flout every other rule out there because in the ACT you can get away with it. Kill/take away their dog and they will just get another one and repeat it. You can starve and abuse animals and not get a ban from owning animals in the ACT. Every few weeks there is a story in the paper about a pathetic ‘sentence’ these types of people receive. Fines? they have no money to pay. Warnings? meh. Enforcement? government too busy worrying about what our licence plates say. So what else is there? nothing. You can commit murder in the ACT and get away with it. Being a lowlife without any sense of responsibility for the welfare of an animal or caring about the safety of your community is a viable option in the ACT. For those wanting to end their RSPCA donations please consider any of the other wonderful organisations that rescue and rehabilitate animals or work to improve animal welfare. The RSPCA lost my respect many years ago.

Acton 2:45 pm 05 Apr 17

It is unacceptable that these dog attacks keep on happening and incomprehensible why dogs apprehended after an attack are being returned to their owners. Why?

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/spate-of-horrific-dog-maulings-sparks-calls-for-government-action-20170117-gtsxdc.html

A primary purpose of government is to ensure community safety. When existing options are clearly failing to ensure community safety, as they are with the spate of recent dog on dog and dog on people attacks around Canberra, the onus is on government to do something.

Is it too much to ask of the authorities and institutions (including the RSPCA) involved in community safety, to recognise that we have a problem and to have in place workable legislation, enforceable penalties and effective staff?

“…legislation alone cannot prevent dog attacks,” said Meegan Fitzharris, Minister for Transport and City Services.”

“And yet it has been proven time and time again (even in the 2016 review in Victoria) that legislation alone does not fix this problem.” says Tammy Van Dange of the RSPCA ACT.

These are unsatisfactory responses.

Yes, legislation alone can’t prevent dog attacks. Nor will legislation alone prevent burglaries, car theft, assaults, rape and murder. However, we have legislation and penalties for a reason and if legislation and penalties are inadequate in some way (severity, enforcement, proof, resources, whatever…) then they get strengthened to do what they are supposed to do.

My expectation and solution: If your dog injures my dog, your dog gets put down and you pay my veterinary costs.

The alternative to existing ineffective or absent remedies is that we all have to arm ourselves with big sticks or sharp screwdrivers whenever we go for a walk in case we, or our pet, are attacked by some roaming, out of control, vicious and dangerous dog.

[[Notice I have made no mention of breeds, so Fluffy the gentle and placid American Pit Bull who would never hurt a fly has nothing to worry about – unless he loses it.]]

msgrumpy 10:25 am 05 Apr 17

Ms Van Dange – I am a longstanding supporter of the RSPCA through workplace giving deductions from my pay packet. The deductions will be stopped immediately! I cannot and will not support an organisation that thinks dog laws in the ACT are already strong enough.

I am a survivor of a vicious dog attack (two years ago this month). I was out walking my three leashed dogs (of the small and fluffy/scruffy variety) when we were attacked without warning by a staffy cross who had escaped it’s owner’s yard. I am still chasing the owner of the staffy cross for repayment of vet bills and subsequent legal fees (around $7,800 so far).

My request for repayment of the vet bills (shout out to Calwell Vets for saving my dog’s life (the staffy focused on ‘only’ one of my dogs) and the 24/7 vet at Fyshwick) seemed to come as a complete surprise to the owner of the staffy as the ranger who had spoken to him (and obtained his surrender of his dog which was already in the ranger’s custody anyway – shout out to Fallon who rescued us, took us to the vet and then captured the dog when she was on her way home and saw it attacking another dog out with it’s owner for a walk) had obviously told him he (the ranger) would do his best to put me off pursuing the owner for $$. And the ranger did – actually told me the owner was ‘poor’ and a ‘single parent’. So what?! No so poor that he couldn’t afford to adopt a dog and not so caring a parent that he adopted a dog that was obviously capable of harming his young children.

Anyhoo – enough of this rant. Off to contact HR and cancel my workplace giving donations. And, Ms Fitzharris, if you ‘represent’ my electorate – you won’t be getting my vote at the next election.

wildturkeycanoe 10:22 pm 04 Apr 17

Whilst there are animals in Canberra which have actually attacked and killed other owner’s pets, or even attacked people, without being put down, the ACT government has failed the community. Just the other day I had to help a poor lady who was just walking her dog in the neighborhood. I saw a huge [I mean almost a meter tall] unleashed dog running up to the woman who in fear grabbed her little ball of fur and lifted them up in her arms for protection. Thankfully the big creature had only good intentions and only wanted to sniff, not eat. But the owner of this poor little dog had no idea if the larger dog was dangerous or not. It was quite a chore to drag it away, very powerful, so I can imagine what it could do if it wanted to feast on a tasty treat.
About a year or so ago my wife was bailed up against a retaining wall by three large dogs which were snapping and growling at her. Whilst I tried to locate her in my car after she called for help on her phone, she was thankfully saved by a passing cyclist, even though the dogs were still roaming free. We found out where they came from and contacted the ranger. The neighbor of the dog’s owner said that they regularly escape and she was too frightened to come outside to talk to us. One of them had actually jumped onto the roof of her car in the driveway. Before the ranger showed up, the dogs were collected from down the street by someone who obviously knew them [maybe the owner], but they weren’t returned home. They probably thought the ranger would come and they’d be in trouble, but that hardly seems to happen in Canberra. I can only be thankful my wife didn’t have our little dog with her as she normally does, or he would have surely become a meal.
Only recently an ex dog owner who lost their beloved pet to feral mutts had no justice from the courts. The dangerous dogs were simply sentenced to being “better controlled”.

When the hospital system gets three cases of dog attack to treat every week, there is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, but releasing these dogs to their owners with “tougher restrictions” is not going to stop the carnage. If a dog has attacked a human once, and I don’t mean where someone has tormented it and they got what they deserved, but the attack was in a public place by an unrestrained dog, the dog should be put down. They can not be rehabilitated, they don’t understand the concept of remorse or conscience, it is an instinct which has obviously risen to the surface and can do so again. These kinds of animals do not have a place in suburban streets.
No, I am not a cat lover either, I love dogs as much as anyone, but not dogs that have tasted human blood. They should be put to sleep before they get the chance to do it again.

John Moulis 9:34 am 04 Apr 17

It is the old argument about government attempts to control peoples’ lives and the dogs they can own. In 1994 American pitbulls were banned by the Qld government and this led to a thriving underground industry. Other state governments brought in similar bans and this led to people from interstate coming to the ACT to buy pitbulls (where they were still legal).

The point I am making is that when governments bow to emotional media campaigns and bring in laws banning certain things it only makes them more attractive. Queensland has made anabolic steroids Schedule 1 drugs – similar to heroin – and this has had no effect on reducing usage, in fact the opposite has occurred. The knee-jerk “coward punch” laws in NSW and Qld increased the jail term for possessing steroids from five years to 25 years, but which magistrate in their right mind would sentence someone to 25 years jail for possessing steroids? More than many murder sentences. It was a stupid move done in response to a media campaign following the death of Thomas Kelly in 2013. Then there were the Qld anti-bikie laws with their ridiculous sentences for “consorting”. If those laws applied in the ACT I would be classified as an associate of the Rebels because I trained with them at the gym.

Personally I’m glad that the ACT government is not going down this road. Laws like this might please the low rent newspapers and shock jocks but they are bad law which holds the whole legal system up to ridicule.

Tammy Ven Dange 7:34 am 04 Apr 17

Acton said :

This bland and insipid document is about animal welfare, but fails to adequately recognise or address safety from dangerous dogs as an animal welfare and community issue. If domestic animals under our care have ‘rights’ or ‘freedoms’ (pg 9), surely that should include the freedom not to be injured or killed by an out of control, vicious and dangerous dog.

Yes, my quote was regarding animal welfare not animal management. However, we all want the same thing: to hold owners responsible for their pets. And yet it has been proven time and time again (even in the 2016 review in Victoria) that legislation alone does not fix this problem.

Acton 6:48 pm 03 Apr 17

“The ACT has some of the best dog laws in the country,” said Tammy Van Dange, CEO of RSPCA ACT.”

No it doesn’t. The failure to remove and euthanize three dogs that ripped apart and killed another dog shows the laws to be totally ineffective.

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/act-liberals-and-victims-call-for-tighter-animal-controls-as-dog-attacks-continue-in-canberra-20170324-gv5nsx.html

The ACT Government must prevent proven dangerous dogs (those that have attacked and injured or killed other animals) from being returned to their owners and must have clear guidelines and effective measures for euthanizing proven dangerous dogs.

Feedback on the ‘Animal Welfare Management Strategy 2017 – 2022’ can be given here:

https://www.yoursay.act.gov.au/draft-animal-welfare-and-management-strategy

This bland and insipid document is about animal welfare, but fails to adequately recognise or address safety from dangerous dogs as an animal welfare and community issue. If domestic animals under our care have ‘rights’ or ‘freedoms’ (pg 9), surely that should include the freedom not to be injured or killed by an out of control, vicious and dangerous dog.

Cat and dog owners should express their views on the inability or unwillingness of the authorities to deal with dangerous dogs in our community.

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