Criminal Law

By Satomi Hamon


Dangerous dog laws in the ACT

Should the ACT government consider tougher rules for ‘dangerous dog breeds’?

Recently, there was an article in the Canberra Times that reported the story of two dog attack victims, Jack Hartigan and Daniel Meyers.

Jack was only six years old when he was attacked by two American pit bull terriers, and has since undergone almost twenty procedures to repair his damaged face and scalp.

Daniel Meyers lost a finger, part of his hand, a chunk of his tricep and suffered nerve damage after he was attacked by two pit bulls in March last year.

Mr Hartigan, Jack’s father, said new laws, such as licensing or regulations on securing certain breeds, could help prevent future attacks. However, the Australian Veterinary Association says the latest research shows banning particular breeds does nothing to address aggression in dogs, and nothing to increase public safety.

The ACT government does not currently list specific breeds as dangerous, but individual dogs can be declared dangerous depending on behaviour and history.

As a dog owner in the ACT, one may wonder…

Is my dog ‘dangerous’?
Under the Domestic Animals Act 2000 (ACT) (“the Act”) a dog may be declared as dangerous if the dog has attacked or harassed a person or animal.
Under section 49 of the Act, a dog is taken to harass:

  • a person if, because of its behaviour, the person reasonably fears that the dog is about to attack the person without provocation; and
  • an animal if the dog hunts or torments the animal.

What if my dog attacks or harasses a person or animal?
Under section 49A of the Act, if you are the carer or keeper of a dog and that dog attacks or harasses another person or animal you could be held liable and face a fine of up to $7500.

If your dog causes a serious injury, you could face fine of up to $15000, imprisonment for one year or both.

In these instances, you may not be liable if you can prove that:

  • the person or animal provoked the dog; or
  • he 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 the defendant—the person was on the premises without lawful excuse.

In making the decision whether a dog should be declared dangerous, the ACT registrar must consider the circumstances surrounding the attack or harassment.
If your dog is declared dangerous, you must apply for a dangerous dog licence. The conditions on such a licence may include the following:

  • the confining of the dog to the premises where the dog is kept under the licence;
  • the dog leaving the premises;
  • requiring the keeper and dog to complete an approved course in behavioural or socialisation training for the dog.

If you are charged over the actions of your dog in the A.C.T or elsewhere, be sure to contact an experienced criminal lawyer for advice and representation.