In December 2015 Buddy (a Mastiff Cross) and Shiva (a Labrador Kelpie Cross) were declared dangerous dogs by the Shire of Mundaring after a pet goat was attacked by two dogs. Buddy and Shiva's owner successfully had this decision overturned in the State Administrative Tribunal (SAT) on the basis of mistaken identity, as the Shire was unable to show on the balance of probabilities that Buddy and Shiva were the dogs responsible for the attack.
This SAT decision highlights just some of the legal issues that can arise for dog owners.
What are the laws affecting my dog?
Owning a dog in Western Australia is governed by the Dog Act 1976. The purpose of this act is public safety. The Act gives powers to local governments to regulate and control dogs. In Western Australia, all dogs over three months old must be registered with a local government. The act also gives local governments powers to control "nuisance" dogs who are barking and to regulate how many dogs you can have at your property.
A person who has been attacked by a dog or has had their property damaged by a dog can also take private legal action for injury or damage against the dog's owner. A person who is annoyed by a neighbour's barking dog might also have an action under the tort of nuisance.
My dog has been declared a dangerous dog, what does this mean?
In Western Australia, certain restricted breeds of dog (for example American Pit Bull Terriers) are deemed to be "dangerous dogs." A local government, may also declare an individual dog to be a dangerous dog where the dog has caused injury or damage by attacking a person, animal or vehicle or it has engaged in other types of aggressive behaviour.
Once a dog is declared a dangerous dog there are a number of restrictions placed on it and its owner, these include that:
- The dog must be confined in a secure enclosure when it is at the premises where it is ordinarily kept;
- A warning sign must be displayed at each entrance to the premises; and
- When outside the dog must wear a muzzle and be controlled by a person over 18.
If your dog is declared a dangerous dog you can be fined a much greater amount (and potentially face criminal charges ) if your dog attacks a person or another animal.
Can the local government seize my dog?
The Dog Act gives local government rangers and police officers the power to seize and detain your dog if they believe that an attack by the dog has occurred or if it appears that an attack by the dog is likely to occur. Dogs can also be seized if they are dangerous dogs and have not been registered. Once a dog has been detained the local government must inform the owner in writing and give the reasons why the dog has been detained.
The local government is trying to put my dog down; what are my rights?
Both the Magistrates Court and the SAT have the power to order that a dog be destroyed, if on the balance of probabilities, it can be shown that it caused injury or damage. As an owner, you are entitled to oppose this application.
Owners must also be notified if a local government has seized a dog and intends to put the dog down. Owners have seven days from receiving this notice to lodge an objection with the local government or the SAT. If an objection is lodged with the local government and is rejected the owner can then still apply to the SAT for a review of the decision.
A local government can also put down a dog (without the owner's consent) if the dog is ill or injured and the condition of the dog means that euthanising it is urgent. Even in these circumstances, the local government must take reasonable steps to notify the owner and give them the opportunity to collect their dog.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.