Dangerous dogs the target of new laws
By RENEE REDMOND
OWNERS of more than 80 dogs declared dangerous across the Northern Rivers could now face a $55,000 fine and a two-year prison sentence if their pet attacks another animal or person.
The new legislation will be cracking down on irresponsible dog owners by increasing penalties for offences under the Bill by up to three times.
The Companion Animals Amendment Bill 2005 was passed by both Houses of the NSW parliament on November 15, but is yet to be gazetted.
Lismore City Council senior ranger Stuart Thomson said yesterday he hoped the new legislation would be a deterrent for irresponsible dog owners.
"The more power we are given to enforce the laws, the better," he said.
Mr Thomson said owners of dogs which had not been declared dangerous or restricted would still be affected by the changes.
"The fines for all dog attacks have been increased, not just for dangerous or restricted dogs," he said.
Mr Thomson said rangers had the power to declare dogs dangerous if evidence supported it.
"Declarations usually follow a dog threatening to attack or attacking someone," he said.
"The owner will receive a notice of intention and they have seven days to respond.
"It is their chance to give a reason why the dog should not be declared dangerous ? we can't be any fairer than that.
"If there is no reply, we go ahead with the declaration and send out the requirements they'll need to meet."
Mr Thomson said the dog would be declared dangerous if the owner failed to object.
"The dog must then be desexed, microchipped, registered, kept in a childproof enclosure and signs stating 'dangerous dog' must be also erected on the property."
The dog must be also muzzled, kept on a leash and controlled by a person 18 years or older when in a public place.
The proposed new penalty for failing to comply with any of these measures will be $1430 ? an increase of $880.
Mr Thomson said the biggest problem for rangers was dog owners who did not comply with conditions.
"For some dog owners it might be a resentment to authority or a disbelief that their dog is dangerous," he said.
"When we investigate a dog attack, the first thing the owner says is their dog has never bitten anyone in their life, but I've seen attacks where the people have been hospitalised."
Mr Thomson said rangers needed all the legislation they could get to prevent such attacks.
Richmond Valley Council ranger Stuart Pettese said dog owners could save themselves a lot of trouble by restraining their dogs in public.
"If people ensured their dogs were on leashes when they were in public places, attacks and dangerous dog declarations would be kept to a minimum," he said.
NSW Local Government Minister Kerry Hickey said that responsible animal ownership was at the heart of the Bill, which strengthened the powers available to councils and the courts to enforce strict control requirements.
"Owners must understand the responsibility they have to the community if they want to own a dog that could endanger public safety," he said.
"It is essential that the courts reflect this view when they determine penalties for offences under the Act, espe- cially offences by restricted and dangerous dogs.
"The Government and community have zero tolerance for dangerous dogs and reckless owners."
Mr Hickey said another key objective of the Act was to reduce euthanasia rates.
"The community as a whole has embraced the existing laws, in particular compulsory microchipping and registration. There are about 1.2 million cats and dogs listed on the Companion Animals Register," he said.
Mr Hickey said lost animals could be taken to an approved animal welfare organisation, a veterinary practice or council pound for the purpose of being reunited with their owners.
"Public safety is paramount and this Bill gives councils and courts the tools to deal swiftly and decisively with irresponsible animal owners."