Dog Offences

Dog Offences – Dribbin & Brown Criminal Lawyers regularly represent clients charged with dog-related offences in the Magistrates’ Court.

We have offices located in Ballarat, Frankston, Moorabbin, Ringwood, Dandenong, Geelong and Melbourne CBD in close proximity to the local courts in these areas. We routinely appear at these courts to defend clients charged with dog offences.

The various council bodies across Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula have wide ranging powers to adversely deal with a resident’s dog or cat.

When there has been a dog attack the council will often attempt to persuade the animal’s owner to consent to destroying the animal prior to the prosecution. If unsuccessful, they will either declare the animal to be dangerous or move to have the animal put down.

In these circumstances it is wise that you seek legal advice and retain a lawyer to appear on your behalf to argue your case. The repercussions can be severe, resulting in the family pet being destroyed or a possible gaol sentence being imposed on the owner.

Be aware of increased penalties

Recently the government has moved to increase the penalties in relation to dog attacks, leaving the owners potentially liable to receive a gaol sentence. If you have to attend court in relation to a dog attack, it is not a matter to be taken lightly. You should seek advice from a lawyer.

Under the Domestic Animals Act 1994 there are a number of charges relating to dog offences including:

  • Section 23 Dogs and cats on private property without permission;
  • Section 24 Dogs found at large;
  • Section 25 Cats found at large;
  • Section 28 Offence to set dog to attack;
  • Section 28A Offence to train dog to attack; and
  • Section 29 Offences in relation to dog attacks.

There are other more serious charges contained under the Crimes Act 1958 for offending relating to dogs declared to be dangerous or menacing:

  • 319B Failure to control dangerous, menacing or restricted breed dog that kills a person; and
  • 319C Recklessness as to whether controlling dangerous, menacing or restricted breed dogs may place another person in danger of death.

These charges are the most serious offences connected to owning a dog.

If you have been charged with section 319B or 319C of the Crimes Act then you must seek urgent legal advice. If your case is not prepared properly you may face an immediate prison sentence.

Dribbin & Brown has extensive experience handling dog offences. Call us today and have one of our lawyers assist you with your case.

What is a Dangerous Declaration?

A Dangerous Declaration means that in order to keep your dog you must comply with very onerous restrictions that the council say are in place to protect the community. If the Council decides to declare the dog dangerous you can request an internal review, but you cannot appeal to VCAT.  There is however provision for the matter to be referred to the Supreme Court for administrative review. If the Court makes a declaration that the dog is dangerous, this decision can be appealed to the County Court.

Court powers regarding dogs

Under section 84 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 the Court can make various orders including:

  • Require owners to make modifications to their homes to better house an animal;
  • Prohibit the ownership of dogs and cats by a defendant;
  • Order costs against a defendant in relation to the care of the animal in the interim period;
  • Make an order for destruction or forfeiture if money is not paid to the Council;
  • Make a disposal order in relation to the animal; and
  • Order the return of the animal to the owner.

Council powers regarding dangerous dog declarations

The Council has power to declare a dog a ‘Dangerous Dog’.

Section 34 states that the Council may declare a dog to be a dangerous dog in circumstances where:

  1. The dog has caused serious injury or death to a person or another animal by biting or attacking that other entity; or
  2. If the dog has previously been declared a menacing dog and its owner has previously been given two or more infringements in relation to section 41E of the act; or
  3. The dog has previously been declared dangerous by corresponding legislation; or
  4. There have been more than two infringements under s29(5),(6),(7) or (8) of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 regarding the same dog.

 A dangerous dog declaration occurs under section 34A if the dog is a trained guard dog on a non-residential premises or the dog has been trained to attack.

The Council cannot make a declaration in circumstances where:

  • A person was trespassing and was attacked;
  • The dog was being teased;
  • Another animal ventured onto the property where the dog resides; or
  • A person known to the dog was being attacked in front of the dog or in circumstances where the dog was taking part in a hunt.

It should be noted that any declaration made has effect throughout Victoria.

Under section 35 of the Act, when the council makes a declaration they must notify the owner and allow the owner to respond by way of written and oral submissions.

Under section 37 of the Act a person who owns a dangerous dog has certain obligations. A dog that is declared dangerous must remain in a prescribed enclosure whilst at an owner’s property. A prescribed enclosure is one that complies with the regulations. It is designed to ensure the dog cannot escape and requires an adult to access it.

Under section 39 of the Act a premises that houses a dangerous dog must display the appropriate warning signs and the dog must wear a prescribed collar at all times.

Section 41 indicates that when an owner has a dangerous dog outside the premises the dog must be muzzled and under a person’s control (i.e. fitted with an appropriate leash to allow effective control).

Failure to comply with any of the above requirements may result in multiple charges. As you can see the obligations are significant and can potentially adversely affect the quality of life of the dog. There will certainly be an impact on the interaction between dog and owner.

Council powers in relation to menacing dog declarations

The Council may declare a dog to be a ‘Menacing Dog’ if a dog has either rushed at or chased another person or has bitten another animal causing an injury, although not a serious injury.

The Council may also declare a dog menacing if a different state with corresponding laws has done so.

If the dog’s owner has been found guilty of section 29(7) or (8) of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 in a Court, the Magistrate may make an order declaring the dog to be menacing.

The Council may not declare a dog as menacing when:

  • The person who claimed the grievance was trespassing at the property where the dog was kept;
  • The dog was being teased and abused; or
  • The owner of the dog was being attacked in front of the dog.

The Council must notify the owners in relation to the declaration under s41B. Under s41C the notice must be served on the person within 7 days of making the declaration.

The owner of the dog has the right to ask the Council to consider further submissions from the owner prior to making a formal declaration.

Under s41D the owner of a dog that has been declared as menacing is obliged to tell the Council if:

  • The dog resides at a new address;
  • The dog rushes or chases another person;
  • The dog goes missing; or
  • The ownership of the dog changes.

Failure to comply with the above may result in charges and fines.

When owners of menacing dogs take the dog outside of the premises where the dog resides, they must do the following:

  • Keep the dog muzzled to prevent any potential for biting to occur; and
  • Keep the dog under the effective control of some person by way of leash.

Appealing a Council decision

Under section 98AA of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 you can appeal the following Council decisions to VCAT:

  • A dangerous dog declaration;
  • A menacing dog declaration; and
  • A restricted breed declaration.

If a declaration is made by a Magistrate then the decision can be appealed to the County Court of Victoria.

Destruction orders

Councils have various avenues to authorise the destruction of a dog under section 84 of the Domestic Animals Act 1994.

Section 84TA allows destruction orders to persist when the owner of the dog would be guilty of an offence under section 24 or 26 of the Domestic Animals Act and the registered owner cannot be identified and the authorized officer reasonably believes that the dog would likely offend against section 29 of the Act.

The decision must be made within 24 hours after the seizure and recorded officially. The officer must not destroy the dog until 48 hours have passed following the making of the record.

Under s84TB of the Act an officer can immediately destroy a dog that the officer reasonably believes is behaving in a manner that will result in imminent serious injury or death to a person or other animal.

Under 84TC a dangerous dog found at large can be destroyed if the authorised officer is satisfied that the owner of the dog would be guilty of an offence against section 24 or 26 of the Act. The Council must wait at least 24 hours before the dog is destroyed following the making of the record.

Presently there is no provision in the Act for overturning destruction orders made by the Council, but there is always a remedy by way of judicial review to the Supreme Court in relation to these matters. Judicial review means that you can appeal to the Supreme Court on the basis that the Council have not followed the correct procedure in coming to their decision.

Destruction orders made by a Magistrate can be appealed to the County Court. For this to occur the Council must make the application in Court following a plea of guilty to charges that empower the council to take action in relation to the dog. Council rarely make the application in Court, preferring to rely upon their legislated right to make that decision behind closed doors between council members, following a plea of guilty in the Magistrates’ Court.

It is critical that you engage a law firm which has extensive experience dealing with dog offences. Poor representation or no representation could lead to an outcome that will affect the rest of your life.