What happens after a dog attack?
Dog attacks can be traumatic experiences for all involved and the management of dog attacks is a high priority. While dog attacks can be minimised through responsible pet ownership, dogs are animals that behave according to instinct and it’s not possible to prevent all attacks. Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS) are responsible for the administration of the Domestic Animals Act which provides for the management of dog attacks and related issues. Dog attacks are investigated by Domestic Animal Services (DAS) staff who are trained to handle dogs, liaise with the community and undertake investigations.
Gathering the Evidence
When a dog attack is reported to TCCS, a DAS Ranger attends the scene to ensure the attacking dog is restrained or contained, and if necessary seized. The DAS Ranger also gathers all evidence available, as well as statements from people involved and witnesses where possible. This helps to establish the circumstances leading up to and of the attack.
If a dog is seized, depending on the circumstances, it is brought to the DAS facility at Symonston where it is impounded. The DAS Ranger also writes an investigation brief that outlines all the evidence obtained around the attack and may include; witness statements, victim impact statements, photographs, vet reports, prior history reports etc.
Considering the Evidence
When complete, the investigation brief will go to the Compliance Manager and, depending on the severity of the attack, may be referred to the Transport Canberra and City Services Regulatory Advisory Committee (RAC). Because it is important to communicate with the people involved in or impacted by the attack, the owners of dogs involved as well as the victim or complainant and any witnesses will be advised of the progress of the investigation and it’s referral to the RAC.
By this time, the investigation brief may include other evidence such as a behavioural assessment or temperament testing report done for the dog while it has been impounded at DAS, as well as observations made by the DAS staff that interact with the dogs on a daily basis.
Making a Decision
RAC will review the investigation report and make a recommendation to the Senior Deputy Registrar, who will then review this recommendation and the investigation and make a decision on what appropriate action should be taken. The action to be taken will depend on the circumstances of the case, and might include declaring the dog dangerous, releasing the dog on conditions, and/or issuing an infringement to the owner of the dog. If criminal offences are identified, a brief of evidence will be complied and the matter referred directly to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for prosecution.
Once the Senior Deputy Registrar makes a decision, the owners of dogs involved, as well as the victim or complainant and any witnesses, will be advised.
The victim or complainant may choose to appeal the Senior Deputy Registrar’s decision. If an appeal is received, the matter will be referred to the Registrar for their review, and all parties involved will again be advised of the review process and outcomes.
If an interested party wishes to contest the Registrar’s decision further, the matter may be referred to the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal for their consideration and ruling.
Dog released under a control order
Depending on the circumstances of the incident, a dog may be released under a control order designed to help minimise any risk it may pose to the public or any other animal in the future. In many cases, the conditions of this control order can be almost as severe as the Dangerous Dog licence obligations. DAS Rangers will then conduct proactive patrols and engage with the dog owners and neighbours to ensure they are abiding with the control order. Where an owner is found to breach the conditions, the animal may be seized and a review of the original decision can be made. The keeper can also be fined.
Declaring a dog dangerous.
After a dog is declared dangerous, the owner can apply to the Registrar for a special licence to keep a dangerous dog.
The Registrar must refuse to issue a licence if the applicant is disqualified from keeping a dog or any other animal, or if the dog is not micro-chipped.
The Registrar may also refuse to issue a licence if there would be an unacceptable risk to the safety of the public or other animals if the licence were issued, or if the applicant has failed, or is unable, to exercise responsible dog management, care or control.
In making the decision, the Registrar must consider:
- the size and nature of the premises where the applicant intends to keep the dog
- the security of the premises
- the suitability of facilities for keeping the dog on the premises
- the potential impact on the occupiers of neighbouring premises
- any conviction or finding of guilty of the applicant within the last 10 years for an offence against a law of a Territory or State relating to the welfare, keeping or control of an animal
- the safety of the public and other animals.
However, these considerations do not limit the matters the Registrar may consider.
Where a special licence to keep a dangerous dog is granted, common conditions are usually imposed and may include:
- The dog must reside at a specified premise.
- The dog must be micro- chipped and registered on the Domestic Animals Register.
- Whilst the dog is on the specified premise it must be kept under effective control to prevent it from attacking another animal or a person.
- The specified premise must be maintained so that the dog cannot escape. This control includes the erection and maintenance of escape proof perimeter fencing around the property ensuring that the dog cannot push through the fence. That fence must not have any gaps that would allow any part of a person or animal’s body to enter the property. Modifications to the premise may also be required to ensure the dog cannot escape.
- All gates must be escape proof, spring actioned and self closing. Gates are to be secured by padlocks and latched ensuring that said dog remains on its own approved premise.
- The dog must be kept in an escape proof enclosure with a roof except when being exercised or transported. Enclosure gates must be spring actioned, self-closing and secured by a padlock. In accordance with the Animal Welfare (Welfare of Dogs in the ACT) Code of Practice 2010, the enclosure is to include: a dog bed or wooden pallet as a sleeping area. Bedding should be provided and kept clean and dry, and replaced as required.
- The dog must have access to food, water and shelter at all times.
- The enclosure size must have a run area of 8m² with minimum dimension (width/length) of 2m.
- The enclosure floor must be cement or wire mesh to ensure that the dog cannot escape by digging under the enclosure walls.
Failure to comply with the conditions may result in the cancellation of the Dangerous Dog licence, seizure of the Dangerous Dog, the issuing of infringement notices and/or possible prosecution action.