19 June 2020

New offences to increase penalties for dog attacks

| My Gungahlin
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Minister for Territory and Municipal Services, Shane Rattenbury, has introduced a new Bill into the ACT Legislative Assembly that will increase the penalty for dog attacks.

“There are an average of 260 dog attack or harass incidents in the ACT each year,” Mr Rattenbury said. “These incidents can result in physical harm to a person or animal and cause significant emotional distress to those involved.

“Under current legislation, the maximum penalties for a dog harassment incident and an attack incident are the same at $7,000 (or 50 penalty units). This means a person whose dog barks at and scares another person or animal – a harass incident – could receive the same fine as a person whose dog viciously mauls a person or animal.

“To ensure the penalties for a dog attack are in line with community expectations, the ACT Government has reviewed existing offences and penalties and proposes a range of amendments to the domestic animals legislation.

“The Domestic Animals Amendment Bill 2014 proposes amendments to the Domestic Animals Act 2000 and Magistrates Court (Domestic Animals Infringement Notices) Regulation 2005 to differentiate between the severity of incidents by creating two new offences. This will introduce a scheme of escalating penalties with infringements appropriate to the degree of injury caused to a person or animal.

“The amendment bill will see the maximum penalty for dog attack offences that cause serious injury increased to $14,000, imprisonment for one year, or both, while the maximum penalty for dog harassment and minor attack offences will remain at $7,000.”

“Some jurisdictions have introduced breed specific legislation in an attempt to avoid dog attacks; however there is strong evidence against this approach. The ACT Government’s position instead identifies specific individual dogs that have already exhibited signs of aggression and identifies them as dangerous dogs, rather than targeting individual breeds.

Mr Rattenbury said the bill will also see the maximum penalty for a declared dangerous dog involved in an attack significantly increased.

“Owners of dogs that have been declared dangerous should be well aware of the potential for their animal to cause serious harm to people or other animals and are required to comply with strict licence conditions. The current maximum penalty when a dog that has been declared dangerous attacks a person or animal is $14,000 (or 100 penalty units), imprisonment for one year, or both. Under the new legislation this will be raised to $70,000 (or 500 penalty units), imprisonment for five years, or both.

The increased penalty brings the severity of this offence in line with other offences such as assault occasioning actual bodily harm in which the maximum penalty is also five years imprisonment.

“The proposed changes will more clearly define the level of severity between serious dog attack and minor attack and harass incidents. The ACT Government is committed to promoting responsible pet ownership and it is important for dog owners to understand that there are serious ramifications if their dog attacks or harasses another person or animal.”

The maximum penalty can only be imposed by a court. Changes to legislation will not be applied retrospectively.

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