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Beware the law: dog owners have responsibilities

Beware the law: dog owners have responsibilities

If one of our dogs is the instigator of an attack we could find the weight of the law falling heavily on our shoulders - and we could end up with a criminal record!

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 made it a criminal offense for a dog to attack any dog that is assisting their owner (a Guide Dog for the Blind or a Hearing Dog) for instance. This law applies whether the attack causes  injury or death. It even works is the person with the assistance dog has reasonable grounds to believe their animal could be injured.

With this piece of legislation a case can be brought against us as the dog’s owner or against the person that happens to be in charge of the dog. If the case is proven, the penalties can be significant. The maximum penalty is a three-year prison sentence, or an unlimited fine, or unlimited compensation. The court also has the discretion to disqualify us from keeping a dog.

The presumption is that the dog that perpetrated the attack will be destroyed unless it can be proved by the owner that the dog does not constitute a public danger.

The law in this case does also apply to incidents involving people; so if someone is injured (or indeed can prove reasonable grounds to believe they might have been injured) — for example if the victim had intervened to protect their dog from an attack by the other - then the offense could be prosecuted within this legislation.

The Dogs Act 1871

When the incident involves one dog attacking another pet (i.e. not an assistance dog) and no human being is injured or fears injury, then the appropriate law is the Dogs Act 1871.

This allows a complaint to be brought in front of magistrates for a dog to be kept under proper control or destroyed.

For this to be successful it is necessary for the prosecution to prove that three things would be more likely than not: Firstly that the defendant is in fact the dog’s owner; secondly that the offending dog was not under proper control (dogs that are neither muzzled nor on lead are presumed not to be under proper control); and thirdly that the dog has a dangerous nature, character, nature, propensity or disposition.

Dogs that only pose a threat to dogs are regarded as dangerous for the purposes of this law. However, it is unlikely, unless in exceptional circumstances, that any single incident would be sufficient for the dog to be considered dangerous.

If the case is proven, then the owner faces the penalty of having to pay costs and the possibility they could be disqualified from having another dog.

The magistrates do have the discretion to order the dog to be destroyed, but a control order requiring the dog to be kept under proper control is more likely.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006

There is now a criminal offense of cruelty if anyone causes or permits an animal to unreasonably suffer and this may apply in some dog attack incidents. The maximum sentence of imprisonment is just six months and/or a £20,000 fine.

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