Friday, 17 April 2009

Dogs and the law - a brief summary

Although you may not be aware there is a wide variety of legislation which applies to dogs and there owners. Below are brief details of some of the most dog-relevant law:

Animal Welfare Act 2006 

The Animal Welfare Act was introduced on April 6th 2007 repealing the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960. 

The new Act increases and introduces new penalties to tackle acts of cruelty, neglect, mutilation, tail docking, animal fighting and the giving of pets as prizes. 

In addition to this the Act introduces a duty of care for all pet owners to provide for their animals a suitable environment, a suitable diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease and consideration of the animal’s needs to be housed with, or apart from, other animals.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005

This Act is the one dog owners are most likely to be directly affected by, particularly those owners living in cities. 

Under this Act, you can be fined up to £1,000 for breaching dog control orders. These orders are made by local authorities and typically cover the following offences:

  • Failing to remove dog poo
  • Not keeping a dog on a lead
  • Not putting and keeping a dog on a lead when directed to do so
  • Permitting a dog to enter land from which dogs are excluded 
  • Taking more than a specified number of dogs on to land. 

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act also updates the law on stray dogs by transferring the responsibility for strays from the police to the local authorities - ie your local council's Dog Warden.

If you find a dog you must either return it to its owner or report it to your local dog warden. It is illegal to take a found dog into your home without reporting it first. If you want to retain the dog, this might be allowed, provided you are capable of looking after the dog. However, the original owner could still have a claim for the dog’s return.

Byelaws on noisy animals

If you have a dog which barks and its barking is considered to cause a serious nuisance to neighbours, then the local authority can serve you with a noise abatement notice. This requires that you make sure your dog does not create so much noise as to constitute a nuisance. Should you fail to follow a noise abatement notice you could end up being fined. 

Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999

Breeders who breed four or more litters per year must be licensed by their local authority. Breeders with fewer litters must also be licensed if they are carrying out a business of breeding dogs for sale.

Licensed breeders must:

  1. Not mate a bitch less than 12 months old.
  2. Not whelp more than six litters from a bitch.
  3. Not whelp two litters within a 12 month period from the same bitch.
  4. Keep accurate records.
  5. Not sell a puppy until it is at least eight weeks of age, other than to a keeper of a licensed pet shop or Scottish rearing establishment.

The Control of Dogs Order 1992

This is another law which applies to all dog owners but which you may not be aware of. The Order states that any dog in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address of the owner engraved or written on it, or engraved on a tag. A telephone number is optional but advisable for ease of contact should your dog escape or stray. 

Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (section 3)

It is a criminal offence (for the owner and/or the person in charge of the dog) to allow a dog to be ‘dangerously out of control’ in a public place, a place where it is not permitted to be, and some other areas. 

A ‘dangerously out of control’ dog can be defined as a dog that has injured someone or a dog that a person has grounds for reasonable apprehension that it may do so. Something as simple as your dog chasing, barking at or jumping up at a person or child could lead to a complaint, so it's important to try and ensure that your dog is under control at all times. 

If your dog injures a person, it may be seized by the police and your could face a prison sentence and/or a ban on keeping dogs. There is also an automatic presumption that your dog will be destroyed (unless you can persuade the court that it is not a danger to the public, in which case it may be subject to a control order). You may also have to pay a fine, compensation and costs.

Dogs of the following type are banned under the Dangerous Dog Act:-

  • The Pit Bull Terrier
  • Fila Brasiliero
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Japanese Tosa

The Road Traffic Act 1988

It is an offence to have a dog on a designated road without it being held on a lead. In addition it is worth knowing that local authorities may have similar bye-laws covering public areas. Dogs travelling in vehicles should not be a nuisance or in any way distract the driver during a journey.

If a dog is injured in a car accident, the driver must stop and give their details to the person in charge of the dog. If there is no person in charge of the dog, the incident must be reported to the police within 24 hours.

Animals Act 1971

You could be liable for damage caused by your dog under this Act or under some degree of negligence. It is highly advisable to have third party liability insurance to cover this, something that is included in most pet and some household insurance policies.

Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963

Anyone boarding animals as a business (even at home) needs to be licensed by the local authority.

Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953

Your dog must not worry (chase or attack) livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and poultry) on agricultural land, so keep your dog on a lead around livestock. If your dog worries livestock, the farmer has the right to stop your dog (even by shooting your dog in certain circumstances).

Dogs Act 1871

It is a civil offence if a dog is dangerous (to people or animals) and not kept under proper control (generally regarded as not on a lead nor muzzled). This law can apply wherever the incident happened. The dog can be subject to a control or a destruction order and you may have to pay costs.

Compiled with reference to

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