Changes to the law for dog owners – May 2014
There was a time when dog owners only needed to worry about having a valid dog licence. Fines could be levied against people keeping unlicensed dogs. Things are quite different now though and an owner has a lot to think about if they are to stay within the law. Keeping a dog on a lead in a public place, especially on a main road, and cleaning up after the dog has fouled a pavement or path are obvious issues but there is much more.
The most significant changes to the laws in May 2016 relate to the keeping of so-called dangerous dogs. The Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) 1991 was designed to control the likes of pit bull terriers and Dobermans but incidents continued to happen and people have often been maimed as a result of an attack by a dog. Even though some breeds have been banned it has not stopped some unscrupulous owners from keeping them anyway.
Both civil and criminal law can be used against people who fail to control their dogs and it is not even necessary for the dog to have actually bitten someone. Just the threat of biting can be enough. Indeed it is very likely that a lot of dog owners are not actually fully aware of what their responsibilities are. Things have got even tougher this year though with changes to the DDA coming into effect on13 May 14.
Harsh punishments can be handed down even to those people temporarily responsible for a dangerous dog – dog walkers and sitters being good examples. Even family members or friends can be found liable if the dog under their care acts aggressively. The fact that an incident takes places on private property is no excuse. There have been many reported cases of children being attacked by family pets in their own home and this amended and extended DDA legislation is designed to minimise the risks of such things happening. Police and local authorities now have more power to step in if they suspect that an incident may occur, or if they hear of something happening.
Apart from the obvious offences like a dog attacking a child or adult it is now an offence if the dog attacks an assistance dog. These animals are particularly vulnerable due to their naturally placid nature so it is clear that they need protection from aggressive dogs that they come across. In spite of more stringent penalties for such misdemeanours, including prison sentences, there will, unfortunately, always be reports of dogs attacking people and other dogs. Compulsory micro chipping might help to make owners take their responsibilities more seriously in time although this legislation is not effective until 2016.