Firstly let us dispel the myth that the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 applies only to so called "dangerous" or "fighting" dogs; it does not. It applies to any dog irrespective of its breed or size.
Under Section 3(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 a criminal charge can be brought against the owner (or any person in charge of a dog) if the dog is "dangerously out of control in a public place".
Whilst "public place" is relatively self explanatory, being any place "to which the public have or are permitted to have access", "dangerously out of control" makes it sound as though the dog was wildly rampaging around terrorising all and sundry. The reality is of course far less sensational.
In fact, a dog is "dangerously out of control" on "any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person, whether or not it actually does so". It follows therefore that a dog does not actually have to injure someone to be dangerously out of control; it is enough that someone is in fear that it might.
Owners and/or persons in charge of dogs found guilty under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 could see the destruction of the dog, be banned from keeping dogs or even face a prison sentence. Mercifully, such penalties are rarely imposed with consequences being largely financial by way of fines, compensation and costs.
[heading]Dogs Act 1871 [/heading]
In contrast to the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, an action brought under the Dogs Act 1871 is a civil complaint that a dog is "dangerous" and "not kept under proper control".
As a general rule of thumb, "not kept under proper control" means that the dog was neither on a lead nor muzzled.
However, unlike the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991, a complaint can only be brought against the owner of a dog regardless of where the incident took place. A single incident is usually insufficient to prove that a dog is "dangerous", unless, the Court believes the incident to be exceptional.
Owners found to have a "dangerous" dog "not kept under proper control" could see the destruction of the dog. However, such Orders are rare and the owner will usually find themselves with an Order that they keep the dog under control (Control Order) and for payment of costs.
Under Section 1 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 it is a criminal offence to possess (except in permitted circumstances), breed, sell, give away or exchange, abandon or allow to stray, certain types of dog; whilst the most commonly known is the Pit-bull Terrier, it also includes the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentina and the Fila Brazeliero.
To lawfully keep one of these dogs, it must be registered on the Index of Exempted Dogs - something only a Court can direct.
Furthermore, to be exempt the dog must be on a lead and muzzled when in a public place; owners must also maintain public liability insurance.
[heading]Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976[/heading]
The Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976 was originally introduced following public concern over the keeping of dangerous pets, especially big cats. Under Section 1 it is a criminal offence to possess certain wild animals unless you have been granted a licence to do so by your Local Authority.
You might wonder why we are bringing this to your attention, the reason quite simply is wolf-dog hybrids. Although many wolf-dog hybrids are advertised deceptively to attract public interest and justify high prices, you should be aware that to own a true wolf-dog hybrid you must be licenced.
[heading]Protection of Animals[/heading]
There are many Acts of Parliament which provide for the bringing of criminal charges against a person who mistreats an animal; here are but just a few:-
Section 1(1)(a) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911
It is an offence to cruelly beat, ill-treat, kick, over-ride, over-load, torture, infuriate or terrify any domestic or captive animal, or, if you are the owner of any such animal, permit it to be so used or permit any unnecessary suffering to be caused.
Section 1(1)(c) of the Protection of Animals Act 1911
It is an offence to cause, procure or assist at the fighting or baiting of any domestic animal, or to use, permit to be used, any premises for such a person.
Sections 5A and 5B of the Protection of Animals Act 1911
It is an offence to be present, without reasonable excuse, at an animal fight or to publish, cause to be published, an advertisement for a fight between animals.
Section 1 of the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960
It is an offence for any person who is the owner or has charge or control of any domestic animal to abandon it in circumstances likely to cause it unnecessary suffering.
In most cases investigations are undertaken by the RSPCA and dealt with very severely by the Courts; penalties include disqualification from keeping animals and prison sentences.
There is no hard and fast rule as to how much barking creates a nuisance, each incident is taken on its own merits after considering the volume, duration and time of occurrence.
Like any complaint about noise the Local Authority has a duty to investigate it and, if felt necessary, issue a Noise Abatement Notice; continued barking thereafter may result in prosecution and a likely fine under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
We all know that dogs have a mind of their own. It is often this "independence" that gets them and their owners (!) into trouble.
Most pet insurance companies offer public liability or "third party" cover; the purpose of which is to protect your legal liability for an accident under one of two headings:-
Did you do something you shouldn't have or failed to do something you should and was it reasonably foreseeable that someone could be injured and/or damaged by your actions or lack of them? If so, you were in all likelihood negligent. If not, and you believe that you did all that you could to prevent an incident or it was purely an accident, you may not have acted negligently.
[heading]Animals Act 1971[/heading]
Section 2(2) of this Act has been the cause of much judicial debate. Essentially, it makes the owner and/or person in charge of a dog ("the "keeper") "strictly liable", that is liable without fault where all three of the following can be proven:
a)was damage likely to be caused or if so caused was it likely to be severe? and
b)was the damage or its severity due to the dog displaying a characteristic not normally found in dogs except at particular times and the particular circumstances? and
c)did the owner or the keeper know of this characteristic?
Section 3 of this Act provides for the civil liability of an owner and/or keeper where a dog causes damage by killing or injuring livestock. Such a person could also face criminal prosecution for the same offence under the Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953.
Furthermore, under Section 9 a dog may be shot, without warning, if it is worrying or about to worry livestock and there is no other means of ending or preventing the worrying or if the dog has already worried livestock and is still in the vicinity but not under the control of anyone nor is there any practical means of finding out to whom the dog belongs.
Although it is not a legal requirement (except as required by the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991) it is always a good idea to have your dog micro-chipped with its own unique identification number. This way you can be traced quickly and your dog returned safe and sound.
Under Section 2 of the Control of Dogs Order 2002, every dog on a highway or in a public place must wear a collar with the name and address of the owner inscribed on it or on a plate or badge attached to it.
Failure to do so is an offence against the Animal Health Act 1981 for which an owner can be prosecuted and fined.
Any dog without a collar on a highway or in a public place may be treated as a stray dog and seized by the Local Authority.
If your dog strays, you should contact your local dog warden (through the Environmental Health Department of your Local Authority) immediately and stay in regular contact. If your dog is found by the Local Authority, you must pay the Local Authority's reasonable expenses before it will be returned to you.
If after seven days, the owner of a stray dog does not come forward the Local Authority may transfer the dog to someone else, transfer it to an establishment for stray dogs or have it destroyed.
If you are the finder of a stray dog you must either return it to its owner immediately or take it to your Local Authority. If you want to keep the stray dog, you must provide your name and address to the Local Authority and keep the dog for a period of not less than one month.
Under Section 27(5) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 it is a criminal offence to have a dog on a designated road without the dog being on a lead.
[heading]Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005[/heading]
The relatively new Clean Neighbourhood and Environment Act 2005 allows for the making of a "Dog Control Order" by District and Parish Councils over land "which is open to the air and to which the public are entitled or permitted to have access". Such orders can relate to:
a)fouling of land by dogs and removal of dog faeces;
b)the keeping of dogs on leads;
c)the exclusion of dogs from land;
d)the number of dogs which a person may take on a lead.
Failure by a person to comply with the Dog Control Order may result in receipt of a fixed penalty notice payable within 14 days.
[heading]Puppy Farming and Dog Welfare[/heading]
The Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 was the third attempt by Parliament to change and codify the law relating to the breeding and sale of dogs.
The Act, which extended the provisions of The Breeding of Dogs Act 1973, relates to the commercial breeding and sale of dogs by regulating the welfare of the dogs, extending the power of inspection of such establishments and ensuring that accurate records of dogs are kept.
Under the provisions of the Act, it is a criminal offence for a person to breed five or more litters for sale without the appropriate licence from their Local Authority.
You may believe five or more litters relates to an individual breed of dog, i.e. you may have up to four litters of different breeds before requiring a licence; you would be wrong.
The definition of "five or more litters" is very broad. The Act states that a person shall be treated as carrying on the business of breeding dogs for sale at the premises, "if, where a person keeps a bitch at those premises during a twelve month period and during that time she gives birth to a litter of puppies, a total of 4 or more other litters are born to bitches that are:
a)kept by the person at the premises at any time during the period;
b)kept by any relative at the premises at any such time;
c)kept by him elsewhere at any such time;
d)kept anywhere by any person at any such time under a "breeding arrangement".
"Breeding Arrangement" is similarly broadly construed, being defined as a "contract or other arrangement under which [a] person agrees that another person may keep a bitch on his terms and that, should the bitch give birth, the other person is to provide him with either:
a)one or more of the puppies, or
b)the whole or part of the proceeds of selling any of them".
In consideration of the grant of a breeding licence the Local Authority will have regard to the need for securing:
a)that the dogs will at all times be kept in accommodation suitable as respects construction, size of quarters, number of occupants, exercising facilities, temperature, lighting, ventilation and cleanliness;
b)that the dogs will be adequately supplied with suitable food, drink and bedding material, adequately exercised and visited at suitable intervals;
c)that all reasonable precautions will be taken to prevent and control the spread of infectious or contagious diseases;
d)that appropriate steps will be taken for the protection of the dogs in case of fire or other emergencies;
e)that all appropriate steps will be taken to secure that the dogs will be provided with suitable food, drink and bedding material and adequately exercised when being transported to or from the breeding establishment;
f)that bitches are not mated if they are less than one year old;
g)that bitches do not give birth to more than six litters of puppies each;
h)that bitches do not give birth to puppies before the end of the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which they last gave birth to puppies;
i)that accurate records in a form prescribed by regulations are kept at the premises and made available for inspection by any officer of the Local Authority, or any veterinary surgeon authorised by the Local Authority to inspect the premises.
Should a person act in contravention of the provisions of the Act, the Court's power of punishment are extremely wide-ranging:-
a)a fine; and/or
b)cancellation of the licence; and/or
c)disqualification from keeping an establishment requiring of licence, for such period as the Court thinks fit; and/or
d)disqualification from having custody of any dog of a specified description; and/or
e)up to three months imprisonment.