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The Companion Animals Act 1998 and How It Impacts a Rural Area

by Lynton Bond, Radcliffe


Reprinted from the Stoney Creek Gazette, May, 2002

The Companion Animals Act was introduced in 1998 as  "An Act to provide for the identification and registration of companion animals and for the duties and responsibilities of their owners; and for other purposes."   [My emphasis]  You should be aware that although the following addresses issues of straying dogs, there are similar requirements for cats.  This is not intended to be a comprehensive commentary on the Act, merely to highlight those "duties and responsibilities", issues that have been raised by recent Dear Abbey correspondence in the Gazette.  It is for the whole community, and not targetted at anyone in particular.

Much of the information generally circulated by State and local government concentrates on the aspects of the Act as it is seen to affect urban areas and, in particular, on the obligation to register and identify an animal.  In this respect, it requires that all dogs over the age of 12 weeks must carry identification information about the owner of the animal whenever not on the property occupied by the owner.  A dog must have a collar around its neck with a name tag that shows the name of the dog and the address or telephone number of the owner of the dog.  From six months, the dog must be registered under the Act.  All very well, if your dog gets loose, surely you'd want to get it back.  Registration is cheap(ish), microchipping lasts for life, and (despite problems with the microchip database,) at the very least,  the dog will be recognised as being cared for, even if there is no collar.

Whenever a dog is in a public place, it must be under the effective control of a competent person by means of an adequate chain, cord or leash, except in Council-designated off-leash areas.  Public places include footpaths and roadsides, as well as parks.

The sections of the Act that are relevant to those living in rural areas include Sections 21,  22 and 34.  Under Section 21 of the Act, a dog can be declared a "Nuisance" if it:

(a) is habitually at large, or

(b) makes a noise, by barking or otherwise, that persistently occurs or continues to such a degree or extent that it unreasonably interferes with the peace, comfort or convenience of any person in any other premises, or

(c) repeatedly defecates on property (other than a public place) outside the property on which it is ordinarily kept, or

(d) repeatedly runs at or chases any person, animal (other than vermin and, in relation to an animal, otherwise than in the course of droving, tending, working or protecting stock) or vehicle, or

(e) endangers the health of any person or animal (other than vermin and, in relation to an animal, otherwise than in the course of droving, tending, working or protecting stock), or

(f) repeatedly causes substantial damage to anything outside the property on which it is ordinarily kept.

If an authorised officer of a council is satisfied that a dog is a nuisance, the officer can issue an order to the owner of the dog requiring the owner to prevent the behaviour that is alleged to constitute the nuisance, specifying the behaviour of the dog that is required to be prevented.  An order remains in force for 6 months after it is issued.  Vermin (rodents, reptiles, spiders and insects) does not include kangaroos.

Note that under Section 34, a dog can be declared "Dangerous" by Council, "if it has attacked and killed an animal other than vermin", or repeatedly chases an animal "on the council's own initiative or on the written application of a police officer or another person." ... [Section 36]

"When a council gives notice to the owner of a dog of the council's intention to declare the dog to be dangerous, the owner must ensure that at all times when the dog is away from the property where it is ordinarily kept (and despite any other provision of this Act):

(a) it is under the effective control of some competent person by means of an adequate chain, cord or leash, and

(b) it has a muzzle securely fixed on its mouth in such a manner as will prevent it from biting any person or animal."

(However the owner may object to such declaration.)  The penalties for contravention are harsh and include disqualification from owning a dog.

Section 22 is the "crunch":

"(2) Any person may lawfully seize, injure or destroy a dog if that action is reasonable and necessary for the protection of any person or animal (other than vermin) from injury or death."

...and...

"(5) If a dog that is not under the effective control of some competent person enters any inclosed lands within the meaning of the Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901"

[e.g. land with a fence around it, whether or not the gate is open]

"and approaches any animal being farmed on the land, the occupier of the land or any person authorised by the occupier can lawfully injure or destroy the dog if he or she reasonably believes that the dog will molest, attack or cause injury to any of those animals."

It is only a reasonable belief that livestock will be attacked that warrants destroying the dog. Furthermore,

"(6) An authorised officer who finds a dog attacking or harassing an animal (other than vermin) within a wildlife protection area (as defined in section 14 (1) (h)) can lawfully injure or destroy the dog if there is no other reasonably practicable way of protecting the animal.

(7) A person who takes action under the authority of this section that results in the injury to or death of a dog must:

(a) take reasonable steps to ensure that an injured dog receives any necessary treatment, and

(b) report the matter to an authorised officer (unless the person is an authorised officer) and comply with such reasonable directions as the authorised officer may give for the purpose of causing the dog to be returned to its owner or taken to a council pound, and

(c) take reasonable steps to inform the owner of the dog."

I suspect that "reasonable steps" would not include draping the dog's carcass over the owners' front gate, as happened elsewhere in the shire. However,

"(9) Nothing in this section authorises a contravention of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.

(10) The authority conferred by this section to destroy a dog extends only to authorising the destruction of the dog in a manner that causes it to die quickly and without unnecessary suffering."

Under section 27 of the Act, the owner of a dog is liable in damages in respect of injury (fatal or otherwise) to another animal (other than vermin) caused by the dog attacking or chasing it.  How much were those alpacas worth?

Under Section 62, the Act also indicates the obligations of someone seizing a dog:

"(1) A person who seizes an animal under the authority of this Act ... must cause it to be delivered as soon as possible to its owner if the owner can be identified or otherwise to any duly authorised employee or agent of the council of the area in which the animal was seized at a council pound."

This is why you should have the identification attached to the dog's collar, as required by the Act.

For full reference see: www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/caa1998174/.

The Act relies heavily on people acting reasonably and responsibly.  Of course, I expect that most property owners around Carwoola will give a straying dog the benefit of the doubt and probably ask the dog owner to control the animal (not necessarily nicely).  Most of us dog owners have been guilty of letting our dogs wander onto others' property and most of us feel at least a twinge of guilt about the Letters to the Editor.  Fortunately, the restrictions on gun ownership and the discharge of guns makes it most unlikely (or not "reasonable" perhaps) that the dog will be shot on sight, unless it strays onto a large property or where valuable livestock are being raised commercially.

Where has your dog been today? As ever, good fences make good neighbours.



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