It’s time to take all dog attacks seriously

Posted Saturday February 13, 2016 by Mel Isaacs

It’s time to take all dog attacks seriously

I recently read this article by the Central Coast Gosford Express Advocate in regards to Duncan the Cocker Spaniel, his dangerous dog declaration, and his numerous dog attacks. I couldn’t help but despair at the light-hearted and playful language used by the writer.

Mrs Robards is the first to admit while Erica has ­impeccable manners and could easily be a graduate of Pymble Ladies College, Duncan on the other hand would have tattoos and an earring if she let him.

The tone of the article almost implies that the declaration is silly, or something to laugh at. That it is unreasonable for the council to enforce it.
The reality of the situation is that Duncan has an issue with aggression towards people and has been mismanaged by his owner more than once. This has allowed him to bite and inflict injury on people – a high-risk dog and owner combination. Intervention by the council is necessary to ensure that Duncan is unable to bite anyone else in the future. 
It is true that the requirements for a dangerous or restricted dog enclosure in NSW are completely unnecessary for most animals (and are extremely difficult to comply with). Unfortunately, the council does not have the ability to modify this. It is written in to the legislation, and comes part and parcel with the more reasonable things such as muzzling & leashing in public, desexing, and warning signs on the property. 
These days councils can declare a dog to be ‘menacing’ rather than dangerous when a dog attacks.  This avoids the enclosure, but is a recent change and wasn’t an option in 2011 when Duncan was declared. 
If we were advising Ms Robards, we would also suggest the Control Order route mentioned by the council representative at the end of the article:

The owner can apply to the council to have the dangerous dog declaration revoked 12 months after the declaration was made.

“If council refuses to revoke the declaration the owner then has 28 days from the date of that refusal to appeal to the Local Court,” the spokeswoman said.

“The court, on determining an appeal, may revoke a declaration and has the option of imposing control orders.

“The court has discretion on the content of those control orders, and so is able to provide a more tailored means of addressing the risks posed by the dog.”

The fact that the council rep brought it up implies that they’d likely be willing to go down this path. This would employ a legal work-around in regards to the enclosure. It acknowledges that Duncan and his owners do need council intervention, however it is best that this is tailored to the individual situation as much as possible. Very reasonable, and it has likely been presented to Ms Robards as an option. 
I do agree with Ms Robards that it is very poor that the council has not ensured compliance with the declaration for four years. This has meant that someone else has now been attacked. It should have been enforced from the start. At the same time, the council not following-up does not give Ms Robards a free pass to ignore her obligations and be careless enough to allow someone to be bitten yet again. 
The questions I’ve been pondering –
Would this article have been written if Duncan was not a Cocker Spaniel, but a large breed or mix instead? Would the tone have scoffed at the fact that he was declared dangerous? Would it have given Ms Robards a voice to downplay and dismiss the serious issue of her dog’s aggression, chalking it up to ‘attitude’ and ‘form’? 
It’s time we as a society begin to take all dog attacks and aggression seriously, particularly when there have been repeated incidents from the same animal. A dog with aggression issues is not necessarily a public safety risk, but that same dog with an owner that mismanages it becomes an real and ongoing issue. 
Team Dog will always support considered and appropriate enforcement by councils in regards to dogs and owners who lessen community safety – regardless of their size or shape.


Dog attacks

Duncan. Picture: Peter Clark

Mel Isaacs

Mel Isaacs

Director at Team Dog Inc
Mel is co-Founder and Director of Team Dog Inc, a registered charity working to support pet owners in need and in times of crisis.

She has a keen interest in advocacy, particularly around topics such as effective animal management and the ineffectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation.

She has a dog and two cats, all rescues, who she loves dearly.
Mel Isaacs

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