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Amendments to the Dog Control Q&A

Amendments to the Dog Control Act 1996 – Questions and Answers

Are the penalties for dog attacks going to increase?

Yes, the Government has proposed substantial increases in the maximum penalties under the Dog Control Act. It is proposed that:

the penalty for owning a dog involved in a serious attack be increased from a maximum of 3 months imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding $5,000, to a maximum of 3 years imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding $20,000;

the penalty for owning a dog involved in an attack, but not a serious attack, be increased from a fine of up to $1,500 to one of up to $3,000. It is also proposed to increase most other maximum fines in the Act to $3,000;

infringement fines, ie spot fines, be increased by 150% up to a maximum of $1,000. Infringement fines can be given for offences such as breaches of council dog-control bylaws, failing to keep a dog under control, and willfully obstructing a dog control officer. It is not proposed to provide for minimum penalties as these no longer exist in New Zealand law.

The increased penalties are designed to act as a deterrent to dog owners inclined to ignore dog laws. The penalties are also intended to send a clear message to the courts that dog offences are to be taken seriously.

Will dogs be required to be leashed in public places?

There will not be a national requirement for leashing in public places because councils already have bylaws specifying leashed and unleashed areas of their district. Instead, the Government has decided to strengthen the criteria that councils use to designate leashed areas. New additional criteria will require council dog control policies to provide for:

the need to avoid dangers inherent in allowing dogs uncontrolled access to places frequented by children; the importance of enabling the public to use streets, playgrounds, and other public amenities without fear of attack or intimidation.

All city and district councils will also be required to review their dog control policies and bylaws by 1 July 2004, taking into account the new criteria. The effect will be to ensure councils generally require dogs to be leashed in playgrounds, streets, popular beaches, picnic areas and other similar public places.

Will all dogs be required to be muzzled in public?

No, the Government does not consider it appropriate to require that all dogs be muzzled.

However, it will give councils a discretionary power to require that a dog be muzzled in public if they believe the dog may be dangerous. In using this power, dog control officers will have take into account the behaviour, size and type of a dog. There will be a right of objection to the territorial authority.

The power is designed to enable dog control officers to take a more preventative approach to dogs they are concerned about before those dogs attack or attempt to attack.

Will specific breeds of dog be required to be muzzled in public?

Yes, all American Pit Bull Terriers, Dogo Argentinos, Japanese Tosas and Brazilian Filas will be required to be muzzled in public in New Zealand. These dogs are either banned, or have other restrictions placed on them in many other countries, such has Australia, the Netherlands, the UK, and many German states. They have been bred for fighting and are internationally recognised as posing a considerable danger if they attack.

It will initially be up to local councils, or their dog control officers, to determine whether a dog belongs to one of these breeds to any significant extent. The owner of the dog will have a right of objection to the council against the classification with the opportunity to prove that the dog is not one of the restricted breeds.

The existing requirements for muzzling of dogs classified as dangerous because of attack or rushing will remain.

Will councils have greater powers to seize dangerous dogs?

Yes, the Government is proposing amendments to the seizure powers in the Dog Control Act to make it easier for dog control officers to enter onto land or into houses to seize a dog that has attacked people or protected wildlife.

Dog control officers will also be given the power to enter private property, (but not houses) to seize: a dog that has roamed at large and returned to a property if no adult is on the property at the time; dogs with free access to the street and not under control; and any unregistered dog.

The ability to seize an unregistered dog on private property will be particularly useful in increasing dog registration. In most cases, dog owners will be given seven days to register their dog or it will be destroyed.

What will be done to help stop roaming dogs?

Dog control officers can already seize and impound dogs roaming in public. By 1 July 2006 all dogs, other than working dogs, will be required to be securely fenced or similarly contained in a portion of their owner’s property, so that visitors have unimpeded access to at least one door.

The long lead in time for this initiative is to allow low-income families time to comply. In the mean time, council dog control officers will be given additional powers to seize roaming dogs from private property.

Will people who own dogs that attack be allowed to continue to own dogs?

No, the Government is proposing to strengthen the powers of councils to disqualify owners. The current intermediate stage of probationary dog owner will be removed. Instead councils will be required, unless satisfied that the circumstances are exceptional and don’t justify disqualification, to disqualify a person from owning a dog for up to 5 years when the person commits one major offence (relating to dog ownership) or three infringement offences under the Act within 2 years.

Is the Government going to require that dogs carry a microchip, and if so why?

Yes, from 1 July 2006 all dogs registered for the first time will be required to be implanted with a microchip. This will probably be in addition to the usual collar and registration disc.

A microchip allows near permanent and certain identification of a dog over its whole life. Microchips are commonly used overseas and increasingly in New Zealand for valuable animals. Progressively moving towards the use of microchips for all dogs will allow better identification and tracking of dogs. Many councils have expressed concern that it is too easy for a dangerous dog to be moved from district to district without its status and history being known to other councils.

To allow for better tracking of dogs, work will be undertaken on the requirements to establish a national database to record dog attacks, dangerous dogs, registration information, etc.

Is the Government going to ban dangerous breeds of dog?

There will be no ban on breeds already in New Zealand, although some of the most dangerous breeds will be required to be muzzled.

It will become illegal to import American Pit Bull Terriers, the Dogo Argentino, the Japanese Tosa and the Brazilian Fila. This restriction will not apply to dogs that were previously registered in New Zealand.

People importing dogs will be required to make a statutory declaration, supported by a registered overseas veterinarian, that the dog is not one of these restricted breeds.

Additional breeds or cross-breeds will be able to be declared, by regulation, as restricted breeds if necessary.

What else is the Government doing to improve safety from dogs?

The Government, in conjunction with the local government sector, is developing a public education programme to provide information about the obligations of dog owners under the Dog Control Act, as well as good information about appropriate dog control, particularly around children. ACC statistics suggest a great many more dog attacks occur in New Zealand than are reported to the authorities. It is thought many of these occur within families.

Will the public have a chance to have its say on these proposals?

It is expected that the Local Government and Environment Select Committee, which will be considering these proposals, will seek public submissions.

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