Keeping dogs under control

THE consequences of a dog being declared dangerous by a council under companion animal laws fall on the dog’s owner. Under the law, a declared dog has to be kept in an approved enclosure and subject to other restraints to ensure it can’t hurt anybody.

Those requirements may cost the dog’s owner some money and effort.

The consequences of a council declining to make a declaration after people have complained about the dog can be much more far-reaching.

A person or other animal might be attacked by the dog and, if a child or elderly person, they might be seriously injured or even killed.

Such a council, having previously declined to declare the dog dangerous, might fight itself arguing in court over whether it had fulfilled its duty of care to the public. If it lost its argument, the financial cost to ratepayers could be high.

Without attempting to judge the particular circumstances of recent dog attacks in the Hunter, these are some of the considerations that councils ought to be taking into account.

In recent months both Cessnock and Lake Macquarie councils have been criticised for allegedly failing to take strong enough action following complaints about dogs that subsequently attacked people.

In each case the councils have insisted they acted properly, given the evidence before them.

At Cessnock, the council declined to make a declaration even when the dog had previously bitten a person. At Lake Macquarie, dogs at the property in question had been the subject of 11 complaints including allegations that they had killed puppies and goats.

Under companion animal legislation, a dog may be declared dangerous if it ‘‘has displayed unreasonable aggression towards a person or animal (other than vermin)’’. Councils have clear power to make declarations and dog owners have equally clear avenues of appeal if they believe a declaration is unreasonable.

Many people might believe that recent events should incline councils to presume in favour of declaring a dog dangerous when complaints are serious enough.

A wrong declaration carries relatively light consequences, but a wrong decision not to declare could cost somebody’s life.

THE tragedy of Tillegra Dam was the inescapable feeling that a long-term infrastructure project had been brought a long way forward to suit a short-term political agenda. So many pieces of evidence seemed to point this way that the NSW government was eventually forced to put the dam plan back on the shelf.

Surely now the best thing is to return all those affected, as much as possible, to the status quo that prevailed before the dam’s premature announcement.

Some day the Hunter may, in fact, require Tillegra Dam. For now it does not, and life in the affected district should be allowed to return to productive normality. If Hunter Water’s move to commission a land use strategy is aimed at this goal then it should be helped and encouraged to succeed.

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