YES & NO. THE DILEMMA

If you call the Police about a dog attack they will tell you to call your local council. (A search for ‘dog attack’ on the SAPOL website returns ‘no result found’).

Local councils can only help dog attack victims if they produce evidence, eg. a video of the attack, witness information, photos of the dog and/or owner or, in the best case scenario, if the owner of the dog responsible for the attack provides (non-fictitious) contact details.

From the many hundreds of responses received via Facebook, the best case scenario above seems to be the exception rather than the rule, with many irresponsible dog owners leaving the scene without any qualms.

THE CASE FOR ‘NO’

Without evidence councils are unable to help dog attack victims much more than sending out a letter to the local community asking for information. If your pet is badly wounded, your first thought is to get medical treatment from the nearest vet as quickly as possible – not exchange details with the other dog owner like you would with a car accident.

A City & Coast Messenger article from January 2017, stated that City of Holdfast Bay rangers that patrol the beaches were powerless to fine people who refused to co-operate. “Issuing an expiation relies on the dog owner giving the officer their details, which is difficult when they simply refuse as council officers have no powers to detain offenders.”

City of Holdfast Bay on page 11, section 5 of its Animal Management Plan state that “Due to the high number of visitors to the area it is difficult for Council to implement a strategy to reduce dog attacks and harassment”. Port Pirie Regional Council take the same approach on page 8 of its Animal Management Plan “due to the high number of visitors to the area it is difficult for Council to implement a strategy to reduce dog attacks and harassment”, despite acknowledging that “the issue of dog attacks and harassment is of great concern to the general community” on page 12 of the plan.

Council are powerless to protect you or your pet.

THE CASE FOR ‘YES’

Once your pet has medical attention, what do you do next?

Call the Police?Call the Police to report it? They will tell you to phone your local council (which may well be closed). A large percentage of dog attacks are likely to occur at the weekend when parks, dog parks and beaches are much busier.

Discovering that the Police are not interested and your local council is closed, the next logical step (in my opinion) is to visit the council website to find out what you need to do.

THIS IS WHERE COUNCILS CAN DO MUCH MORE

Witnessing your pet being ripped apart is a traumatic experience. Yet, if you visit the website of your local council (the ones responsible for animal management in your area) and perform a search for ‘dog attack’ you will discover how insignificant they regard the problem, despite the fact that 2,179 dog attacks and harassment reports were submitted to South Australian councils during 2015-16 according to the Dog & Cat Management Board’s Annual Report (Page 19).

Reported Dog Attacks in South Australia-2015-16

Dog Attacks in South Australia, a report conducted by UniSA on behalf of the Dog & Cat Management Board in 2011 discovered that only 1 in 5 attacks get reported to Councils. If true, it would make the real figure for dog attacks and harassments in SA closer to 11,000 annually. Surely enough to be considered a problem!

I believe ALL Councils should have a page on their websites (that you can actually find) with step-by-step instructions about what to do in the event of a dog attack.  

There are 74 Councils / Communities in South Australia according to the LGA. 4 remote communities do not have a website and one doesn’t work at all. This leaves 69 websites where you may go to seek advice.

SOUTH AUSTRALIAN COUNCIL WEBSITES – DOG ATTACK INFORMATION

If you search all 69 council websites for ‘dog attack’ you will find information on 7 of them – most (63) will return information about dog registration. A cynic may conclude that pet wellbeing is not their highest priority.

The 7 councils that consider dog attacks a problem are Alexandrina, Burnside, Barossa, Mt Barker, Prospect, Wattle Range & City of West Torrens. However, only Burnside, Barossa, Wattle Range & West Torrens actually provide information about what to do, Mt Barker & Prospect provide report forms and Alexandrina’s information is an internal procedure sheet.

I have not included Light Regional Council, Tumby Bay or City of Playford (what problem?) in the above list, even though dog attack was returned in the search results (see below) or District Council of Grant which provides a really useful photo to help you.

Light Regional Council

District Council of Tumby Bay

City of Playford’s Animal Management Plan P. 26 Section 5.5.2 Dog Attack / Harassment states … “Dog attacks or harassment are a major concern and take high priority at the City of Playford”. However, a visit to the Problems with Dogs page on its website highlights just how much of a concern and high priority dog attacks really are.

Wattle Range Council recommend calling the Police (who will tell you to call the Council).

City of West Torrens says, if you believe a dog attack has taken place contact us immediately on 8416 6333. However, as it’s likely to be the weekend, your council will be closedWakefield Regional Council does provide an after hours emergency service on 0418 846 047, as does City of Tea Tree Gully on 1300 405 536.

Naracoorte Lucindale Council on page 17 of its Animal Management Plan states that each year in South Australia 6,500 people require some form of treatment as a result of being attacked by a dog. About 800 of these seek treatment at the emergency department.

ANIMAL MANAGEMENT PLANS

45 councils provide some kind of Animal Management Plan on their website, the majority of which are variations on a standard document presumably provided by the Dog & Cat Management Board.

In many of these plan documents councils are concerned that attacks do not get reported to them. City of Playford on P. 13 of their plan believe that “Approximately 1 in every 5 attacks was reported to the local council and the severity of the injury sustained had little influence on whether the attack was reported”.

Whether you report a dog attack to council or don’t report it, the outcome is likely to be very similar:

  • No action (due to lack of evidence) you will be left with a wounded pet, all the vet bills and a day spent at the council office giving a statement
  • If the irresponsible dog owner is identified they may be fined $210, you will be left with a wounded pet, all the vet bills and a day spent at the council giving a statement. *You may also be asked “Are you prepared to attend Court and provide information regarding this alleged attack / harassment?” (*P. 18. Port Augusta Dog Attack & Harassment Policy / City of Prospect Dog Attack Complaint Form etc)

Under the current legislation, you and your pet have little protection or recourse for justice.

It’s not hard to understand why so few dog owners bother reporting attacks to their local council.

I take my hat off to Rural City of Murray Bridge, the only council to offer a solution that may help alleviate the problem. Page 25, section 3.2.2 of its Animal Management Plan, “investigate forming a partnership with local Australia Post offices, meter readers, and similar parties to proactively identify potential risk situations where dogs may escape confinement and attack”.

City of West Torrens states in its Animal Management Plan on page 20 under issues and opportunities that “the Community Survey Panel findings indicate that dogs not under effective control is one of the most prevalent issues of concern to residents”. There was an average of 65 reports of dog harassment / attacks between 2005/06 and 2009/10.

COUNCIL DOG ATTACK REPORTING

7 councils provide a dog attack report form on their website; however, I don’t believe these are for public use. The form used by councils for recording attack details is designed to feed into the national incident reporting database via the Dog & Cat Management Board – which is not ideal (the reality of what happens during a frenzied dog attack, does not include a civil exchange of contact details while your pet is bleeding to death).

District Council of Copper Coast,  has one of the more realistic dog attack report forms, Mount Barker has a 6pp form akin to the Spanish Inquisition, plus a separate 5pp witness form. Port Augusta provides the full Dog & Cat Management Board report … but if you wish to locate it you will need to find pages 13-20 of their Dog Attack & Harassment Document. City of ProspectTown of Walkerville and Yorke Peninsula provide similar, excellent forms. Yankalilla  has a 2pp form hidden away in their Animal Management Plan, pages 17-18. Loxton Waikerie provide an interesting form; it’s not clear which dog you’re reporting. Questions like “is the dog desexed?” and “where is it usually kept?” are rather mystifying.

That’s the sum of South Australian councils dog attack reporting forms. Another reason why so few people bother reporting attacks?

Councils and the Dog & Cat Management Board are aware of problematic breeds. Muzzles and leashes  worn in public places for certain breeds would greatly reduce the number of savage attacks and fatalities. City of Whyalla on P.13, Section 2.3 of its Animal Management Plan identified a trend. “Of the 55 complaints relating to dog attacks and harassment, 49% were carried out by Staffordshire cross breed type dogs. This is not surprising when taken into account that 38% of the registered dogs in Whyalla are Staffordshire cross breed dogs”.

Another deterrent that could be reviewed is the size of the fine. Responsible dog owners are often left with vet bills in the $1000’s, while the offending dog owner (in the event that they’re identified) may get a fine of $210 ($315 from 1 July 2017).

I’m not sure increasing fines would make much difference, in fact, it would probably make things worse. More dog owners would likely leave the scene of the crime to avoid paying them (and the vet bills). Legislation changes need to be pre-emptive, not retrospective.

ADDITIONAL COUNCIL WEBSITE INFORMATION

Berri Barmera Council provides a Dog Information Guide that states on P3. Every member of the public has the right to use a public place without fear of being attacked or harassed by a dog. If your dog does attack another member of the public or another animal, severe consequences will result. ($210 fine?)

Victims of dog attacks should report the incident to Council as soon as possible as they are entitled to claim damages (if you have evidence). They may also seek legal action and your dog may be destroyed. (Pretty good incentive this, not only has your dog been attacked it may also now be destroyed!!).

City of Burnside tell you to “note the registration disc number” (is putting your face close enough to the bloodied jaws of an attacking dog to read its disc number really a good idea?) and finish up with some reassurance … “Claims for damages are addressed as a civil matter. Councils are unable to facilitate any compensation to the victims”.

City of Charles Sturt (my own council), states that during the daylight savings period dogs must be held on a leash between 10am and 8pm. It’s too dangerous to walk on the beach at Semaphore Park before 10am or after 8pm as attacks are too frequent. My dog has been attacked 3 times during the past 18 months, accruing $1,600 in vet bills. 

Coorong District Council states that, “the issue of dog attacks and harassment is of great concern to the general community” on page 9, section 3.1 of its Animal Management Plan … yet, when you seek information from the Dog and Cat Management section of their website the concern clearly isn’t that great.

District Council of Grant is far more worried about livestock than you or your pet. Council is having an increased number of dog attacks on livestock being brought to its attention. Expiations of $210.00 may be applied to the owner of any dog found harassing livestock. 

City of Holdfast Bay provide a few lines of information in the Dogs & Pets section of their website. Its beaches must lead a charmed life with only 27 dog attacks / harassments reported during 2015-16, despite a promised crackdown on dog owners who let their pets roam free on beaches that hasn’t resulted in a single fine in more than four years.

City of Marion clearly states on its Dogs page that your vet bills are not their responsibility, “council has no role to play in the recovery of money relating to your vet bills, this is a private matter between you and the owner of the other dog”.

In summary, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a responsible dog owner, the only real option you have is to take measures to ensure your pet does not get attacked.

If an attack happens you’re on your own! The Police are not interested and your local council can only offer limited assistance.

NOTE: If you work for one of the councils listed and either address the shortcomings of your website or provide helpful information for dog attack victims, I would be delighted to update this page accordingly.

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