A POINTLESS EXERCISE!

I have been considering this response for several weeks since the South Australian Government announced changes to the state’s dog legislation. In summary, their response to the 85% increase in hospitalisations due to dog attacks in SA during 2016-17 was to introduce a $5000 fine for irresponsible dog owners who leave the scene of the attack without passing on their contact details.

Channel 7 - South Australia's New Dog Legislation

Click image to view the Channel 7 News coverage.

As is usual with politicians, they made sure they received plenty of TV and media coverage to show that they were concerned and doing something about an ever increasing issue. Environment Minister Ian Hunter speaking at West Torrens Dog Park said it was sending a message to irresponsible dog owners – he also added that when attacks occur nowadays, people simply get out their phones and record them or take photos!!!

The TV cameras and media coverage have long since gone and of course nothing has transpired. The bill was blocked in parliament and won’t be revisited for at least another 4 months when the government reconvenes after the Christmas break.

As a responsible dog owner you are on your own!

YOU WILL GET NO SUPPORT FROM COUNCILS OR GOVERNMENT – SO DON’T EXPECT ANY!

National, State & Local Government does not care what happens to you or your dog! (Unless of course you forget to pay your registration – then they do!)

As a State we need to ask ourselves this question:

Is 2000 dog attacks per year acceptable?
(The unofficial figure based on the Dog & Cat Management Board’s research is closer to 11,000 per year)

YES – Leave things as they are I’m happy with these figures.
NO – It’s not acceptable, something should be done to reduce the number of attacks and millions of dollars in vet bills.

In line with the rest of Australia, SA’s dog attack figures are increasing annually – this situation is likely to get even worse over the next 2-3 years based on the top 10 registered dogs in 2017 – 7 of which are large (potentially aggressive) breeds.

Firstly, I will address the government’s $5000 fine for irresponsible owners who fail to stick around and provide their details.

If an irresponsible owner does the right thing now they will:

– (Potentially) pay a fine of $310
– (Potentially) be responsible for vet bills – which often run into many $1000’s
– Risk having their dog put down or cited with a dangerous dog notice

In 9 out of 10 cases (*based on figures gathered by ADAR) irresponsible dog owners choose NOT to do the right thing – leaving without passing on any details. The advantage of this approach is:

– No fine
– No vet bills
– No risk of losing their dog

*Of the 5 identified owners only 3 paid compensation to the victim

This is where the government’s pointless rhetoric and simplistic (lazy) solution of simply increasing the fine fails even the most basic means test.

If an irresponsible owner won’t stick around now to face the consequences of a $1,000-$2,000 fine and vet bills, they sure as hell won’t when the fine may be $6,000-$7,000. Surely our Premier and Environment Minister are not that stupid that they don’t already know this!!!

Surprisingly enough, Australia is not the only country in the world with this problem, so there is no shortage of case studies to review. No legislative changes will ever prevent dog attacks from happening, largely because dogs are owned by people.

If people could be entrusted to do the right thing there would be no need for prisons, speed cameras or security scanners at airports.

In my opinion, if our councils and state government were serious about reducing the number of dog attacks they need to put in some real effort. Increasing fines AFTER the event is pointless, it won’t prevent the attack, injury to the dog or the vet bills.

LEGISLATIVE CHANGES MUST BE PROACTIVE

Introducing (some of) the measures in use overseas is the ONLY way any change is likely to occur. (NOTE: I am not prescribing any of the changes below, that’s the job of our legislators, however, it would seem to me that these would all help to minimise attacks occurring).

1. Dog Registration ONLY performed by a vet into a national database (similar to the Swiss ANIS system)

This removes the likelihood of fraudulent registrations (eg. Registering a Bullmastiff as a Kelpie X)

2. Mandatory Pet Liability Insurance (could be included in the annual registration fee) – Swiss councils require this

I believe this would be far more useful than retrospective fines for owners who are rarely, if ever identified. It would cover the vet bills for the thousands of victims each year.

3. Dangerous dog ownership and licensing – 16 German states have very stringent laws regarding ownership and registration.

These laws are designed to make it more difficult for undesirable owners to obtain dangerous dogs.

Germany regulates dangerous dog breeds with laws that target criminals and require owners to pay special taxes.

Of the 16 German states, 15 have breed-specific legislation. 15 states restrict Pit Bulls, 5 states restrict Rottweilers and 1 state restricts Dobermans. The state of Saxony has very stringent laws relating to dangerous dogs, these include:

  • Dangerous dogs must be leashed and muzzled when in public
  • Keeping dangerous dogs requires a license which is only granted to adults who fit the legal conditions
  • The owner of a dangerous dog must pass a written exam in order to prove theoretical knowledge of how to handle his dog

Ownership of dangerous dogs is not permitted for people:

  • Who have once been convicted to more than 60 days in prison with or without probation (= or an equal fine which is calculated according to days in prison) or
  • Who have twice been convicted to less than 60 days in prison with or without probation within in the last five years, not including the time in prison itself
  • Who are addicted to alcohol or drugs
  • Who are mentally or physically disabled

A dangerous dogs tax also applies (much higher than the the normal dog registration), in Nürnberg for example it’s more than €1000 ($1,500) per annum.

One of the biggest problems for addressing dog attacks is that they happen in isolation – a bad attack attracts media attention for a couple of days then it’s forgotten – until the next bad attack happens, and so the cycle continues.

A legislative change I would like to see is more transparency from councils. Each month they should publish how many attacks / rushes were reported in their ward. This would prevent the issue from being ignored until the Dog & Cat Management Board release their annual figures.

I would look forward to your comments and recommendations, whether you agree or disagree with me – what would you like to see changed to make it safer to walk our dogs? 

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Showing 5 comments
  • Cathy
    Reply

    Sound like pretty sensible ideas to me, though I don’t really understand why any dangerous breeds should be allowed, other than the fact that all dogs are potentially dangerous….

    • Bonie
      Reply

      This sounds great. My dog wouldn’t have been attacked and nearly killed if they were in force here, as it was a doberman.

  • Lynda
    Reply

    While some of those ideas go some way to get so called “dangerous” breeds out of the hands of criminal types, it seems only a small percentage of the population would be targeted in this manner. The whole issue we have now is the identifying of dogs that do attack. I feel the laws are enough, if the dogs could be definitively ID’ed. Maybe it is time for prescribed breeds to have ear tags? Other countries use ear tags for dogs for various purposes, and even small animals such as lab rodents also have them.

  • James Page
    Reply

    The City of Vienna, Austria, requires ALL dogs in public places to be either leashed or muzzled. There is also an exam, compulsory for restricted breeds, voluntary for others: https://www.wien.gv.at/english/environment/animal-protection/dog-licence.html administered by an ombudsman for animal welfare

    • Alan Timms
      Reply

      Thanks James I wasn’t aware of Vienna’s dog laws. The Swiss tried mandatory training lessons and a written exam that had to be passed for all new dog owners. They repealed it in 2016 when they found that 1 in 5 were skipping the training course and that it had no effect on reducing the number of dog attacks that occurred. The problem is people, the laws can require a leash and muzzle but some owners will simply ignore it. I was going to include this in my list of changes to the law but felt it would deliver similar results to those in Switzerland.

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