“Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Music group Baha Men asked this in their 1998 single. It’s a question you may well be asking if it’s your dog that gets out and is involved in a dog attack.

It seems not a week goes by without a news story about a dog attacking an adult, child or another animal. Sadly there seems to be an epidemic of dog attacks from Kaitaia to Bluff. Some of the more horrendous incidents have involved death and serious injury to people of all ages.

The Dog Control Act 1996 was introduced to make better provision for the control of dogs. The role of enforcing this legislation lies with local government, and councils throughout the country generally take a hard line when there’s been a dog attack.

The legislation deals with many issues and offences including registration, barking, animal welfare, worrying stock, protected wildlife and dog attacks. The more serious offences, once proven in court, can result in the destruction of the dog. The law makes it mandatory for a court to order destruction of the dog unless it’s satisfied the circumstances of the offence were exceptional.

Some benchmark cases

The Halliday case2 sets out the criteria for the test of ‘exceptional circumstances’. The High Court has looked at this issue in a string of cases since the Halliday decision.

The courts will look at various factors including the nature of the attack, the owner’s history as a dog owner, any previous attacks by the dog and the steps the owner has taken to prevent an attack occurring.

In the Halliday case, the dog ‘Spook’ rushed out and bit a visitor on the thigh. There was some dispute as to whether the visitor entered the hallway of the house or was on the doorstep when bitten by Spook.

Luckily for Spook the ‘exceptional circumstances’ test was met and his life was spared. However, this is unusual. In the Evans case in 20123 Justice Miller noted that "one bite is all it takes." In this case, Mr Evans went to the High Court to challenge the court order for the destruction of his dog. The dog had attacked and mauled a neighbour’s dog. His Honour didn’t consider the attack of one dog on another to be out of the ordinary and Mr Evans’ dog was destroyed.

Dog owners love their pets and see them as a member of the family. In today’s society thousands of dollars are spent on fancy food, toys, blankets, dog day care and luxury boarding kennels. But at the end of the day – biology is king. Dogs are wild animals at heart. They can be unpredictable, particularly when threatened or wanting to be protective.

If you own a dog or even if you are looking after a dog for a friend you could find yourself in the District Court dock if an attack occurs. The law requires you to keep your dog under control at all times.

2 Halliday v New Plymouth District Council, Unreported CRI-2005-443-011, Heath J, New Plymouth High Court, 14 July 2005

3 Evans v Queenstown Lakes District Council, Unreported, CRI-2012-425-45 [2012] NZHC 2963, Miller J, Invercargill High Court, 6 November 2012

Posted: Wed 06 May 2015

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