Having your beloved family pet declared to be ‘dangerous’ can be a heartbreaking experience for you and your loved ones.
However, our passionate criminal defence lawyers can advise you of the ways in which you can defend your dangerous dog case to ensure that your pet continues to get the quality of life that it deserves.
- It has, without provocation, attacked or killed a person or animal (other than vermin)
- It has, without provocation, repeatedly tried to attack or chase a person or animal
- It has displayed unreasonable aggression towards another person or animal
If your dog is declared to be dangerous, it will be subject to many restrictions – for example, it may need to wear a special collar to identify it as a dangerous dog.
Perhaps the most concerning and onerous condition is that your dog will be forced to live in an approved dog enclosure in your backyard, and it will only be able to leave that enclosure if it is muzzled. This is obviously very restrictive and can impact your dog’s quality of life.
Often, the process for defending a dangerous dog case is complex and confusing. It may also be highly emotional for yourself and your family.
To help you better understand the process and how you can defend the charges, we have included some information below.
1. Receiving the letter from council
The first thing that generally happens in a dangerous dog case is that council will send you a letter informing you about an ‘alleged incident’ – for example, that your dog has bitten someone.
The council will usually invite you to participate in an interview to discuss the incident, however it may not be in your best interests to participate in the interview. This is because it can be a highly emotional situation, and the council may attempt to make you admit to certain things which may result in an unfavourable outcome.
If you are worried about an interview with the council, speak to an experienced lawyer who will be able to advise you of your options.
2. Receiving a notice of intention from council
Council will then issue you with a ‘notice of intention to declare your dog dangerous.’ This notice will generally say that the council will issue a dangerous dog declaration after a certain period of time; usually seven days.
You will then have seven days to lodge an objection with the council. The council must consider your objection before they choose to issue a dangerous dog declaration.
3. Writing an objection
If you do not agree with the council’s decision to declare your dog dangerous, you may lodge an objection with the council within 7 days of receiving the notice.
You may choose to get a lawyer to draft the objection for you, or alternatively, you may wish to do it yourself.
The objection should take the form of a letter in which you highlight any positive traits which show that your dog is not aggressive – for example, you may say that your dog has never been involved in another incident, that it gets along well with children and other animals, that it has been trained, and anything else that may get you a more favourable outcome.
You may also want to include ‘undertakings,’ which are agreements between yourself and the council to do certain things – for example:
- You may undertake to not allow your dog out in public without a leash or a responsible adult
- You may undertake to secure your property or backyard and allow a council officer to inspect it
- You may undertake to take your dog to a dog training school, or a dog behaviourist
Undertakings are not legally binding; however they will demonstrate that you are willing to take responsibility for your pet.
There are several other things which you may wish to include in your objection to make it stronger:
- Character references: You may also wish to include character references from neighbours, your vet, an animal behaviourist or anyone else who has had dealings with your dog. Character references should highlight the fact that your dog is not aggressive, and may draw attention to the fact that your dog interacts well with children and other animals.
- Temperament assessment: You may also include a ‘temperament assessment,’ which is where an animal behaviourist or specialist assesses your dog for any behavioural issues and aggression. If the assessment is positive and shows that your dog is not aggressive, this can be a valuable addition to your objection.
- Photos: You may also include photos of your backyard or property to show that your yard is appropriately secured so that your dog cannot get out.
4. Appealing the council’s decision to the court
If the council rejects your objection and issues you with a dangerous dog declaration, you have several options.
Firstly, you may choose to take no action and accept the dangerous dog declaration. However, this generally means that you will have to abide by onerous restrictions, such as keeping your dog in an approved enclosure – which can have a negative impact on your pet’s quality of life.
Alternatively, you may wish to appeal the council’s decision. You can lodge an appeal by completing an application within 28 days of your dog being declared dangerous – these applications are generally available at your Local Court registry. You may choose to complete the application yourself, or ask a lawyer to do it.
You will then have to file the application at the Local Court registry and pay a small filing fee (usually under $100). You will then be given a court date at sometime in the near future, generally within 3-4 weeks.
5. Negotiating with council using control orders
While you await your court date, you may want to try and negotiate with council to revoke the dangerous dog declaration.
This may be achieved by offering to comply with ‘control orders,’ which are promises to control your dog in a certain way – for example, a promise to keep your dog muzzled and on a leash when in public. These are very similar to undertakings, however they are more likely to be accepted by the court as they are legally binding.
Control orders are also appealing as they are much less onerous than a dangerous dog declaration, and will generally not require your dog to be held in an enclosure – which means that your pet will be able to live its life freely.
They are also beneficial as they usually only last between 12 months and two years, while a dangerous dog declaration lasts indefinitely.
To negotiate a control order, you can call or email your local council.
If you are successful in obtaining a control order, you can hand up the control orders when you go to court. The magistrate will then dismiss the dangerous dog declaration and replace it with the control order.
6. Local Court Hearing
If you are not successful in negotiating control orders with council, you may choose to accept the dangerous dog declaration.
Alternatively, if you want to fight the dangerous dog declaration, you may wish to proceed to a Local Court hearing.
Prior to a Local Court hearing, both parties (i.e. the council and yourself) will be given an opportunity to serve any relevant documents to each other by a certain date. This means that you will have a chance to consider any evidence that the council has to support their dangerous dog claim.
You will then come back before the court for the hearing to determine whether the dangerous dog application is valid.
At a hearing, both parties will be able to give their side of the story and call witnesses – the council will usually call the person who was bitten or attacked to give evidence in the witness box, and you will also be able to do the same. You may also call any other witnesses who can support your case – such as a vet or an animal behaviourist who has worked with your dog. You or your lawyer will be given the chance to cross-examine the other party’s witnesses, and they will be able to do the same to your witnesses.
At the end of the hearing, the magistrate will make an order either allowing the dangerous dog declaration to continue, or dismissing it.
Generally, hearings should be avoided as they can be very costly and stressful – hence you should make every effort to have the dangerous dog declaration dropped at an earlier stage by lodging an objection or negotiating undertakings or control orders.
If your hearing is unsuccessful, you may apply to the council to have the dangerous dog declaration lifted 12 months after it has been made.
For more than a decade, Sydney Criminal Lawyers® has developed techniques to deal with ‘dangerous dog’ and ‘dog attack/bite’ cases.
We deal with All NSW Councils & represent clients in All NSW Courts, providing outstanding representation in these types of cases for ‘fixed fees’ (see our ‘fixed fees’ page).
We consistently influence NSW Councils not to issue ‘dangerous dog declarations’ to owners upon whom a ‘Notice of Intention to Declare Dog Dangerous’ has been served.
This is done by sending a ‘letter of objection’ to Council within 7 days of receiving the ‘Notice of Intention to Declare Dog Dangerous’.
It often helps if the letter includes a ‘temperament assessment’ and/or ‘undertakings to Council’; which are promises that you will take certain actions to ensure there is no future incident.
We can refer you to the most respected ‘temperamant assessors’ in NSW; including assessors who train Council Rangers.
We can draft the ‘letter of objection’ and ‘undertakings’ on your behalf; which can include a promise to always keep your dog on a leash when in public, to ensure your backyard is secure and to only allow adults to walk your dog.
We can also persuade Councils to issue ‘nuisance dog orders’ rather than more serious ‘dangerous dog declarations’.
We regularly have ‘dangerous dog declarations’ revoked (cancelled); which is done by applying to the Local Court within 28 days or to the ‘Council in which the dog is ordinarily kept’ more than 12 months after the delaration is made.
Councils will often agree to revoke dangerous dog declarations if ‘Control Orders’ are made instead; which are similar to ‘undertakings’ but are made by a Court.
In ‘dog attack’ cases, we often have alleged ‘dangerous dogs’ quickly returned to their owners and prosecutions dismissed in Court.
We regularly persuade Councils to withdraw prosecutions on various grounds, or to replace very serious criminal charges (eg ‘dog attack’ under section 16 or ‘encourage to attack’ under s17) with far less serious ‘Penalty Notices’ carrying fines.
We frequently advise verious organisations of the rights and responsibilities of pet owners under the Companion Animals Act and its regulations.
In fact, Sydney Criminal Lawyers® is recognised by Councils and other criminal lawyers as experts in the field and formidable advocates in court.
Why Sydney Criminal Lawyers®?
It can be upsetting and distressing for the whole family to have your beloved pet declared to be dangerous.
If your dog is declared to be dangerous, it will be forced to live in an approved enclosure on your property – restricting its freedom and impacting its quality of life. This can be particularly traumatic for your pet, who will not understand what it has done wrong.
However, with the help of an experienced specialist dangerous dog lawyer, you can give your pet the best chance at living a free and full life.
At Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, we pride ourselves on being the leading experts in fighting dangerous dog matters.
Over the past decade, our dedicated lawyers have developed techniques to win dangerous dog cases. Our expert lawyers passionately defend animal rights to ensure that your dog is able to continue living the free and natural life that it deserves.
Our lawyers fight to have dangerous dog declarations dropped before you end up in court by writing letters of objection to councils and by negotiating undertakings and control orders.
We go above and beyond the call of duty by obtaining all relevant evidence that supports your case, such as temperament assessments and character references.
If your matter goes to court, you can rest assured that our persuasive advocates will effectively cross-examine all witnesses to highlight problems with the prosecution case and to guarantee that you get the best possible outcome.
We also offer fixed fees for dangerous dog matters, so that you know exactly how much your matter is going to cost from the outset.
So, for the best possible legal representation for yourself and your pet, call us now on (02) 9261 8881 with one of our passionate criminal lawyers.