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Dogs and Cats and the Law (NSW)

The Companion Animals Act sets out the responsibilities of owners and of councils in respect of domestic dogs and cats and provides for what steps can be taken by councils and courts if dogs and cats are not adequately controlled. The Crimes Act 1900 contains offences involving dogs and the Companion Animals Act sets out the steps courts can take in respect of dogs involved in such offences. It also provides for the use of assistance animals by disabled people. Animal cruelty legislation is contained in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. 

Responsibilities of owners

The act provides that dogs and cats must be registered from the age of six months (section 9) and that such animals must be identified prior to being sold (section 8).

The act provides that certain steps must be taken by the owners of dogs, such as ensuring the dog is collared and tagged (Section 12), prevented from escaping the property it lives on (Section 13), kept under control when in a public place (Section 13) and must not be encouraged to attack (Section 17).

Responsibilities of councils

Section 11A provides that when dogs and cats are killed by traffic, the council must take reasonable steps to ascertain the owner of the animal and notify them that the animal has been killed.

Nuisance animals

If dogs and cats cause a nuisance, a council can issue an order requiring the owner to prevent the behaviour causing the nuisance.

A dog causes a nuisance by barking, defecating on property, chasing persons or vehicles, endangering health or causing damage to property. A cat causes a nuisance by making noise or damaging property. Such an order is not subject to any appeal or review.

A nuisance dog order can be objected to within 7 days of notice being given. If the owner does not object within 7 days, the council may proceed to issue the order.

A nuisance cat order remains in force for six months and failure to comply with such an order results in a fine of up to 3 penalty units for a first offence and up to 8 penalty units for a second or subsequent offence.

Dangerous dogs

The act provides that a council may declare a dog to be a dangerous or a menacing dog.

A dog can be declared a dangerous dog if it has attacked or killed a person or animal without provocation or repeatedly threatened to attack or repeatedly chased a person or animal, or if the dog is kept for the purpose of hunting.

A dog can be declared a menacing dog if it has displayed unreasonable aggression towards a person or animal or without provocation, attacked a person or animal (without causing serious injury).

When an owner is notified of a proposed declaration that their dog is a dangerous dog or a menacing dog, they must ensure that the dog is under effective control and has a muzzle affixed on its mouth whenever it is away from the owner’s property until the order is made or discontinued. If the owner fails to comply with these requirements, the owner may be fined up to 50 penalty units and the council may seize the dog. An owner can object to a proposed declaration that a dog is dangerous or menacing within 7 days of the notice being given.

The owner of a dangerous dog must:

  • Have the dog desexed;
  • Never leave the dog in the sole charge of a person under the age of 18;
  • Keep the dog in an enclosure …
  • Display a sign on the property showing the words ‘Warning dangerous dog’;
  • Keep the dog on a lead and muzzled when outside its enclosure;

The owner of a menacing dog must:

  • Keep the dog under effective control on a leash and muzzle when outside its property.

Failure to comply with these control requirements is an offence that can attract a fine of up to 150 penalty units.

Criminal offences involving dogs

Under Section 35A of the Crimes Act 1900, a person who has control of a dog and causes the dog to inflict grievous bodily harm on another person is guilty of an offence punishable by a maximum of ten years imprisonment. A person who has control of a dog and causes the dog to inflict actual bodily harm on another person is guilty of an offence punishable by a maximum of five years imprisonment.

When a person is found guilty of an offence under Section 35A of the Crimes Act, a court may make a control order or a destruction order in respect of the dog.

A control order requires the owner to take action to prevent or reduce the likelihood of the dog causing injury, such as desexing the dog or training the dog. A destruction order requires the dog to be put down.

The court may only make a destruction order if satisfied that a control order would not be sufficient to protect the public from the dog.

Assistance animals

The Companion Animals Act provides that a person with a disability is entitled to have an assistance animal in any public place or on public transport. A person must not be refused entry to a public place or to public transport because they are accompanied by an assistance animal.

If you require legal advice in any matter please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.

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