By Dr Clive Dalton
Ownership of a working dog carries with it some clearly-defined legal responsibilities under current legislation. Your main responsibilities are to:
· Make sure a dog is registered and that the certificate is in a secure place and readily available.
· Have collars, discs, or tags for all dogs and make sure they wear them at all times.
· Notify any change of address, either permanent or temporary if you move, or if you sell the dog.
· Ensure discs or labels are not tampered with.
· Present all dogs for treatment for hydatids as required.
· Keep dogs under control at all times.
· Make certain dogs are well housed.
· Ensure dogs are well fed.
The dog is also covered under legislation that states that an animal must be provided with adequate food, water, and shelter, and given adequate exercise. Ill-treating your dog or cruelly ill-treating it is an offence under the law.
All dogs must be registered annually with a "territorial authority" such as a borough council, county council, district council or city council, or a hydatids and dog control authority acting on behalf of these. All farm dogs over 3 months of age must be registered.
The fees vary with each territorial authority and some charge lower fees for working dogs and neutered dogs. You are not allowed to shop round for the cheapest authority - you register your dog where you live!
Proof of ownership, other than the owner's certificate is the label or disc that the dog should wear at all times. This shows:
· The territorial authority where the dog is registered.
· Year of registration, also shown by the colour of the tag.
· The dog's ownership number.
New collars can be purchased from the authority. Old ones can be used provided the current label or tag is firmly attached. If a collar or disc is lost, you can apply to the authority for a replacement and you'll have to pay for it.
Remember that if a dog is found without a collar, it will be "deemed as unregistered" until you can prove the contrary.
Selling a dog
When selling a dog, if it's under 3 months of age, there is no obligation to register it before sale. If you sell the dog when over 3 months of age you must notify the territorial authority in writing within 14 days that the dog has been sold. There's no fee charged for change of ownership.
When selling a dog you must:
· Give the new owner a current treatment certificate showing that the dog has been treated for hydatids in the last 42 days.
· Provide the authority with the name and address of the new owner and the address where the dog in normally kept.
Buying a dog
If you buy a dog under 3 months of age, the vendor doesn't have to produce a hydatids treatment certificate. As a new owner you must:
· Register the dog before it's 3 months old
· If over 3 months old, get the original owner to provide a certificate to show the dog has been treated for hydatids in the last 42 days.
· Notify the territorial authority in writing within 14 days of purchase the name of the authority the dog came from.
Moving with your dog
If you move within the same territorial authority, then notify the territorial authority of your address change, in writing, within 14 days .
If you move to a new authority, notify them in writing within 6 weeks of moving where the dog came from. Then inform the authority you have just left that you've moved, and give them the new address where the dog is kept. It would pay to do this in writing too.
These two situations are important for stockpersons doing casual work and for those having dogs on trial before purchase. It's also important for people traveling outside their district to always carry their dogs' hydatids treatment certificate. It should show that treatment has been carried out within the last 42 days.
Control of dogs
This part of the act is important for farm dogs. It covers the fact that dogs must be kept under control at all times. If a dog is considered to be out of control, then a number of things can happen. Important examples are:
· A Dog Control Officer can impound it.
· The occupier of the land on which the dog is found can impound it.
· If the dog is in a public place from which dogs are prohibited, anyone can seize the dog, or arrange for it to be seized and impounded.
· Anyone can impound a dog (or dogs) if they consider it to be causing distress, annoyance, and damage to property other than the owners.
The occupier of land where a dog causes a nuisance can either return the dog to its owner or hand it over to a Dog Control Officer or Dog Ranger.
If a barking dog has been reported to a Dog Control Officer or Dog Ranger, and there are reasonable grounds to believe that its barking constitutes a nuisance, an officer or ranger can:
· Enter the land or premises (other than a dwelling house) at any reasonable time to inspect the conditions under which the dog is kept.
· Give the owner a written notice requiring him/her to abate the nuisance or remove the dog. The owner may object within 7 days.
Disqualification from ownership
A territorial authority may apply to a court to disqualify a person from owning a dog if convicted of a range of listed offences in the legislation.
Dogs attacking people or livestock or rushing at vehicles
Anyone who sees a dog attack stock or poultry, or who is themselves attacked, can either seize the dog or destroy it immediately. Note that police dogs are exempt! Once you have seized the dog, you must hand it over to its owner or to a Dog Control Officer or Ranger.
If you cannot catch the dog, you may call a police officer who can shoot it. It need not be caught in the act for this to happen, but the office must have reasonable ground for believing the attacks took place.
The police officer is empowered to destroy the dog only if he/she is unable to seize it.
Dangerous dogs at large
It is an offence for owners of a dangerous dog to have it at large without a suitable muzzle. A "dangerous dog" is one that has attacked people, stock, poultry or property of any kind. If you keep it in a vehicle or cage, then this is acceptable.
Destroying dangerous dogs
A court can order the owner of a dangerous dog either to keep it under proper restraint or make an order for it to be destroyed.
Seizure or destruction of a dog found at large among livestock
If a dog is found running at large among livestock or poultry, the owner may either seize a dog or destroy it. Owners can also request their "agent", a constable, a Dog Control Officer or Ranger to do this on their behalf.
If seized the dog must be returned to its owner or delivered into the custody of a Dog Control Officer or Ranger.
Dogs seen worrying livestock
If a dog has been seen worrying livestock of poultry, the owner may make a complaint to the District Court. The court as a result may make an order of restraint or an order to destroy the dog.
Liability of the owner for damage
The owner of a dog is liable for all damage done by the animal.
Dog control bylaws
A territorial authority can make bylaws for a range of purposes. Those of interest to farm dog owners are:
· Prescribing minimum standards for accommodation of dogs.
· Limiting the number of dogs kept on land or premises.
· Requiring dogs to be tied up during the hours of darkness.
· Requiring owners to remove faeces left in public places or other people's land.
· Requiring a bitch to be confined but given adequate exercise.
· Impounding dogs found at large.
Wounding of dogs
If you wound a dog while trying to shoot it, you are under no criminal or civil liability for injury to the dog or for its death. However, it's incumbent on you to take all reasonable steps to terminate the animal's suffering.
Offences relating to offal and untreated meat
It is an offence to:
· Own a dog infected with hydatids or that has been infected twice in the last 12 months. Your only defence will be to show you took all reasonable steps to prevent the second infection.
· Feed a dog raw offal or raw sheep or goat meat.
· Sell offal or untreated sheep or goat meat for feeding to dogs.
· Leave the carcasses of any sheep, cattle, horse, deer, goat or swine to lie in the open accessible to dogs.