Incidents and Letters from Council, eek!

I’ve had a bit of this in draft for a long time, and with a post about 2 dogs floating around Facebook today, I thought I should get it finished. It might be long, or end up in multiple parts, such are the complexities around incidents and complaints relating to our cats and dogs. Often the story on Facebook is incomplete, or doesn’t match the process Councils have to follow in relation to attacks or dogs “at large”. Often strong emotions are at play and confusion reigns, especially if someone is trying to push their understanding based on something that happened to their brother’s cousin’s ex-girlfriend… yikes.

In today’s story, 2 dogs escaped their property when someone left the gate open, and were found chasing wildlife. Humans intervened and there was no injury to wildlife (or the dogs). It was also noted that the area they were found chasing is not a designated off-leash area. The post was seeking rehoming or foster care for the 2 dogs before they faced euthanasia later this week. It came out on the thread that there had been a “notice of intent” to declare the dogs (unknown if dangerous or menacing) that expired later this week so they wanted to rehome before that. Later it was revealed that apparently the council chose to not pursue it as they were amenable to the dogs being rehomed preferably out of state. Nothing was adding up based on my understanding of the legislation.

So in an effort to combat the (understandable) knee-jerk emotional responses, I thought I’d try to clear up some stuff…

This blog is based on NSW legislation, considered accurate at time of writing as interpreted by author Marcia. Marcia is not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Dogs and Cats in NSW are subject to the Companion Animals Act 1998 No 87 as at January 2023 (CAA) – for the “effective and responsible care and management of companion animals”. This Act is set, reviewed and enacted by the NSW State Government, and enforced by the relevant Local Government Area (LGA, aka Council) and police. Your LGA may have a dedicated animal management section, with rangers and specific animal services officers, or the enforcement may fall to a general enforcement section where rangers cover everything (including parking, for example).

Your LGA may also have policies or recommendations related to dogs and cats, as is their right, but these are not legislation and enforceable only in the context of the underpinning relevant Act (including common law, or the Crimes Act). This may be the subject for another blog another time…

Either way, you have both rights and responsibilities applicable to you. In general, it is your right to own a cat or a dog, and it is your responsibility to identify and keep your cat or dog safe – and keep your community safe from your cat or dog. It is also your right to be treated fairly under the law, with the relevant LGA following due process – keeping you correctly informed and not threatening or fear-mongering.

Cats are allowed to roam and are not currently subject to curfews. They should be identified, and should not be in food preparation areas or wildlife protection areas (CAA Part 4 Section 30 for the prohibited areas).

Dogs are not allowed to roam (should be prevented from escaping), and when in public should be on leash (unless in a designated off leash area) or contained, and under effective control (CAA Part 3 Division 1).

Both cats and dogs should also not engage in “nuisance” behaviour – behaviour that impacts the amenity of the neighbourhood via noise, damage, and endangering health or safety (CAA Part 4 Section 31 for cats, Part 5 Division 1A for dogs).

So, there was an incident or complaint…

If there is an incident with your cat or dog that could see you guilty of an offence under the CAA you may be reported to the LGA or Police. These are emotional times. I know, and I get it. No one wants to come to the attention of the LGA because your cat or dog did something, let alone something serious involving your friends or neighbours. Do your best to keep a level head first and foremost.

Your LGA (or the LGA where the offence took place) have the responsibility to follow due process to notify you, investigate, and determine if your dog or cat should now be subject to some kind of Order. You have the right to make representations and objections, and in some cases appeal.

In general:

  • Seek legal advice
  • Document everything – facts, dates, times, conversation summaries, audio, video or photographic evidence, etc
  • Decide if you self-report – primarily if the incident could be interpreted differently, or especially if it involves someone else’s cat or dog
  • Do not be bullied – you are unlikely to need to surrender your cat or dog, only a relevant authority can seize your cat or dog, and only under certain circumstances (CAA Part 4 section 32 for cats; Part 3 Division 1 Section 22 for dogs)
  • Unless it literally was not your cat or dog (and you have evidence), do not deny the incident – acknowledging what your cat or dog may be capable of, even if it is out of character, can go a long way to working with the authorities on the case
…and/or you received a letter…

The letter is the official correspondence about the matter. In some cases, it may be the only notification you receive that there was a complaint – such as for a barking dog complaint maybe. So the type of letter is going to depend on the type of incident or complaint and nature of any investigation. Sometimes they are written in a way that isn’t easy to understand (in legalese, pursuant to section blah of the blah blah blah), so if you are having trouble talk to someone. Contact your, or the issuing LGA, your local pound, your trainer, vet, lawyer, or a friend. Importantly, do not just ignore it – if there are actions for you to take they may be time-sensitive. Lack of response is still a response, and inaction is often considered acceptance.

The letter should include some detail around the incident, complaint or investigation, and any action you need to take or obligations you have. Even if the letter specifies that there is nothing for you to do now, I strongly suggest to start documenting now. And if you don’t have a cat or dog – whether any named pet is not yours or has since passed away – let them know as soon as possible so the LGA can update their records.

Letters that are notices for applying an Order to your cat or dog, or intentions to declare your dog dangerous, menacing or restricted breed are hopefully not a surprise. I’d like to the think the LGA has contacted you by phone or visited during the course of their investigation, but it does happen (especially for restricted breed unfortunately). These are the letters that require time-sensitive action from you, if you wish to make representations or objections to council – usually only 7 days! If there are extenuating circumstances you can ask to have the deadline extended. The LGA has to consider your representations or objections, and not all Orders have an appeal process, so this is worth doing.

Types of orders (*asterisk indicates not applicable for cats):

  • Nuisance Order – provisions prescribed in the CAA, must receive notice letter, once in place no right to appeal, in place for 6-months (history remains visible), essentially like a good behaviour bond for the nuisance behaviour specified
  • Dangerous Dog Order (DDO)* – provisions prescribed in the CAA, must receive notice of intention (NOI) letter, once in place can appeal in court, in place for the life of the dog though can apply for revocation after 12-months
  • Menacing Dog Order (MDO)* – provisions prescribed in the CAA, must receive NOI letter, once in place no right to appeal, in place for the life of the dog though can apply for revocation after 12-months
  • Restricted Dog (breed)* – provisions prescribed in the CAA, must receive NOI letter – different process for declaration and appeal dependent on various factors, probably all its own blog tbh
  • Control Order – provisions to be proposed/negotiated and documented, in place for the life of the cat or dog unless specified as part of the Order
  • Destruction Order – provisions prescribed in the CAA
Now what?

So yeah… cases aren’t simple. The devil is always in the detail. An incident doesn’t mean a death sentence for your cat or dog… but you definitely need to be aware of your rights and responsibilities as an owner (or person in charge of a cat or dog).

And also be careful what you might inadvertently be asking for if asking for help, or when sharing or getting involved in those pleas for help on Facebook. Breathe. And get in touch, we may be able to help.
Featured image source: Agency Ruf Lanz created print ads for the Foundation for the Animal in the Law that put the judicial wig on the victims of animal abuse.

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