The main legislation that deals with the control of domestic animals in NSW is the Companion Animals Act 1998 and the Companion Animals Regulation 2018. These set out the responsibilities of dog and cat owners and provide local councils with a range of measures to prevent animals causing harm to people and property.
Under the Act, dogs and cats must be identified and registered (Companion Animals Act 1998, Part 2 Compulsory identification and registration of companion animals). There are various restrictions on dogs and cats in public places and obligations to remove and dispose of faeces (Part 3 Responsibility for control of dogs and Part 4 Responsibility for control of cats). An owner must take all reasonable precautions to prevent a dog escaping from the property where it is kept (section 12A). Local councils can also make orders restricting the number of animals kept at premises (Local Government Act 1993, section 124).
It is an offence for a dog to rush at, attack, bite, harass or chase a person or another animal (other than vermin), regardless of whether injury is caused. The owner or person in charge of the dog at the time of the offence can be fined up to $11,000 or, if the incident is caused by their recklessness, $22,000 and/or imprisonment for two years (Companion Animals Act 1998, section 16).
There are some exceptions to this offence, for example, if:
- the dog has been teased, attacked, mistreated or otherwise provoked
- the person or animal is trespassing on the property where the dog is being kept
- the dog is acting in reasonable defence of a person or property (section 16).
It is also an offence for a person to set on or urge a dog to do this, attracting a fine of up to $22,000 (section 17). A person convicted of any of these offences can face disqualification from owning a dog or being in charge of one in a public place for a specified period (section 23). If the dog has attacked or bitten, the dog may be seized and secured (section 18). The penalties are heavier if the dog is declared dangerous, menacing or is a ‘restricted’ dog, attracting fines of up to $77,000 and/or five years imprisonment of the dog’s owner or person in charge of the dog at the time of the incident, as well as permanent disqualification from owning a dog or being in charge of one in a public place (sections 16-17 and 23.). The Act contains specific definitions of ‘dangerous’, ‘menacing’ and ‘restricted’ that relate to their breed and/or their behaviour (sections 33, 33A and 55).
For these dogs, there are specific requirements including the desexing of the dog, that it wear a distinctive collar, be housed in a proper enclosure and that warning signs be displayed at the premises where the dog is kept. When outside the enclosure the dog must be on a lead and muzzled and when in public, must not be in the charge of a person under 18 years (Companion Animals Act 1998, Part 5 Divisions 4 and 5; and Companion Animals Regulation, Part 6 Dangerous, menacing and restricted dogs).
Breach of these requirements is an offence and can result in the dog being seized and the owner being fined up to $16,500 (Companion Animals Act 1998, sections 51, 52, 56 and 57). If the dog attacks or bites a person as a result of breach of the requirements, the owner may be permanently disqualified from owning a dog or being in charge of one in a public place (section 23).
In addition to the powers of the local council, the Court can also order that a dog be seized and destroyed, or declared to be dangerous or menacing, or else require specific control action be taken within a specified time. Typical actions in a control order can include the desexing of the dog, or that it undergo behavioural training to prevent or reduce the likelihood of it attacking people or animals. Failure to comply with the control order may result in a fine of up to $11,000 (Companion Animals Act 1998, Part 5, Divisions 2 and 3).
Under the Act and the Companion Animals Regulation 2018 a dog attack register is also kept by the Department of Local Government containing state-wide information.
A dog that is not vicious can still be a problem for neighbours. A dog is a nuisance under section 32A of the Act if it:
- is ‘habitually at large’ (often wanders away from home) or
- makes a noise that is so persistent or occurs to such an extent that it unreasonably interferes with the peace, comfort or convenience of any person in other premises or
- repeatedly defecates on private property other than the premises where it is kept or
- repeatedly runs at or chases a person or vehicle or animal (other than vermin and other than in the course of stock work) or
- endangers the health of a person or animal (other than vermin and other than in the course of stock work) or
- repeatedly causes substantial damage to anything outside the premises where it is normally kept.
Similarly, under section 31 of the Act a cat is a nuisance if it:
- makes a noise that is so persistent or occurs to such an extent that it unreasonably interferes with the peace, comfort or convenience of any person in other premises
- repeatedly damages anything outside the premises where it is normally kept.
Where a council officer is satisfied that a cat or a dog is a nuisance, the officer can issue a cat nuisance order or a dog nuisance order (sections 31 and 32A). The procedure for issuing a nuisance order is as follows. The council officer must first issue the owner with a notice of the intention to issue the nuisance order. This notice of intention must specify what action will be required in the proposed order and that the owner has seven days to object to it being issued. If the owner makes an objection, the officer must consider this before issuing the order. Otherwise, after seven days the order will be issued (sections 31A and 32B).
A cat or dog nuisance order must specify the particular nuisance behaviour that must be addressed or prevented. The order will remain in force for six months and the owner must comply with the order. Penalties for breach can range from $880 (dog) or $330 (cat) for a first offence to $1650 (dog) or $880 (cat) for subsequent breaches. The order cannot be appealed (sections 31 and 32A).
Where noise is a problem, whether from barking or other behaviour, there are also remedies available under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act). For a quick response to temporary offensive noise, the police can issue a noise abatement direction to cease making the noise. The direction remains in force for up to 28 days and breach of the direction can result in a fine of up to $3300 (Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997, Part 8.6 Division 3).
Another option is a Prevention Notice issued by a local council officer under section 96 of the POEO Act. This notice can list specific actions that must be taken within a certain time, to prevent the noise.
These remedies do not stop any person from applying themselves to the Local Court for a noise abatement order under sections 268-274 of the POEO Act. If a magistrate is satisfied that offensive noise is being emitted or is likely to recur, an order can be issued requiring the offensive noise to cease. Under section 290 of the Act an appeal of the order can be made to the Land and Environment Court but must be lodged within 21 days.
Where there is a problem with the number or kind of animals or birds being kept by a neighbour, or the manner in which they are kept, your local council can help. Under section 124 of the Local Government Act 1993 the council can issue an order requiring that the animals or birds not be kept on the premises or not be kept in such numbers or in such conditions.
Domestic animals are a common source of problems between neighbours. If you have a problem with a neighbour’s animal, try talking first with your neighbour about the problem. The Community Justice Centre can also help you mediate a solution. If the problem persists, contact your local council.
If you suspect an animal is being mistreated, contact the RSPCA Inspectors on 1300 CRUELTY (1300 278 3589) or (02) 9770 7555 or visit the RSPCA website.
Courts and mediation
- Companion Animals Act 1998
- Companion Animals Regulation 2018
- Local Government Act 1993
- Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997