Nuisance Dog or beloved Pet?

When I brought my ‘Sprocker’ home three years ago I had no idea how much she would change my life. Although I did everything that dog magazines tell you not to do, she still turned out to be the perfect pup….in my dreams!

Tilly ruled the household, we started to call her “Demon Dog”. However, after months of training and many embarrassing moments, I was eventually able to help her develop into a relatively well behaved dog who now competes in dog agility. Success I hear you cry? I’m afraid not, just lots of money spent on people who know better than I, plus an adult dog that still thinks that it’s okay to sit at the dining table.

So what do you do when you realise that dog training doesn’t come naturally to you? You bring home another dog of course! Tilly is now older sister to Misty, a one-year-old Border Collie, who is much calmer and naturally well behaved than her sister ever was. However, once her paws hit the pavement, her halo slips (or rather falls off with an almighty crash) as she proceeds to bark at everything that moves. To keep Misty entertained, we regularly run together and she also goes to dog agility training for youngsters.

So as we have now established that I have two unruly dogs, this is the part where I tell you why you really should know a bit about Dog Law if you are going to avoid the humiliation of being summonsed to Court and/or ultimately Ordered to hand your dog over to the authorities to be placed on death row.

Let us take my two dogs for example, how could they possibly get me into trouble? Let me take you back to the day when I took my daughter to watch the X Factor leaving my two dogs to entertain themselves whilst I was drooling over Simon Cowell. Well in a nutshell, I returned home to a note from my neighbour who was apologising for “having to complain but….”. Apparently my dogs had been barking non-stop since my departure. After reading the note, cringing profusely and vowing never to leave the house again, I sat and considered what could happen if this were to be a recurring event.

Clearly, had my neighbour decided to take matters further I would have found myself embroiled in a bitter legal dispute and all because I wanted (no, needed!) to see Simon Cowell. To begin with, the council or police could have served me with a written warning, followed by a Community Protection Notice, specifying measures such as muzzling or training (the latter of which I clearly might struggle). If I failed to comply, I could then have been fined and, if prosecuted, fined an even larger sum. The council could also have served me with a Noise Abatement Notice and if the barking continued I could, again, have been prosecuted. Then once the Criminal Justice System had finished with me my neighbour could have pursued a Civil claim against me for damages.

If that were not enough, my dogs are also quite capable of getting me into trouble individually and Misty is the perfect example. Once Misty leaves the safety of the home environment she turns into a doggy version of the Incredible Hulk and on this specific occasion we were camping. I ensured that Misty was kept on a lead, attached to a stake in the ground, for the short periods of time that we hung around the campsite. However, Tilly was running free. Who was I kidding? Misty was never going to stand for such injustice, she launched herself just enough times to snap her leather collar leaving her free to terrorise the campsite. Then just to make matters worse, a little boy came running past just as she broke free. My life flashed before my eyes and within a split second I had envisaged Misty on death row, little boy mutilated and me standing trial before a Criminal Court. Luckily, just as the Judge was about to hand down my imaginary prison sentence my ex-husband (long story) made a grab for Misty. Phew!

Misty, of course, just laughed in his face, stuck the proverbial two fingers up at him, and jumped out of his way: this game just got even more exciting for Misty! I was, therefore, forced to break free from my thoughts and upon doing so all my years of dog training kicked in. I called Tilly (good dog) to me, whereupon Misty (new Demon Dog) followed, allowing me to catch Misty without her even expecting it (silly dog). Not quite what my dog trainer taught me, but it amounted to the same thing.

So what would have happened had Misty run up to the little boy barking ferociously and scaring his parents to death in the process? Okay, I know that on this occasion Misty simply wanted to help Tilly bully bunny rabbits, but it could have been different had Tilly not already, ‘allegedly’, murdered said bunny. Little boy’s parents may have honestly believed that my dog was dangerously out of control and made a complaint to the police.

Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act applies to every dog in England and Wales and it is a criminal offence that can be brought against the owner of a dog (or person in charge of the dog) if a dog is dangerously out of control. Under this Act, the police have the discretionary power to seize the dog and there is no provision for bail for the dog pending the case concluding (so every dog owner’s worst nightmare). Okay, it is unlikely that the police would prosecute Misty under this Act as although Misty is verbal she is unlikely to have done much more than bark. However, little boy’s parents were not to know that. Should I be wrong, and had Misty caused injury to the little boy there would be a presumption in favour of her destruction unless I could prove that she does not, indeed, constitute a danger to public safety. The Court would also have the power to impose a prison sentence and ban me from keeping dogs as well as imposing a large fine plus compensation.

Under section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 little boy’s parents could then have pursued a Civil complaint against me as under this Act a dog can show itself to be dangerous in its general behaviour rather than just its behaviour towards a person. However, at least under this Act the police would have no power to seize her pending proceedings, the Court would have no power to fine or Order compensation and there would be no presumption in favour of her destruction. However, the Court does still have unfettered discretion with regards to what to do to a dog and the owner would likely have to pay costs.

These are just examples of how my own dogs could get me into trouble but there is copious legislation in place that every dog owner must navigate if they want to avoid breaching the law. However, before you all start swapping your dogs for cats, just remember who it is that is most excited to see you at the end of every day. And it is not your spouse, believe me, I am also a matrimonial lawyer.