Dealing with dangerous dogs is a problem that all local governments – large and small, city and regional, coastal and western – deal with on a day to day basis.
Two recent decisions of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (“QCAT”) serve as a reminder for councils to pay attention to some key things when taking legal action regarding dangerous dogs.
Menacing dogs – is character evidence relevant?
The first QCAT decision, Christie and Anor v Livingstone Shire Council  QCAT 321, was delivered in August 2020.
In that case, QCAT considered a decision of Council to declare a male Belgian Shepherd to be a regulated menacing dog under the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, after it bit a two-year-old child on the back.
Christie is a reminder that Councils have two options when dealing with dogs that have been involved in an attack. Under the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, a local government may:
- make a dangerous dog declaration, if the dog:
- has seriously attacked, or acted in a way that caused fear to, a person or another animal; or
- may, in the opinion of an authorised person of Council, seriously attack or act in a way that causes fear to, a person or other animal, based on the way the dog has previously behaved.
- make a menacing dog declaration, which is an option if any of the circumstances for a dangerous dog declaration have arisen, but any “attack” is not a “serious attack”. A “serious attack” arises where an attack causes bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or death.
In Christie, the Christies sought to present “character evidence” in support of the dog, including from a vet about the dog’s history over the last five years, and of witnesses who suggested the bite was out of character.
However, the QCAT member took the view that there was no real evidence submitted that refuted the fact that the child suffered a dog bite, or that the Christies’ dog was the dog that caused that bite. In those circumstances, the menacing dog declaration was confirmed.
Destruction order – must the dog be dangerous or unable to be controlled?
In the second QCAT decision, Gligoric v Gold Coast City Council  QCAT 320, which was also delivered in August 2020, the Tribunal was called upon to externally review Council’s decision to make a destruction order for a regulated menacing dog.
If an authorised person of Council has seized a regulated menacing or dangerous dog, either under warrant or in accordance with section 125 of the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, a destruction order may be made for the dog. The destruction order allows Council to destroy the dog 14 days after the order is served.
A destruction order can be appealed first by the recipient seeking an internal review of the decision, and then by an external review to QCAT, if the recipient is dissatisfied with the internal review decision.
In Gligoric, the owner of the dog applied for an internal review of Council’s decision to make the destruction order, which resulted in Council upholding its original decision. However, QCAT set aside the destruction order in its external review decision. In doing so, the Member formed the view that Council had not shown the dog was dangerous and could not be controlled.
In this context, the Member considered the purposes of the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, and observed that:
S 3 of the AM Act sets out the purposes of the Act, including that it provides for the effective management of regulated dogs. Destruction of a dog is a last resort where the mechanisms in the Act for management fail or are ineffective. As stated in Thomas v Ipswich City Council:
The essential question is whether the dog constitutes, or is likely to constitute, a threat to the safety of other animals or to people, by attacking them or causing fear, to the extent that the threat may only be satisfactorily dealt with by the destruction of the dog.
Local governments will no doubt take some interest in the Gligoric decision, given that the ability to make a destruction order can arise under section 127 of the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008 in circumstances where a regulated menacing or dangerous dog has been seized in accordance with that Act, and not just in circumstances where the dog is dangerous or unable to be controlled.
However, Gligoric may suggest that QCAT will apply a higher test than what may have otherwise been applied when considering whether to uphold a destruction order, given the position that such orders should be options of last resort.
Both Christie and Gligoric provide reminders to local governments of the sorts of issues that should be borne in mind when dealing with regulated menacing and dangerous dogs under the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008, including what evidence to collect and what considerations QCAT might bring to an external review.
For assistance with animal management matters, please contact our Local Government legal team.