29/07/2011

Dangerous Dog Owners 'May Be Jailed'

Dog owners are now being faced with tougher legislation aimed at better control of domestic pets.

Heavy jail sentences and fines have been included in the revision of the statute books and, for the first time, these will even include laws on dog attacks taking place on other domestic animals.

They will also allow a dog warden to attach control conditions to the licence of any dog that breaches the Dogs Order as well as increasing the income to individual council dog services by increasing dog licence fees and allowing councils to retain any fees from increased penalties.

In addition in April 2012, it will introduce compulsory microchipping of dogs.

The NI Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill MLA yesterday announced that the legislation would primarily tackle the problem of dangerous dogs: "The main provisions to deal with dangerous dogs in the new Dogs (Amendment) Act 2011 are now operational.

"The commencement of these provisions is a major step forward in dealing with the issue of dog attacks and aims to make such horrific attacks, the impact of which we know only too well, a thing of the past.

"My Department has issued guidance to councils to prepare them for enforcement of the new provisions. Anyone who flouts the law by setting, urging or allowing a dog to attack, be that on a person, livestock or pet animal, can expect tough penalties," the Sinn Fein Executive Minister said.

She added: "The remaining provisions of the Act which deal with the control conditions for problem dogs, dog licence fee and fixed penalty notices will come into operation on 3 October.

"The increase in the licence fees, enhanced powers for dog wardens and fixed penalties will take effect from that date.

"However, as agreed by the Assembly the final provisions making the microchipping of dogs compulsory will not come into force until April 2012."

In conclusion the Minister said: "My predecessor Michelle Gildernew brought this Act through the Assembly and I am determined to ensure that this Act is fully enacted by April 2012.

"The Act will provide the most comprehensive powers in these islands to deal with the scourge of uncontrolled dogs. It will allow enforcers to hold owners and keepers to account, especially where they have failed to exercise adequate control of their dogs," she concluded.

Two Year's Jail

A commencement order in October will enact provisions concerning licence fees, fixed penalties and control conditions.

In summary, a conviction will allow for a maximum of six months imprisonment and/or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum (level 5 on the standard scale currently £5,000)

On conviction on indictment (on trial by jury) this will be up to a maximum of two years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

The fines and penalties for attacks on livestock and certain other animals have increased from a fine not exceeding £500 to a fine not exceeding level 3 of the standard scale (currently £1,000).

The first commencement order activates sections in the 2011 Act for an exemption from licensing for all assistance dogs, clarification of the law on licensing, exemptions and destruction of dogs bred for fighting, an increase in the maximum penalty for setting a dog to attack a person, making it an offence for a dog to attack and injure another pet animal, extend dog wardens' powers to enter any land to prevent or stop a dog attacking another dog, changes to the Assembly's control over the Department's Order making powers plus minor consequential amendments and repeals.

Shepherd's delight

Farmers should be most impressed with the protection offered by the new legislation - but only as long as it is enforced.

Just last week, a Fermanagh farmer expressed his anger after five of his sheep were killed following an attack by dogs at the weekend.

The Impartial Reporter newspaper said that 17 sheep belonging to Raymond MacVitty, of Lankhill, Culkey were also injured in the attack, which occurred on land in the Bellanaleck area, which he rents.

Mr. MacVitty said he saw the four dogs involved in the attack and that one of them was shot before they fled.

But he was angry that after contacting the PSNI, "no police visited the farm" and he says there was "no dog warden available at the weekend to deal with the situation".

The Licensing Officer with Fermanagh District Council, Mr. Francie Gilleece said: "The owner of the dogs has been identified". He had spoken to the owner, who agreed to hand them over to be destroyed.

He stressed that dog owners should ensure that their dogs are kept under control at all times, with the new laws aiming to force them to provide adequate control.

The Dogs (Amendment)(2011 Act)(Commencement No. 1) Order (Northern Ireland) 2011 is available at

www.legislation.gov.uk
Guidance for members of the public on the Dogs (NI) Order 1983 including the Dogs (Amendment) Act (NI) 2011 is available on the NI Direct website at

www.nidirect.gov.uk/dogs


(BMcC)

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