By Paul Hemsley
The Western Australian government has unleashed an ambitious plan to help councils stop dogs from barking. At least barking so much that they make a nuisance of themselves in populated areas.
A newly proposed provision by Minister for Local Government Tony Simpson under the Dog Amendment Bill 2013 will provide councils with stronger powers to impose stricter legal controls on noisy hounds and dangerous breeds.
The boosting of dog controls follows an extensive campaign by the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) to gain more practical authority to control canines.
Councils in the West made dog controls a matter of urgency in October 2012 when WALGA President Troy Pickard firmly pushed the state government to pass two bills, including the Dog Amendment Bill 2012 and the Local Government Amendment Bill (No 2) 2012, before the Legislative Assembly convened for Christmas.
The resulting provisions do not muck around. They include making dog owners criminally responsible if their dog kills or endangers a person, tighter controls on dangerous breeds and their sale, mandatory microchipping for dogs.
Some owners will also be required to attend dog training rather than just being fined.
But the real kicker is the “stricter provisions” in the proposed Bill that give the power to councils to land dog owners in trouble through only one complaint of barking and the use of a “bark count collar”.
Although the WA government won’t provide a clear or definitive answer about how new legislation will actually control a noisy dog or stop it from barking (and dogs are not generally known for their ability to read and interpret laws), it has suggested that the causes to treat are boredom, hunger, thirst, attention seeking and protecting territory.
Under the dog laws, the ramifications for barking dog owners include an escalating scale of consequences.
Presently, a complaint would result with an on-the-spot fine of $100 and a letter from a ranger to the owner offering “helpful advice”. But the WA Department of Local Government has warned that if the barking problem continues and further complaints and lodged, the ranger will investigate.
But the sterner provisions under the Dog Amendment Bill 2013 state that a ranger can issue the owner of a “nuisance barking dog” with an order to address the problem that has the effect of six months from the date of issue.
If the owner fails to comply with the order, then the owner has committed an offence and the ranger can either issue the owner with a $400 fine for dogs classed as “dangerous” and $200 for all other dogs.
As a result, the “irresponsible” owner could face a judge if they don’t comply with the ranger’s recommendations with fines up to $10,000 if the barking is caused by a dangerous dog and a maximum of $5,000 for all other dogs.
However, the WA Department of Local Government won’t say what would happen to the barking dog itself.
Nevertheless, the local government sector has warmly welcomed the new strict provisions because it is expected to provide “much needed clarity and support” for local government in protecting the community.
Mr Pickard said the proposed changes would enable local governments to be more effective in ensuring that both dog owners and the wider community understand what is acceptable.
“The proposed new laws are not about trying to make it more onerous to for a family to have a dog but rather encourage responsible pet ownership,” Mr Pickard said.
Although the push for tougher laws towards barking dogs has been a recent demand by WALGA, the state government under Liberal Premier Richard Court gave councils warnings about controlling noisy canines as far back as May 2000 when then-Minister for Local Government Paul Omodei reminded councils about their role in upholding the existing dog law.
In this memorandum distributed to councils that year, Mr Omodei told councils that it was an offence for a dog to create a nuisance by excessive and persistent barking under Section 38 of the Dog Act and that councils had a responsibility and the power to do something about it.
At the time, Mr Omodei encouraged councils to “endeavour” to have the problem resolved by investigating and taking appropriate action and could act on a single complaint, which would not have to be signed by three people.
However, Mr Omodei did not specify what the consequences would be for the noisy dog and its owner.
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