I am very concerned about a recent letter about dogs, (News Guardian, February 16).
Ian Dougall wrote that: “The law is clear: Dogs in public places must be under control at all times.”
This is not the law and confusion about this issue causes much grief and anger for parties on both sides.
The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 states that it is against the law for a dog to be “dangerously out of control”. The key word is “dangerously”.
How is that defined? The act is sometimes summarised by saying “your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it injures someone, or makes someone worried that it might injure them”.
But this summary is too vague since anyone with an irrational phobia might be worried about anything.
In the third section of the statute this is cleared up by saying: “A dog shall be regarded as dangerously out of control on any occasion on which there are grounds for reasonable apprehension that it will injure any person.”
The key word here is “reasonable”.
Subsequent case law has found that: “A dog owner or person in charge of the dog would not commit an offence under Section 3 unless it can be proved that there were grounds for reasonable apprehension that the dog would injure any person. In other words, the Act does not criminalise the owner of a dog which bites by surprise or without warning; a dog does not become dangerously out of control simply because it bites someone.”
So, even if a dog suddenly snaps at someone, that does not prove it was dangerous.
Dogs with histories of this behaviour can be required to wear muzzles in public, or eventually be put down.
However, dogs that are simply running about the beach and inquisitively looking for friends are not even close to reaching the definition of reasonable concerns about dangerous behaviour. They are perfectly allowed to do so, even if some owners are a bit rude and inconsiderate about this.
If you think that such dogs are dangerous, you are not being reasonable. To live in a functioning society, you have to learn to put up with the inconveniences of others.
The law enshrines this in letter, and we should embrace it in spirit too.