Legislation and your pets - Kent lawyers advise
PUBLISHED: 19:14 05 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:18 20 February 2013
As a county of animal lovers, what better way to enjoy a sunny morning than to take your dog out for a stroll with the family? Or is it?
Living or working in Kent, were lucky enough to be surrounded by beautiful scenery and picturesque country walks. As a county of animal lovers, what better way to enjoy a sunny morning than to take your dog out for a stroll with the family?
In the excitement of buying a new puppy, or in the midst of a familiar walk with your best friend, most dog owners, however responsible, are unlikely to have their specific duties under the various pieces of legislation at the forefront of their minds.
However, owning a dog is a huge responsibility, and it is important to consider what might happen on the off chance that things do go wrong. Dog owners are still in the minority among the population as a whole, and not everybody is going to love your dog as much as you do.
The Animals Act 1971 says that an owner or keeper of a dog could be held liable for any damage caused by that dog. Damage is not only damage to property, but also injury to another person. This applies even if your dog is not considered a dangerous breed. It is strongly advised that, as a dog owner, you take out some form of third party liability insurance.
You could even be held liable for injuries caused to another person if the dog is not yours and you are simply out walking it as a favour to a friend. The Act holds owners and keepers liable, and you will be considered a keeper if you have the animal in your possession.
While your friend may reassure you that their dog would more likely lick you to death, it is wise to be wary. Even an over-exuberant puppy who bounds up to a member of the public and knocks them down could easily cause injury or harm. Your duty as a dog owner extends further than protecting people from being bitten.
The Animals Act will also leave you open to being sued under some degree of negligence. Negligence can be something as simple as failing to muzzle a dog which might reasonably be considered to pose some level of threat to another person or animal.
It is especially important to consider the typical breed characteristics of your dog. However slight you may consider the risk, if the risk exists at all, you must take all reasonable steps to protect the people who may come into contact with your pet.
The Dogs Act 1871, despite its origins in history, is still good law. The Act says that it is a civil offence for a dog which is dangerous (to people or to other animals) to not be kept under proper control (ie usually not muzzled or on a lead). This can apply wherever an incident happens either out in public, or on private property.
The consequences of an offence under this act can mean that your dog might be subject to a control or destruction order. You may also find yourself having to pay costs.
Not everybody is going to love your dog as much as you do
Protection also exists for other animal owners, especially owners of livestock. The Dogs (Protection of Livestock) Act 1953 gives livestock owners the right to stop your dog from chasing or attacking livestock on agricultural land. In some circumstances, a livestock owner will be perfectly entitled to stop your dog by shooting it. Livestock is primarily sheep, cattle, horses, poultry, goats and pigs.
The vast majority of dog owners are responsible and sensible and will never encounter a situation where they might find themselves liable for injuries caused to another person or animal, or damage to property.
However, accidents do happen and should you find yourself in a situation where your dog has bitten someone, or caused some form of damage, do contact your insurance company who will be able to guide you through the next steps.
Conversely, if you have been the victim of an animal attack, seek the advice of a solicitor specialising in personal injury who will be able to support you and advise you on your rights.
Gemma is a senior solicitor at Whitehead Monckton specialising in claimant personal injury cases. She is a member of and an Accredited Litigator for the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers.