By James Olsen
We all enjoy dogs. They are, after all, man’s (and women’s) best friend.
Fate of our dogs
But their fate is grim if they attack a person, stock, poultry, domestic animal or protected wildlife after a decision of the Court of Appeal in Auckland Council v Hill  NZCA 52.
Mr Hill took his beloved dog to his workshop. The dog, Kratos, was asleep when two ladies pulled up and parked in the workshops ‘private parking’. Kratos woke and bit one of the ladies on the forearm. Mr Hill took Kratos to dog behavioural training for three weeks, which Kratos had responded well too. Additionally, Mr Hill had taken measures by fully-fencing his property.
The law requires that when convicted of an attack a dog must be put down unless there were exceptional circumstances.
The District Court Judge found there were exceptional circumstances and refused to make an order for destruction of Kratos. This was principally because of the steps that Mr Hill had taken after the attack by fully-fencing his property and taking Kratos to dog training.
The Council appealed, but a High Court Judge agreed there were exceptional circumstances.
Again, the Council appealed – and, finally, it got its way. The Court of Appeal made an order for the destruction of Kratos. Its decision has implications for all dog owners where their dog attacks.
The Court said that in order to avoid destruction a person must show that the circumstances of the offence are exceptional and do not warrant destruction.
The Court has ruled out matters occurring after the offence (such as fencing, dog training, etc) being used to mitigate the offending. The Court said these matters do not make the offending exceptional. Instead, for example, an exceptional case would be a dog attacking another dog who had rushed at their owner.
The consequence of this is that now almost all dogs will be destroyed if they attack their local cat, a sheep or a person.
Consequences for owners
While a dog may attack for whatever reason, we – as owners – have no control over what our dogs think and do. However, the High Court has ruled that you can now go to prison if your dog seriously attacks another person: Shepherd v Auckland Council  NZHC 1660.
Mr Shepherd brought a bullmastiff cross. He’d been told not to leave it alone with children. He posted a picture of his dog online with the message that the dog would “eat you alive”.
Tragically, the dog savagely attacked his 4 year old son. Mr Shepherd had left his son alone with the dog while cooking dinner inside. After hearing a blood-curdling scream from his son, he ran outside to find the dog attacking his son’s face and head. Mr Shepherd picked up his son and the dog further went in to attack his son.
His son suffered extreme injuries requiring significant medical treatment and has been left with a permanently disfigured face. The District Court Judge sentenced him to community work for being the owner of the dog.
The Council appealed. The High Court Judge rejected that sentence entirely, he said his offending required a sentence of between 12-15 months’ imprisonment. Mr Shepherd avoided prison because of delays he’d caused since the offending had occurred.
The obligations on dog owners are strict. If your dog attacks, you are liable simply by reason of owning the dog. The law prevents you from arguing that you were unaware that an attack would occur.
Now, the stakes are even higher if your dog seriously attacks. You could go to prison.