Owners of dogs which cause serious injury in the ACT could face $14,000 in fines or up to a year in prison under tough new laws to be introduced to the Legislative Assembly.
Under proposed amendments to be considered by the territory's Legislative Assembly, increased penalties of up to $70,000 or five years in prison will also come into force for the owners of dogs that have been declared dangerous but go on to cause serious harm.
Territory and Municipal Services Minister Shane Rattenbury will introduce the changes on Thursday, which also separate penalties for owners of dogs that harass and those that cause serious injury.
Under current laws, dog owners can face a $7000 fine if their animal harasses by barking at or scaring a person or animal.
The same penalty is currently in place for owners of dogs that viciously maul a person or animal.
Current maximum penalties for dog harassment and minor attack offences will remain at $7000.
Mr Rattenbury said the changes will see the severity of dog attacks considered by a scheme of escalating penalties with fines appropriate to the degree of injury caused to a person or animal.
Maximum penalties for dog attacks can only be imposed by the territory’s courts.
A further new offence will be created for owners of dogs that cause harm or serious injury to a person or animal in the absence of a keeper or a carer.
Mr Rattenbury will tell the Assembly that media coverage of dog attacks has resulted in significant public attention on dangerous dogs.
In April a 92-year-old woman was attacked by an American pit bull in Sydney’s south. Her 70-year-old daughter owned the animal, and was also injured as she pulled the dog off her mother.
It was one of three attacks during the Easter period in New South Wales. So far in 2014, the ACT's Domestic Animal Services unit has issued 31 infringement notices for dog attacks or harassment.
"There are around 260 on average dog attacks a year in the ACT," Mr Rattenbury said. “These incidents can result in physical harm to a person or animal and cause significant emotional distress to those involved."
He said most Canberrans gave proper care and attention to their animals and provided adequate housing and training.
The legislation will hold owners responsible for poorly maintained fencing and barriers and will require some dogs to be destroyed unless a court is satisfied that there are special circumstances which justify not doing so.
Mr Rattenbury said the ACT would not follow other Australian jurisdictions in introducing breed-specific legislation to limit dog attacks.
He said some experts including the Australian Veterinary Association considered breed-specific laws to be ineffective.
If passed by the Legislative Assembly, the toughest new penalties for dangerous dogs would be equivalent to those for some categories of criminal assault against a person.
"My sense is this will be welcomed. It is a measured thing to dealing with dogs and I do get letters from people who are concerned about dog harassing and dog attacking incidents.
"I think we have struck the right balance here between most people doing the right thing and having appropriate penalties for owners who don't."