Should aggressive dogs be muzzled and all dogs leashed? Photo: Alec Smart

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By VANESSA LIM

The question of who polices off-leash dogs, especially those that maul other dogs, has been raised again following an increase in attacks across Sydney, including the latest victim, Celebrity Chef Colin Fassnidge.

On Sunday 4 August, Fassnidge’s two dogs, a shih tzu terrier and a dalmation, were attacked by three aggressive dogs off their leash outside his home in Malabar. Five adults were needed to remove the three canine assailants, estimated at 40kg each, which were impounded by Randwick City Council. Rangers will decide if the dogs are to be put down.
“I don’t blame the dogs, I blame the owners – we’ve all got dogs – it’s how you train them,” Fassnidge told 7NEWS.

Under the Companion Animals Act 1998, it is an offence if a dog rushes at, attacks, bites, harasses or chases any person or animal (other than vermin), whether or not an injury is caused to the person or animal. In some cases, like Fassnidge’s, dogs who attack other pets or humans may get taken impounded and, if deemed necessary, euthanised.

In central Sydney, Sydney City Council (SCC) has only six rangers who are authorised to deal with dog issues. The city is divided into thirds and there are only two per area. SCC’s website says dogs must be on a lead unless they’re in designated ‘off-leash’ areas, but there is limited ability to enforce it.
A ranger told City Hub that there have been 50 attacks by off-leash dogs across central Sydney in the last year, several of them vicious. It appears the situation is out of control and some dog owners have a sense that they are entitled to let their dogs roam free.
One city resident told City Hub how he was assaulted by a dog owner in a public park, who struck him with the dog’s leash when asked to restrain his roaming Doberman.

Dogged defender

Eastern Suburbs resident and dog owner Lara Rebecca Schilling said authorities should think twice before euthanising an aggressive dog they’ve seized. “I know dogs that are deemed dangerous can be seized and put to sleep if they are considered dangerous. What we forget is that most dogs that do this are not actually dangerous by nature and have been put into a situation that left them scared and in panic. Even the most well-controlled dogs can do something unpredictable and it’s usually from being threatened or protecting their territory, whether it’s their human or their property.”

Schilling was once attacked by her last dog, Jack. “I had a Border Collie. He had known aggression issues towards other dogs and was mostly okay with people, but he wasn’t afraid of asserting his space. One evening, I came home and he was happy to see me, so we jumped on the bed, in the dark and had a play. I must’ve done something to spook him because the next moment, I heard a growl and felt a pulling sensation on my lip. I looked in the mirror and found that it was ripped open. I went to hospital … they admitted me for antibiotics and surgery..”

Schilling said that despite being attacked by her dog without her provocation, Jack wasn’t at fault. “It was my own fault. As the owner, I was responsible for my dog’s behaviour, and I pushed him to breaking point. I can’t hold it against him, he probably wouldn’t have done it if the light was on and I could see his face.”

While Schilling was attacked by a dog like those that mauled Colin Fassnidge’s three pets, the context differed. “The difference between my responsibility as a dog owner and the incident in Malabar is that the owners did not care that their dogs were like that. Any dog with aggression issues – this is not a breed-specific issue either – needs to be assessed on what scenarios they can safely be exposed to.”

Canine aggression on the rise

Dog attacks in off-leash areas is also an ongoing issue. In the Inner West, members of Facebook group Newtown 2042 have posted multiple times about irresponsible owners letting aggressive dogs bite others in off-leash parks. Aggressive dog attacks in Sydney Park and Enmore TAFE Dog Park are also on the rise.

A spokesperson from Inner West Council said regardless of the type of injury, if a dog harmed or intimidated any person or animal, it was considered an offence.
“Inner West Council Companion Animal Officers regard all reports of dog attacks, regardless of the victim being an animal (other than vermin) or human, as equally serious and the method of investigation is equally applied.”

Olivia Nunes Malek, an Inner West resident who owns two dogs, witnessed the aftermath of a dog attack on a child. “I remember hearing loud barks and a child crying. I only saw the effects of the attack, but what I heard was that the child, who might have been seven, was taunting the dog and making it angry. In response, the dog attacked and left the child with a scratch. There was a woman screaming at the owner of the dog. The owner was saying how sorry he was and that his dog never acted like that. [But] I do think owners need to be aware of the behaviours of their dog and ensure they keep a careful eye on them.”