Hi Everyone. We have had a few people asking about whether you are liable if your dog attacks whilst displaying a ribbon.

The following article has been drawn up by a legal expert at our request to answer your questions:

This advice is to owners of dogs who are concerned about the implications, and possible adverse consequences arising from the fact that the owners want their dogs to wear yellow ribbons. The purpose of wearing such ribbons is to indicate to other people that for whatever reason their dogs are deemed to need more space and privacy than other dogs.

 

For the purposes of this advice all relevant materials have been considered. Those include the Dogs Act 1871, the Animals Act 1971, Animal Welfare Act 2006 the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and the Dangerous Dogs Act (as amended) 1997. Consideration has also been given to the Defra recommendations on the responsibilities and legal obligations of dog owners. Those liabilities principally arising from the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and other related legislation.

The idea that owners were legally responsible for the actions of their dogs emanates from the Dogs Act 1871. This imposes in section 2 a clause setting out the duty of the owner to keep their dogs under reasonable control. A failure to do so means proceedings can be issued against the dogs owner as opposed to the person in charge of the dog at the time Should such proceedings be started then they would be deemed as being a civil case as opposed to a criminal one. However the case would be heard in a Magistrates Court and not a County Court. The proceedings could be started by either a member of the public or the Police or Local Authority saying that the dog is dangerous and not under proper control.

Despite the fact that the case would be heard in a Magistrates Court which is usually associated with criminal cases in deciding the outcome of the case the Court would apply a lower standard of proof namely the balance of probabilities which this is the test applied in civil cases as compared with the much higher burden of proof found in criminal cases that the accused must be guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

If it appears to the Court that the dog is dangerous then an order may be made directing that the dog be kept under proper control or destroyed. In coming to its decision the Court will hear evidence from people who know the dog as to its general disposition. That evidence could come from a variety of sources members of the family, neighbours, friends and vets etc. If it is the case that the dog has behaved dangerously on one occasion only then it would be a defence to say that the incident was not sufficiently exceptional to prove that the dog had a dangerous disposition or character.

I now turn to the law relating to dangerous dogs. That is to be found in the Acts of 1991 and the amended one in 1997. Section 3 of the earlier Act imposes a very strict liability on an owner whereby a criminal offence can be committed by allowing any dog (ie of any breed or type) to be dangerously out of control in a public place or a place where it is not allowed. It is important to stress that whereas the whole point of the dangerous dog legislation was to deal with specific types of dogs felt to be inherently dangerous this section applies not just to the breed of dogs intended to be covered in the Acts but can be extended to all types of other dogs as well.

In the case of Briscoe v Shattock heard in 1998 it was held that a dog could be considered dangerous and not kept under proper control within the meaning of Section 2 of the Dogs Act 1871 even if the only danger was to other dogs and not humans. It applies to any dog of any breed. Being dangerous reflected the disposition of the dog and not his acts.

I am strongly of the view that nothing in the legislation relating to dogs or the case law can possibly be used to infer that an owners actions in making his dog wear a yellow ribbon could possibly be construed as an admission of liability that the dog is dangerous and more likely to cause injury to either humans or other dogs. It is a matter of choice for the individual owner. The decision to wear such a distinguishing item on the dog is becoming a widespread and increasingly common way of indicating that while the dog is not dangerous, nonetheless for whatever reason it needs more space and privacy than another dog even of the same breed may require.

In support of that viewpoint among other factors I place reliance on the Animals Act 1971. This is very helpful since it defines in legal terms what a dangerous species actually means. It says that a dangerous species is one which is not commonly domesticated in the British Isles. Also that whose fully grown animals normally have such characteristics that they are likely unless restrained to cause severe damage or that the damage they may cause is likely to be severe unless restrained. Using that definition in its legal meaning would not impose a liability on a dog owner who out of choice has their dog wear a distinguishing item of any colour.

It is important to note that this Act is not merely limited to dogs, but is intended to cover all types of animals as well. In the same way as Section 3 of the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 imposes strict liability on an owner a similar clause is contained in this Act as well which I will now deal with.

Under Section 2 it says that where any damage is caused by an animal which belongs to a dangerous species any person who is a keeper of the animal is liable for the damage if :

(A) Damage of a kind which the animal unless restrained was likely to cause or which if caused by the animal was likely to be severe and

(B) The likelihood of the damage or of its being severe was due to characteristics which are not normally found in animals of the same species.

Using that definition in its legal sense means that liability under the criteria imposed by the Act would not extend to dog owners under the circumstances this advice deals with. For the above reasons I am firmly of the opinion that dog owners can continue putting people aware that their individual dog may perhaps need more space and privacy than other dogs as a result of any given trait inherent in the dog without the risk that their action could be interpreted as meaning their dog was dangerous.

Unfortunately, and whereas the advice is accurate it must be taken into account that we live in an increasingly litigious society. As a result individuals are encouraged greatly by no win no fee personal injury lawyers to bring claims some of which are speculative in the extreme. This culture means that those people can bring such claims against innocent third parties at no cost to themselves. Defending such claims can be both worrying and expensive to do. For that reason owners may wish for their peace of mind to consider the possibility of facing such claims by taking out an appropriate insurance policy which would indemnify them both for damages if the claim was successful together with legal costs. Such policies are freely advertised and can be obtained at fairly modest prices.

Bernard Reilly
Litigator and Legal Expert
Yellow Dog UKTM is a registered charity raising awareness that some dogs and their owners may need space for a variety of reasons when out in public. We pledge to supply free yellow ribbons to owners whose dogs needs space and that all donations will be used to promote and raise awareness of the campaign. View our charity registration certificate HERE.

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