Why Joe Helper’s propsed new dog laws for Victoria are dead wrong

By Steven Pam

Time to break with Hound TV tradition – and journalistic neutrality – for a bit of editorializing. Accordingly, here’s a disclaimer: these are my personal opinions, and may not be representative of our sponsors or of any other organization we work with. So there.

So, in case you haven’t heard, on 6 May 2010, Victorian Agriculture Minister Joe Helper tabled a proposed bill amending dangerous dog laws, essentially giving more powers to local council officers to kill dogs on the spot, as well as increasing fines etc. The bill is to be debated in a few days on 20 May.

As I see it, there may be a lot of issues in the fine print, but it boils down to about four major points:

1. Dog attacks are not a problem in our community

Controversial? Not if we look at the facts. Of course, any of us would be horrified if one of our children was attacked by a dog – and yes, every time a dog attacks a person – child or adult – that’s one too many times, but that doesn’t mean that jumping up and down hysterically and calling Today Tonight or A Current Affair is going to help. A calm, rational approach is called for.

I have yet to see anyone actually demonstrate compellingly – with facts – that there actually is a dog attack problem in our community.

A visit to the Australian Bureau of Statistics website and their reports on sources of injury reveals that dog bites are such a non-issue that there’s not even any separate data published on them – they’re lumped in with bee stings, spider bites, snake bites, etc. Falling is by far the largest cause of injury. So if we put even a tenth of the resources that go into dog bite prevention into fall prevention, we should see better outcomes.

Likewise, the ABS Causes of Death survey (2008) shows that dog bites are, as you might expect, way down the bottom of the scale. Most years there are no deaths from dog attacks, and three or four people would be a very bad year indeed. Again, we’d be better off putting more resources into some of the more common preventable causes of death.

2. Current laws are sufficient – just not enforced effectively

There are already comprehensive laws protecting people from attack by dogs; and making owners responsible for the conduct of their dogs. There is even provision for dogs that have attacked people to be put down. Perhaps these laws are not being enforced properly.

In any case, how does increasing fines – or putting dogs down on the spot after the fact – prevent attacks? Is there any evidence that when dogs seriously attack humans these are “repeat offences”? No one wants their dog to attack humans (controlled bite work, like military dogs, excepted) – the consequence of this is already death for the dog, plus exposure to extremely expensive civil litigation for the owner.

3. Making council officers judge, jury, and executioner on the spot

The new laws, if passed, would allow council officers to make a life-or-death decision about your dog on the spot if they have “reasonable grounds” to believe that a further attack is imminent. This is all very well if the council officer is a “reasonable person” – and I’m sure that many or most of them are, but the point is that laws should rarely if ever be framed that way. Otherwise why not just give the police the power to do anything? After all, most of them are honest and reasonable. Of course it doesn’t work that way. These are the freedoms that society has fought for since the 13th century or so – presumption of innocence, right to a fair trial, etc. Yes, we are talking about dogs, not people; but killing dogs on the spot, etc, is punishing their owners without a fair trial as well.

Even if you agree that dogs that have attacked someone should be subject to those powers – “innocent” dogs are not off the hook, either. If your dog is found “wandering at large” (maybe a tradesperson accidentally let it out, for example), it can be destroyed within 48 hours (the current laws provide 8 days). If you happen to be away at the time and hard to contact – bad luck.

4. Banning or killing dogs because they “look dangerous”
The final major flaw, as I see it, is the interpretation of what is to constitute a dangerous or restricted dog. It’s hard enough for even experts to determine the breed of non-purebreed dogs by appearance, so they’re proposing to create their own “standard” for identifying a dangerous dog – and it has nothing to do with the genetic breed! So if your dog happens to match this arbitrary standard – bad luck. This is unscientific to the extreme – and if such rules were used to classify humans, we would be outraged.

What do you think? Post your comments below. And if you disagree with the proposal, call or e-mail the Joe Helper’s Office (Agriculture Minister), or your local MLA, and politely let them know your thoughts.

(Hound TV have asked Mr Helper’s office for an interview. Our request has been acknowledged but no interview forthcoming as yet.)


Post Script (20 May) – First this; now draft Code of Practice for animal shelters to ban community participation (foster carers) so the mega-pounds can continue the killing. I may post my thougths on this soon, but in the meantime see Pets Haven,, or SavingPets

Further update (28 May) – Lawyers For Animals (LFA) have published a detailed and thoughtful response to the bill.

Written by Steven in: Dog-related news |


  • mark mcdonald

    what a load of shit…the laws are fine the way they are…if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • Jenny Yuen

    Steven, I agree wholeheartedly with all your comments. I thank you for taking up this fight. This reeks of a kneejerk reaction to a recent attack. This legislation would NOT have prevented that attack. There is already extensive legislation to more than regulate dog ownership. I guess in an election year the Gov’t tends to want to look like it is doing something. How about dealing with the fact that in their own words 40% of dog owners fail to microchip or register their dog/s. Surely this is a failure of the current system. What a pity they don’t enforce those laws. This legislation is a denial of simple human rights and is fraught with danger. Clearly the size and breed of a dog will influence the “authorised officer” in deciding whether the dog ‘might’ be perceived as being a danger. What qualifications has this so called “authorised officer” to make such a determination? This legislation allows this officer, in just 48 hours (Section 84TA) or indeed 24 (Section 84TC) to KILL a dog based on a perception. This is nothing short of short of madness and gives no time for an owner to recover their pet. Where is the natural justice? Even the current 8 days can be insufficient time for a dog owner to recover their pet.

    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • Em

    Can we start arresting people because they “look dangerous” then?

    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • Netty

    Here here… Thanks for standing up and having a say.

    I agree with everything you have said. There are ways to fix these supposed dog problems without a change to the legislation.

    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • Thanks for speaking out in defense of our dogs!
    I’ve posted some analysis of the Bill here.

    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • Couldn’t agree with you more, could you imagine giving the power to a ticket inspector to kill your dog on the spot. Thankyou Steven for making everyone more aware of the stupidity of some people.

    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • Judi

    I agree. We need to write letters. I intend to write one and it will be provided not only to Mr. Helper but also Mr. Brumby. In addition I’ll be writing a short cover letter and sending a copy of the main letter to as many MP’s as I can with the small amount of time left.

    The letter I’ve drafted is about 3 pages in length. But even a short letter setting out in bullet form the reasons for objections to this dangerous proposed law, will be helpful. We need to show them there is a reasonable number of their voting people who object strongly and reasonably to the laws proposed under this Bill.

    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • annie

    I still call Victoria home but things like this worry me to say the least, maybe NT is not so bad after all?
    I worked in Local Laws for over 15 yrs in SA and Victoria, I have worked with Dog Control Officers who were frightened of dogs, rough and aggressive to dogs and just plain scary, if you even think about the uniform, the (often) big male bulk coming down towards a dog that may well be scared already…well need I say more?
    Mr Helper think it through again because I do not believe you have given it very much thought at all, don’t know which of your ‘advisors’ came up with this plan of action but what are the motives?
    There is already enough legislation in place to cover just about any sort of dog offence but guess what – yes you actually have to have people who are well trained and know how to handle dogs doing the work, not Parkies (parking officers) who have been moved over.
    Dog attacks are not an enourmous problem in most communities and if you really do your homework you will discover that most dog attacks occur in the home/garden or by the family dog.


    Comment | Mon 17 May, 2010
  • Council Rangers are not qualified assesors and in most cases do not have knowledge nor experience in determining a dogs temperament it is very important not to over legislate and also to put persons in power of legislating that are inexperienced and not being overseen by professionals .
    If the Rangers within my comunity are any judgement on experienced persons able to make such decisions and have such powers indeed it is a huge concern and real worry.Giving individuals powers like this breeds unfairness and also corruption there always needs to be procedures and a number of individuals and professionals involved to remain a fair just system.

    Comment | Tue 18 May, 2010
  • Alex Withers

    Well when I read this information, it just chills me to the bone and makes me entirely grateful that I live in one of the more sane states in our increasingly over bureaucratic and litigious society. At least South Australia appears to have a more balanced approach to these matters. I can only hope that the cancer does not spread.

    The further our society degenerates away from nature and the natural world and retreats behind the garden fence or the four walls of the unit or behind the TV and playstation, the greater we risk having such ridiculous and completely unbalanced laws. It is proof that our society is totally alienated from reality, the natural world and wraps itself up in laws for the sake of laws.

    Indeed we must all stand up for our rights as free thinking, human beings. We must ask our selves if we are going to continually allow our selves to be impacted by laws made for the 6% or the lowest common denominator. Indeed the great majority of us are sane human beings with ethics, morals and a sense of right from wrong. Such laws strip us of self responsibility and just contributes to the decay of our society and quality of life. Indeed it seems that the future that the law makers and politicians want us to inherit is going to be devoid of animals let alone animals that are allowed to be animals.

    Instead of taking the easy road with hastily made and poorly thought out laws, it would be of far great benefit to us all if we created laws that seek to better integrate animals into our way of life and that we create an environment and society that better understands animals and seeks to integrate there basic needs into our social development not the other way around.

    Victoria I feel sorry for you, that your law makers have yet again let you down and have been allowed to make such crazy and blatantly discriminatory laws targeting ‘soft targets’ and are based on here say, grandstanding and not on fact. Stand up and fight for your rights and the rights of the animals that we so desperately need to protect and from whom we could all learn from.

    I wish you all the best



    Comment | Tue 18 May, 2010
  • Marilyn Adams

    If you have concerns regarding the amendment to the Dangerous Dog legislation as well as emailing your concerns to Joe Helper, you can also email Bill Sykes
    Info on Mr Sykes as follows;_
    Bill Sykes MP, State Member for Benalla
    Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture & Water
    2/55 Carrier Street, Benalla 3672
    Ph: 03 5762 2100 Fx: 03 5762 4478 Mobile: 0427 624 989

    Comment | Wed 19 May, 2010
  • I am a professional dog trainer I work closely with several councils in regards to dangerous dogs. In Queensland we have a system that works very well.
    Although there are some very experienced animal control officers, there maybe a big turn over of new inexperienced officers or multi task officers in different regions.
    When the council receives a complaint in regards to an aggressive dog, the officer will investigate. The dog owner will be given a list of Council approved professional dog trainers to independently evaluate the dog and make recommendations back to the council.
    The dog may be for example a fear biter with a low level of aggression so the trainer will educate the owners in a private lesson on their responsibility such as dog proof fence, signs and a lock on the gates in the back yard. In regards to the dog, an in kennel obedience and socialization program may also be recommended to fix or reduce the severity of the problem.
    The recommendations are emailed direct to the council, and if agreed by the officer a letter is sent to the dog owner giving them a set amount of time to abide by the dog trainers report.
    Benefits of this system are
    1. This alone has stoped the fighting between the animal control officer and the dog owner.
    2. The dog owner will usually accept the independent advice of the dog trainer even if the evaluation proved the dog to be dangerous.
    3. If the officer gives a person with an aggressive dog a second chance, then the dog bites someone the council may be liable for not taking action and may be subject to a civil claim. Independent evaluation may fix this.
    4. The evaluation may prove the dog to be dangerous but the recommendation may be to fix the dog proof enclosure and the owner keeps his dog.
    This system works and it works very well.
    Gary Jackson
    Multi National K9

    Comment | Wed 19 May, 2010
  • Jennie Kolstad

    Well put Alex Withers, I thank god I live in South Australia where members of parliament are not so narrow minded & fixated on writing all these idiotic & ridiculous laws against our beloved pets.

    Comment | Wed 19 May, 2010
  • Michael Cooper

    Thank you all for bringing this matter to our attention. I have not found any publicity in the mainstream media. I particularly would like to thank Marilyn Adams for her reference to Bill Sykes, member for Benalla and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture & Water. I notice he has a background as a veterinarian. I do hope that the State Opposition could oppose this half-baked and kneejerk legislation, and that decisions regarding our pets are not left in the hands of council employees wh do not have the professional competence to make decisions of the nature mooted by the Minister concerned and contained in the proposed legislation.

    Comment | Wed 19 May, 2010
  • Mia Shaw (email & raise your voice)

    These laws are dangerous, cruel & an enormous step back for Victoria.
    We are a state of animal lovers & this man is out of touch. How dare this be considered,
    Joe Helper, who lives in a rural area has no idea how to go about animal management in Melbourne.
    This is so offensive I am stunned.

    Comment | Wed 19 May, 2010
  • Catherine

    Here are some more emails for people to address their letters of concern to. If we continue to speak up we can only hope that they will listen.‘: ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’; ‘’

    Comment | Thu 20 May, 2010
  • Trish

    I think we all need to stand up and be the voices for our dogs. Absolutely ridiculous law and one that seems almost ‘lazy’ in it’s approach.

    Gary Jackson, perhaps you could ask your Council to send the blueprints off to Victoria. Your laws seem much more logical and the assessments performed by professional dog trainers, not professional pen pushers.

    Comment | Fri 21 May, 2010
  • Hayley

    I think this is absolutely ridiculous…

    Comment | Sun 23 May, 2010

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