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II. Duties of pet owners

A. Vaccination and getting a licence for your dog

There are a number of legal obligations imposed on dog owners by the Rabies Ordinance (Cap. 421). These include a requirement that dogs five months or older must be licensed by the AFCD and vaccinated against rabies by a veterinary surgeon (sections 20 and 23 of the Rabies Regulation, Cap. 421A). Rabies vaccinations must then be repeated every three years on the renewal of the dog’s license under section 22(1) of the Rabies Regulation. Keeping a dog without a licence is an offence punishable by a fine of $10,000 (Section 20(2) of the Rabies Regulation).

B. Keeping your dog under control

There is also a duty to keep dogs under control. Under section 23 of the Rabies Ordinance, all dogs of any size must be leashed or otherwise kept under control in public places (except in country parks or when swimming at sea). In the case of dogs weighing 20 kilograms or more (large dogs) it is an offence for a person to take the dog into a public place unless the dog is securely held on a leash of not more than 2m in length or is securely tied to a fixed object on a leash of not more than 1.5m in length (section 9(1) of the Dangerous Dogs Regulation, Cap. 167D).

The dog must be tied in a manner that does not pose a danger to public safety and the safety and welfare of the dog and other animals. The requirement for leashing does not apply to a large dog which is in a country park or which is swimming at sea (section 9(2) of the Dangerous Dogs Regulation). Failing to keep a large dog under proper control or failing to keep it tied as described above is an offence and is punishable with a fine of $25,000 or imprisonment for three months (section 9(3) of the Dangerous Dogs Regulation).

C. Dogs biting people

If a dog bites a person, under section 24(1) of the Rabies Ordinance, there is a duty on its keeper to report this to the police and to keep the dog in isolation, for such period as may be specified by the officer in charge of the police station (due to the risk of rabies). Failure to comply may result in a fine of $10,000 in accordance with section 24(2) of the Ordinance. Under section 25(1), the keeper may be guilty of a criminal offence and fined $10,000 if he did not do all he reasonably could to prevent the dog from biting a person. However, under section 25(2), it would be a defence for the keeper to show the dog was deliberately provoked to bite by the person bitten or by someone else. A person may complain to a magistrate that a dog is dangerous and an order may be made that the dog be destroyed or must be kept under effective control under section 5 of the Dogs and Cats Ordinance, Cap. 167.

A keeper who is negligent in controlling his dog may also be liable under civil law if it bites a human or other animal. A duty of care will only arise where the keeper knew or ought to have known the animal was likely to cause damage. Only in rare circumstances would a keeper be held accountable for something done by a tame animal, acting contrary to its ordinary nature.

Even in cases where he was not negligent in controlling his dog a keeper he may still be liable for a bite if he had previous knowledge the dog was likely to attack. A tendency on the part of the dog toward slight nipping or scratching would be insufficient to show such knowledge. For example, animals that nip and scratch during play or when excited have not been categorised as likely to attack.

There would need to be knowledge on the part of the keeper that the dog was really likely to be dangerous, before liability without negligence would arise. The best evidence of such knowledge would be that the dog had done it before.

For more about the possible legal liabilities a dog owner has to bear if his dog has bitten other persons or dogs, please refer to another topic “Neighbourhood disputes”.

D. Cleaning up after your dog

It is an offence punishable by a $5,000 fine for a person in charge of a dog not to clean up any faeces or urine the dog has deposited in a public place or the common parts of a building (section 13 of the Public Cleansing and Prevention of Nuisances Regulation, Cap. 132BK).

E. Abandonment of pets is an offence

If an Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) officer finds a dog or cat roaming, without any person having charge of it, and it appears to have been lost or to be doing damage, it may be seized and taken to the AFCD animal management centre. At the centre, it will be checked for a microchip or other identification. Where possible, the keeper will be contacted to collect the animal. A pound fee may be charged for the animal’s release, equal to the cost of impounding and keeping the animal (section 2 of the Pounds Ordinance, Cap. 168). Animals not claimed from the AFCD within 96 hours may be assumed to be a stray or to have been abandoned by the keeper (section 22(5) of the Rabies Ordinance). Under section 4(2) of the Pounds Ordinance, such an animal may be euthanized. It is a serious offence to abandon an animal, punishable with a fine of $10,000 or six months imprisonment under section 22(1) of the Rabies Ordinance.

F. Feeding stray animals

It is not an offence to feed domestic stray animals, however leaving food around may be perceived as littering. However, under the Schedule for the Prohibition of Feeding Wild Animals Notice 1999 (Cap. 170B), the feeding of wild animals in country parks is prohibited for conservation reasons.

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