Dog walkers are a god send to those that are not able to get their pets the exercise they need, and it is also common to have someone look after your pets and house while you are away on holiday. However, if you’re a dog walker, a decision from the Court of Appeal earlier this year could potentially have you thinking twice before you take someone else’s dog for a walk.
In June 2021, Ms Low, who has a dog day care service, was walking five dogs along a beach north of New Plymouth. As she was walking the dogs, one dog owned by Ms Low and two others owned by clients, jumped at, and bit a horse being ridden further down the beach.
Ms Low was charged under the Dog Control Act 1996 (“the Act”) with failing to keep the dogs under control. She was charged as the owner of both her own dog and more interestingly as the owner of the other two other dogs that attacked the horse. The charges were contested as Ms Low said she was not the owner of the two other dogs that attacked the horse.
The District court found that Ms Low was not the owner of the two dogs she was walking as part of her business. This decision was appealed by the council and the case was sent to the High Court. The High Court agreed with the Council that Ms Low should be considered the owner of the dogs for the purposes of the Act. This was appealed again, this time by Ms Low, and the case went to the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal found that the person in possession of a dog is the ‘owner’ for the purposes of the act unless:
The outcome of this case means that if a dog is taken for a walk or if a dog is temporarily being looked after by someone who is not its legal owner, they would be liable under the Act as if they were the owner.
As a result of this, Ms Low had to pay a fine of up to $21,000.
When taking a pet for a walk, whether it is while dog sitting or as part of your business, make sure that you can effectively control them as this case shows that you will be liable for any damage they cause.