Dog Attack


There is currently no specific regulation of dog rescues, rehoming organisations or sanctuaries.

In lieu of a specific regulatory framework rescues are subject to an (often confusing) array of legal provisions.

There is also no settled or accepted definition of what it means to rescue, rehabilitate or re-home dogs. ‘Rescue’ encompasses such a wide range of activities, from those coordinating home-from-home rehoming, to those operating multi-site rescue centres. Scotland is the only UK jurisdiction to licence rescues/sanctuaries and organisations who engage in rehoming activities.

This guide is therefore intended to help navigate the legal duties on individuals or organisations who hold themselves out to the public to receive vulnerable dogs on a regular basis, with a view to rehabilitating and either rehoming, or providing long-term care. It provides an outline of legal duties applicable to rescue and rehoming organisations operating in Northern Ireland. Rescues based in Northern Ireland but operating outside of this jurisdiction may need to pay attention to regulation in the other jurisdictions in which they operate.

A dog in your care has attacked a person or another animal

A dog attack is an incident in which a dog either injures a person, puts a person in fear of being injured, or injures another animal, whether on public or private land.

If any of those things happen, an offence is committed. The offence is committed by the keeper of the dog, or if the dog is in the temporary charge of anyone else, that person. This means that a volunteer dog walker or foster carer may be liable for an offence if a dog attack someone while in their care. If a person is injured in the attack, it will be treated more seriously and whoever was deemed in charge of the dog may also be liable for civil damages.

You should take reasonable precautions when exercising dogs in your care, or delegating that responsibility to others to ensure that you take all reasonable steps to prevent such circumstances arising.  Depending on the circumstances, that may mean walking dogs on a lead, and/or muzzling them.

What can happen if I/my organisation break the law?

·      If a dog in your care attacks and injures another person’s pet:  you may be guilty of an offence punishable by a fine of up to £1,000.

·      If a dog in you care is deliberately set on livestock or another person’s pet, you could be fined up to £2,500.

·      If a dog in your care puts someone in fear of an attack because they act aggressively you may be subject to six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.

·      If a dog in your care injures someone during an attack you could face up to two years in prison and a fine of £5000. A court may order the dog to be put to sleep (euthanised). The court can make an order to PTS unless certain measures are complied with.  Such measures might include muzzling the dog when in public, confining the dog to a secure place from which they cannot escape, or exclusion from public places. The main exception to this is where the dog bites someone on private land (e.g. a rescue premises) without permission or a good reason for being there.

Any of these offences can be committed by the dog’s keeper and/or another person if the dog was temporarily in their charge. The keeper (in this case likely the rescue organisation) will not be liable for the offence if they can demonstrate that they had reason to believe the person in charge of the dog was a fit and proper person to look after them.

The individual who was attacked can also bring a civil claim against you/your organisation for their injuries. For this claim to be upheld they will need to show that you were negligent i.e. that your dog was ‘dangerously out of control’ for example they were not suitably restrained in a public place etc. Typically, the person injured has 3 years from the date of the incident to initiate legal proceedings.


Dogs (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 (as amended) (article 28 attacks on animals, article 29 attacks on persons, article 53 civil liability, article 33 Dogs Order);