OUR PETS AND THE LAW

We all have animals whether they are dogs, cats, birds or fish, reptiles or, perhaps, a pet shrimp. 

Often our animals become part of our family.    Like our family members we have a duty of care in relation to those pets.   But why not, they deserve it.    They often provide unconditional love to us.  

In fact they are known to reduce our blood pressure and anxiety.   

At the Taree Court House there is now a dog which the ‘defendants’ can pat and cuddle, the purpose of which is to reduce their anxiety and tension and it works.    The dog is a beautiful Labrador which I understand was a rescue dog.  This is a story in itself.

And of course, comfort dogs visit patients in hospital and in retirement homes,  bringing much joy and friendship. 

There are a number of laws which relate to animals and our responsibilities.

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979

In general terms this Act states that a person shall not commit an act of cruelty, authorise such an act or fail to take reasonable care to prevent an act of cruelty, fail to take steps to alleviate pain where cruelty is being inflicted and, where necessary, provide veterinary treatment. (Section 5 of the Act.)

An act of cruelty is defined as an act or omission where an animal is unnecessarily or unjustifiably –

beaten, kicked, killed, wounded, pinioned, mutilated, maimed, abused, tormented, tortured, overdriven or overused;

exposed to excessive heat or cold; or

inflicted with pain.

Further, the Act provides there are a number of acts or omissions that are prohibited due to their nature including:-

abandoning an animal;

poisoning an animal;

animal baiting;

bull-fighting or trap-shooting; and

docking tails and cropping ears, debarking dogs, declawing cats or branding the face of an animal.

These acts are criminal in nature and the Act sets penalties including fines and imprisonment for its contravention.  

The Act also provides certain essential things to be done including –

providing animals with food and water;

exercising confined animals (there are exceptions in relation to stock animals); and

reporting injuries to animals caused whilst driving.

The act is criminal in nature and sets penalties including fines and imprisonment for its contravention.  

Companion Animals Act 1998

This Act regulates responsible ownership of companion animals.  The main requirements are:

dogs and cats must be microchipped and registered with the local Council by six (6) months of age;

dog owners must take all reasonable precautions to prevent the dog or cat from escaping from your home or where it is kept;

cats are prohibited from food preparation and consumption areas and wildlife protection areas.

Dogs, with the exception of assistance animals, are prohibited from the following areas (whether or not they are leashed or otherwise controlled):

children’s play areas;

food preparation and consumption areas however the Act does now permit owners to take their pets to outdoor cafes provided the animal is on a leash and remains under the owner’s control and not fed;

recreation areas where dogs are expressly prohibited, public bathing grounds where expressly prohibited;

school grounds and care centres;

shopping areas where dogs are expressly prohibited.

When in public dogs must wear collars identifying the dog’s name, address and phone number and must be properly restrained on a leash unless exempt or in a dog friendly area.  A lot of beaches in our area are now dog friendly, however you must still take care and keep a close eye on their behaviour.

Dog owners must pick up and dispose of the dog’s doings immediately.

No person is to have more than four (4) dogs under their control at any one time in a public area.

If your pet is taken to the pound the local Council should notify the owner as soon as possible (hence the collar and identification).

Unclaimed animals can either be sold or destroyed by the Council within fourteen (14) days or seven (7) if there is no owner that can be identified.

Council will determine fees and charges that apply.

Barking Dogs – a common problem

Local Councils have procedures for investigating barking dog complaints.   This normally requires a log to be kept of the dates and times and duration the dog barks.  This provides evidence for a potential prosecution or restraining order.

Persistent barking is regarded as similar to straying or other anti-social behaviour.   If there is enough evidence a Council officer can issue a Nuisance Dog Order.  

This Order requires an owner to stop the dog from continually barking with penalties of $880.00 for a first offence and $1,650.00 for further offences.   These Orders can also be issued if the dog continuously runs away, repeatedly defecates on property other than the owner’s property, repeatedly running at or chasing any person, animal or vehicle, endangering the health of any person or animal. (Especially attacking koalas in our local area.) 

A cat can be declared a nuisance if it:

repeatedly damages anything outside the owner’s property;

repeatedly interferes with the peace, comfort or convenience of a person, eg being continuously noisy or fighting.

Duties to your animals by others

Compensation can be sought if your animal is injured by another dog.  This could include veterinary bills and medication.

Owners of dogs that have attacked or injured other animals can be found guilty of a criminal offence however there is a defence of provocation if this can be proved.

If the owner or person in control of the dog allows the dog to inflict grievous or actual bodily harm to another person then you can be liable to prosecution under the Crimes Act and may be the ‘defendant’ in a personal injury claim for compensation.

I would like to keep
pets/livestock in my backyard

Council approval is generally not required to keep chickens however certain standard requirements are imposed including –

there is no nuisance caused by the birds or animals;

that they are kept as clean and free of odours;

chickens are to be kept at least 4.5 metres away from any building;

the floor of a poultry house is to be paved with concrete or minimal asphalt;

the yard is enclosed to prevent the chickens from escaping.

If you are having chickens it is advised that you contact your local Council for their requirements.  Normally most Councils recommend that you do not keep more than six (6) chickens at any one time unless there are appropriate facilities to cater for them.

Council should also be contacted in relation to be keeping suburban livestock animals, such as ducks, geese, ponies and goats, to make sure that you are complying with the rules and regulations.

Pets and your Will

Pets are the property of their owners and therefore can be gifted or provided for under your Will.  Inclusion of your pets in your Will is a good way of ensuring that they will be cared for after you die.  If there is no provision then it is a matter for the Executor to decide what to do.   

We will address pets in your Will in more detail in the next article.

I can recommend the Animal Law Guide of NSW, a publication of the Law Society of NSW Young Lawyers and where I acknowledge that much of the above information has been relied upon for this article.

Whilst it is easy to purchase a pet dog, cat or other animal, serious thought needs to be given as to the welfare and life of that animal, how you are going to care for the animal, can you afford the vet bills and who will ultimately be responsible for the animal when the novelty wears off or the pup or kitten grows up.

Please give thought to your pooch or moggie especially on New Years Eve.

Have a great festive season and remember your best friend’s welfare.

James Paton.

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