Animal law is diverse, covering a range of legal issues that impact upon the relationship between human and non-human animals.
Animal welfare law in Australia is mainly legislated by state and territory statutes, regulations, guidelines, local council, and the respective Criminal Codes.
Anti-cruelty legislation, such as the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (Qld) makes it an offence to commit an act of cruelty to an animal and to breach a duty of care to animals. Notwithstanding, many argue that there are ‘gaps’ in this body of law, and the classification of animals as ‘things’ or ‘property’ presents significant obstacles when lobbying for animal rights and the protection of animals from harm and abuse.
Agreements and negotiations regarding animals
Although a key focus of animal law is on advocating for the rights, welfare and protection of animals, there are many other legal issues that arise regarding matters related to animals. We can assist with:
- Advising on regulations for responsible dog breeding and drafting agreements for breeders with respect to the sale and purchase of puppies.
- Advising clients with respect to complaints about persistent barking, and orders made by Local Council regarding nuisance dogs.
- Advising clients on liability for a dog that has attacked / bitten another animal or a person or ‘dangerous dog’ declarations issued by Local Council.
- Assisting with estate planning documents to allocate responsibility and care for a pet in the event of mental incapacity or death, allocating funds for pet expenses and providing for animal protection charities or donations in a Will.
- Assisting clients to reach negotiated outcomes regarding ownership disputes over animals, particularly during family law proceedings.
Liability for your dog
The animal law field also extends to the laws as they apply to the keeping of our domestic animals. For example, all dog owners should ensure that their pets are registered with their Local Council, microchipped, well trained, kept secure and understand their responsibilities under relevant laws and regulations.
Dog owners are liable if their dog causes injury to a person when that injury is caused by wounding or attacking. Likewise, the owner is liable for damage to the personal property of a person caused by a dog in the course of attacking that person.
Some home and contents insurance policies provide cover for certain circumstances when your dog causes injury to people or damage to property. This cover may also extend to an incident that has occurred away from the insured’s premises. It is important to check whether such coverage is included in your home and contents policy as not all policies offer this. If cover is provided, you should also check the relevant exclusion clauses, for example, cover will not be provided in the case of negligence, and owning a dog which is considered to be dangerous, menacing or on the restricted breeding list will also activate an exclusion clause in most policies. If in doubt, you should speak with your insurer.
‘Custody’ of the family pets following separation
After a relationship breaks down, many people may wonder who should be ‘entitled’ to ‘custody’ of the family pet. While the fate of your furry friends might be determined by sensible negotiation between the parties, unfortunately this is not always the case, and the family pet may become the centre of a tug-of-war between separating couples.
Many people consider their pets as their ‘children’ and have strong bonds with them, it is understandable therefore that emotions run high when there is a threat that the pet may no longer form part of one’s family unit.
In Australia, although pets are considered part of the couple’s personal property, the Court generally does not rule on the custody of family pets. In such cases the future of the pet’s home should be dealt with through negotiation between the parties and may be included in a formal agreement.
Ideally separating couples should set aside their differences and agree on the best outcome for their pets taking into account their respective circumstances, capacity to properly care for the pet, and the bonds that have formed between the pet and any children of the relationship.
Unlike property which is often divided between parties on a piece by piece approach, pets are living beings and it is more beneficial for parties to be less property focused when pets are involved. Competent legal advice can help parties decide on a resolution regarding their pets which may even include shared arrangements.
Animals may play a role in more legal matters than we think, and it is important to understand your responsibilities as a pet owner.
As the carer of a menagerie of animal companions and a solicitor on the pro bono panel of the RSPCA our principal understands the emotional bond and role that animals play in the lives of many and has assisted several clients to navigate various animal-related legal issues.