Areas of Law affecting Companion Animals

Animal Law is a new area of legal practice that has a short history in comparison with other more traditional areas of law. It is about animals and people and how the relationships between them are regulated.

The way the law can affect companion animals is demonstrated in the practice areas and scenarios below:

 

Criminal Law – Providing information to assist with including pets in Apprehended Violence Orders and Apprehended Personal Violence Orders in domestic violence matters which involve harm to pets or threats of harm to pets.

Criminal Law – Providing information to animal activists

Criminal Law – Providing information on animal cruelty matters (including sentencing). Making submissions that maximum penalties for animal cruelty offences be increased in line with community expectations.

Defamation Law – Providing information to those who have been threatened with defamation action (for example employees/ex staff/volunteers who have worked in pounds or animal welfare organisations and who have spoken about the conditions they observed/poor treatment of animals treated/high kill rate)

Consumer Protection Law – Providing information to those who have been mislead or deceived by advertising by those that sell animals (eg pet shops stating and posting signs that their puppies do not come from puppy farms, when in fact, they do)

Contract Law – Providing information to those who have purchased puppies from pet shops which were sick, required veterinary treatment or subsequently died shortly after purchase.

Administrative Law – Providing information to assist with Freedom of Information applications (now made under The Government Information Public Access (GIPA) Act 2009) NSW.

Local Government Law – Providing information to assist animal rescue groups and others liaise with councils with regards to animal management issues and providing information relating to setting up animal rescue organisation under relevant legislation (eg under clause 16(d) of the Companion Animals Regulation 2008 NSW).

Local Government Law – Barking dogs. Providing information to assist those who are affected by a neighbour’s barking dog. Providing assistance to those who own a dog for which a barking dog complaint has been made.

Local Government Law – Dangerous dogs. Providing information to those whose dogs have been declared as Dangerous Dogs. Providing information to those whose dogs have been declared a Restricted Breed.

Local Government Law – Nuisance cats. Providing information to assist those whose cats have been declared a nuisance. Or providing information to those who are being troubled by a roaming/nuisance cat.

Renting and tenancy law – Providing information to assist those threatened with eviction due to the keeping of a pet.

Tort Law – Providing information to assist those those whose vet may have been negligent.

Other – Providing information and making submissions on issues relating to restrictions/banning of certain breeds of dog (eg Breed Specific Legislation as it relates to Pitbulls) Please see the tab Increasing Awareness for more information on Breed Specific Legislation in Victoria.

Most of our cases involve dogs.  Some of the more common issues affecting dog owners are:

  • your dog attacking a person or injuring another animal
  • having a dog that barks or howls and annoys neighbours.
  • having an unregistered dog
  • allowing your dog unrestrained outside your property
  • setting your dog or urging your dog to attack a person or another animal
  • abandoning your pet
  • Having too many dogs or cats for the land zoning/local laws.
  • Having fencing that does not effectively contain your dog
  • Damage caused by wandering dog (eg if a car swerves to avoid hitting your dog wandering on a public street and hits another car, fence tree etc.)

 

A dog can also be seized and detained by the police or council ranger person if it appears that:

  • an attack by the dog has occurred
  • an attack by the dog is likely to occur
  • the dog is not tethered or held by a leash, cord etc in the way specified under the Act.

Declared dogs and restricted breeds

Some offences are treated more seriously if a council has declared your dog as dangerous or menacing, or if the dog is a restricted breed.

A Dangerous dog is a dog that:

  • has been trained to attack
  • is used to guard non-residential property
  • has attacked a person or animal and subsequently been declared Dangerous by a council.

A Menacing dog is a dog that has:

  • attacked another animal and subsequently been declared Menacing by a council.
  • chased or rushed at a person and subsequently been declared Menacing by a council.
  • bitten a person, but not seriously and subsequently been declared Menacing by a council.

The penalties are higher and may include jail if your dog has been declared a Dangerous dog or a Restricted breed dog or if a person is killed or seriously injured. Having a declared Dangerous dog that attacks a person or animal or indeed is at large is a very serious matter. It is highly likely that your dog will be euthanised if this occurs. With regards to penalties that the dog owner may face the magistrate in imposing sentence looks at:

  • how serious your offence is
  • if you have been found guilty of similar offences before or have a criminal record
  • what else is happening in your life.
  • Compensation: The magistrate can make you pay compensation for any damage that the dog does to a person or to any property.
  • The magistrate can fine you.
  • Criminal record: What happens in court goes on your criminal record. The court and the police can see your criminal record. Sometimes they can let other people know what is in your criminal record. For example, a criminal record, especially with convictions, may make it harder for you to get some jobs or get visas to some countries.
  • The magistrate can award costs against you if you lose the case.

A Restricted Breed dog is a breed that is banned from import into Australia because it might be dangerous.

For over 18 months Lawyers for Companion Animals  provided a pro bono law service. We have assisted many people with their companion animal legal problems free of charge.

As of 7 January 2013 we will be unable to continue to provide a free service for private clients.

Our legal fees are $420 per hour. However, we can provide discounts for rescue groups and low income earners.

We will continue to provide a pro bono service in certain circumstances (for example chasing up cruelty complaints where it is alleged the RSPCA has refused to act or allegedly failed to take appropriate action). Another example includes pounds or shelters breaching Acts or Codes of Practice with regards to care of impounded cats and dogs.

Each matter will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and you will be advised in advance of fees and charges.