The Christmas festive season is now well upon us. But whether you are celebrating (or perhaps indulging), take a moment to spare a thought for the Milo, Otis or Nemo lookalikes given as Christmas gifts and then discarded once they lose their holiday appeal.
As a nation, Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world with 63% of households owning pets and an estimated 33 million pets. But pets are often purchased for others without consideration of how and whether they will be cared for, leading to them becoming a liability some are willing to shed.
Legally, there is no penalty for relinquishing ownership of animals (considered chattels under common law) to an animal shelter. Abandonment of an animal, however, is an offence under animal welfare legislation, whether encompassed within broader cruelty offences or as a separate offence punishable by fine and/or imprisonment (eg s 19 of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (Qld) which defines “abandon” as “leaving [an animal] for an unreasonable period” without a “reasonable excuse”).
What is a “cruelty offence” varies among the jurisdictions, and while State and Territory Animal Welfare Acts provide examples, they do not limit courts seeking to define “cruel” behaviour. Guidance for non-cruel treatment of animals may be found on various animal welfare organisations’ websites, such as those of the RSPCA or Animals Australia.
Many pet stores have begun to remove kittens and puppies from front windows during the peak Christmas period, and most animal shelters offer abandoned pets looking for a loving home. These animal shelters also organise vaccinations and de-sexing, as well as temperament testing or training for the would-be pets.
Animal welfare law is a relatively new development in Australian law. Like other law, however, it relies on a solid foundation of common sense and doing what is right. It is worth considering this development this Christmas period, because somehow “common sense” and “doing what is right” go right out the window when we see a furry, wide-eyed creature begging for a new home.
Laws surrounding companion animals in Australia are discussed in The Laws of Australia Subtitle 14.14 “Animals”.
For more information about The Laws of Australia, click here.
As part of community engagement, The Laws of Australia and Thomson Reuters Sydney staff have raised money over the last few years to pay vet bills, and provide food and maintenance for a local animal shelter and the animals housed there.