Pets and the Law – Queensland Focus


Sol Pup 2

In Australia there are more pets than people.  We love our animals, we often like to be able to take them wherever we go, we spend a lot of money on them, and because pets are such an essential part of our society then there are many areas of law that affect pets and ownership.  The more you look for these areas the more you find, and so in honour of our furry friends we have compiled a brief summary with a Queensland focus about six of the most important pet/law areas:

 

1.     Animal Welfare Law

This is probably the area of law relating to animals (pets and livestock) that people think of first.  The majority of laws relating to animal welfare are State based, meaning each State has its own particular laws.  In Queensland we have the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (Qld), which gives authority to the RSPCA, Queensland Police and Biosecurity Queensland inspectors to investigate allegations of cruelty toward animals. There are also national Codes of Conduct for treatment and handling of animals that generally relate to treatment of livestock animals.

The current maximum penalty in Queensland for the offence of cruelty to an animal is $220,000 or three years in gaol, but it is a long standing complaint by animal welfare organisations that convictions for offences of animal cruelty are not punished severely enough.

 

2.     Criminal and Civil Offences Involving Pets

Criminal and civil laws dealing with liability for acts involving pets and animals are governed by each individual State.

In Queensland the main criminal offences related to animals are set out in Chapter 44 of the Criminal Code 1899 (Qld) and particularly deal with killing and/or stealing animals.

_MG_2455The legislation in Queensland that deals with the responsibility for managing dogs and cats is the Animal Management (Cats and Dogs) Act 2008 (Qld). Section 10 of the Act defines who is considered to be legally responsible for an animal and obliges the responsible person to ensure their cat or dog is microchipped, registered with the relevant local Council.  This Act also sets out the definitions of dangerous and regulated dogs and the obligations of the people responsible for these dogs in terms of managing and keeping them.  Examples of these obligations include:

  • a general prohibition on breeding a declared dangerous or regulated dog; and 
  • requirements to prevent a dangerous or regulated dog from attacking or causing fear to another person  (section 194). 

If a dog attacks a person and causes harm or death then section 194 of the Act allows a Court to impose financial penalties on the person deemed legally responsible for the dog if that responsible person failed to take sufficient steps to prevent the dog from attacking.

3.     Contract Law Involving Pets

The most common example of contract law involving pets is the agreement for the purchase of a pet.

Contracts can be oral or written, and so as long as it can be shown that there was:

  • an agreement between two parties who had legal capacity;IMG_1776
  • the obligations about what each party would do were clearly defined and agreed upon; and
  • valuable consideration was given by one of the parties (which can be in the form of giving cash or undertaking an act in reliance of the promise of the other party);

then arguably the parties will have an enforceable agreement.  There is no legal requirement for parties to enter a formal written agreement for the purchase of a pet, but it is often a very good idea if:

  • a significant amount of money is going to be paid for the pet; and/or
  • the seller wishes to retain rights regarding the animal such as the ability to show or breed from the animal and to have the first right to re-purchase the animal if the buyer needs to re-home it; and/or
  • the buyer has been given warranties from the seller regarding the quality, health and freedom from particular genetic disorders.

Disputes regarding agreements for the purchase of pets will in Queensland be decided through the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal if parties are unable to resolve the dispute directly.

 

4.   Insurance Law Involving Pets

Pet illness and injury can mean big expenses, and this makes pet insurance big business.

There is a very wide range of pet insurance available, and essentially this is a form of contract law.  The insurance company offers to reimburse the owner for some or all of particular costs associated with treating illness or injury of a pet on the basis that the owner pays a fee for the cover.   However, it is vitally important to read very carefully the terms and conditions of the insurance cover because most insurance policies have an extremely long list of:

  •  Animal illnesses and injuries that are not covered by the policy;
  • Pre-existing conditions that if your pet has will mean that the policy does not cover their treatment;
  • Requirements that owners of the animal must comply with regarding general care and maintenance of the pet, failing which the policy may not cover their treatment.

There are a number of websites that compare the benefits offered by different pet insurance policies, and asking questions is also very important.

 

5.     Body Corporate Laws involving Pets

Sol Pup 3 Where you have a block of units or apartments with separate titles issued for each unit or apartment then in Queensland there must be a body corporate that governs the management of the complex.  The body corporate must have rules that all the Lot owners have to comply with particularly regarding use of the Lots and common areas.  These body corporate rules very commonly contain the provision about how many pets Lot owners are allowed to have, the obligations Lot owners have regarding management of pets and matters to which the consent of the body corporate is required.

If you are purchasing a unit in a body corporate and you have a pet or wish to own a pet then it is highly recommended that you request a special condition be included to make the contract subject to the body corporate approving your requirements regarding the number and type of pets you wish to own.

Very commonly the Body Corporate rules place restrictions on the following issues unless consent of the Body Corporate is obtained:

  • Number of pets allowed;
  • Size and type of pets allowed; and
  • How pets are to be kept and managed (for example, some Body Corporates require that cats not be allowed to roam freely in the outside common areas).

 

6.     Wills, Enduring Powers of Attorney and Pets

 The responsibilities of caring for a pet can be onerous and expensive particularly as the petFiver gets older.  Most people just assume that if they die or become incapacitated mentally a family member will take care of any pets that are left.  However, as many animal rescue organisations can testify it is much more common that the pets are left to a rescue organization because the family may not have the space or financial means to take on the pet.

It is possible for people to include specific provisions in their Enduring Power of Attorney and Will regarding:

  • who they would like to be responsible for caring for pets in the event of mental incapacity or death;
  • allocating funds that can be used for pet care expenses;
  • allowing a person who is caring for pets to have use of property or resources of the incapacitated/deceased owner to assist with caring for pets; and
  • making donations or gifts to animal rescue organisations or charities.

If provisions regarding care of pets and use of funds for related expenses are not included in your Will or EPOA then arguably your attorneys or executors can be very limited in what resources of yours they are able to use for care of pets.

If you would like legal advice or assistance regarding any issues related to pets and pet ownership then please contact our Alicia Schubert on 3711 2709 or by email.