Monday, 20th of November, 2017

Dogs, Cats, and Animal Control

Introduction to Animal Care

When a person is attacked and injured or their property is damaged by an animal owned by someone else, it may be possible to obtain compensation for negligence. In such a case, it would be necessary to establish a cause of action as in any other negligence case.

Where the action sought is to destroy or impound an animal, legislation that applies includes the Dog Control Act 2000, the Dog Control Regulations 2010; and the Animal Welfare Act 1993. The Cat Management Act 2009, and the Cat Management Regulations 2012 commenced on 1 July 2012.

A person who has the care or charge of an animal has a duty to take all reasonable measures to ensure the welfare of the animal. (s6, Animal Welfare Act). If an animal is injured, the owner may be able to claim compensation. It is also possible to bring a criminal prosecution against a wrongdoer, including the owner. Intentional injuries to animals fall under the Animal Welfare Act and people found guilty of cruelty or aggravated cruelty face penalties of up to 12 months imprisonment, or fines of up to 100 penalty units (ss8 and 9). Bodies corporate face fines of up to 500 penalty units. A person may also be disqualified from having custody of any animal for a period a court thinks fit if they are convicted under the Animal Welfare Act. There are animal welfare officers under the Animal Welfare Act (s13) who will investigate and may take action if a complaint is laid.

Any person who steals a dog or other animal may be guilty of an offence under the Tasmanian Criminal Code. To injure or kill cattle is an offence punishable by imprisonment (s237, Criminal Code).

If an animal is mistreated by any person, the owner can either go directly to the police or contact the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The Society will send an inspector to investigate a complaint, and may even take the appropriate criminal proceedings.  Animals Tasmania provide an independent advocacy service to protect against the abuse, exploitation, and suffering of animals, and may also be contacted.

Dogs

Injuries Caused by Dogs

Under the Dog Control Act 2000 the common law applies and a dog’s owner is not liable unless it can be shown that the owner or keeper of the dog was aware of the dog’s vicious propensity. This may be difficult to prove. Various offences are created by the Dog Control Act and it would be an offence if the owner or person in charge of a dog allowed the dog to attack somebody (s19) but this doesn't in itself give any right to compensation. There are many powers under the Act for authorities to seize and hold dogs. Under the Act, a person being attacked, or who sees a dog attacking another person or another animal or a guide dog may restrain or destroy the dog (s41). Owners of farming property may destroy any dog found at large on their property.

Your Responsibilities as a Dog Owner

You must register your dog (s8, Dog Control Act). The penalty is a fine of up to 5 penalty units, which currently stands at $130 per unit. All dog owners are required to microchip a dog over the age of 6 months (s15A); the general manager of the local council can order microchip implantation if the dog is seized, and the owner is liable for the cost (s15A(3)).

It is an offence, both legally and socially, to not clean up after your dog and remove its faeces in a public place (s45). The penalty is a fine of up to 3 penalty units. Dog owners are also required to prevent their dogs from becoming or creating a nuisance in a public place. This means it must not behave in a way injurious or dangerous to the health of any person, or create noises that persistently occur and unreasonably interfere with the peace, comfort or convenience of any person in any premises or public place. Fines are up to 5 penalty units.

Dangerous dogs and restricted breeds

Dangerous dogs are declared where a dog has caused serious injury to a person or another animal, or there is reasonable cause to believe that this would happen (s29). Restricted breeds under the Act are:

  • Dogo Argentino;
  • Fila Brasileiro;
  • Japanese tosa;
  • American pit bull terrier or pit bull terrier;
  • Perro de Presa Canario or Presa Canario; or
  • Any other prohibited under the Customs Act 1901 (Cth).

Requirements for keeping a dangerous dog or restricted breed include micro-chipping, de-sexing (s32A), and particular restraints while the dog is in public. These include muzzling, wearing a collar at all times, walked on a 2 metre or shorter lead, and being controlled by someone at least 18 years of age (s32). Owners are also required to have a suitable enclosure to prevent a dog leaving premises (s32). There must also be warning signs on premises on which dangerous or restricted breed dogs are kept (s33). Failure to comply can result in fines of up to 20 penalty units (over $3000).

The Act sets out other restrictions, including restrictions on the number of restricted breed dogs to be kept (34C), the requirement for approval to transfer ownership of either dangerous or restricted breed dogs (34A).

Destruction of Dogs

Dangerous dogs can be destroyed if an owner has failed to provide a suitable enclosure. The owner has 28 days to comply with a notice from the general manager of the local council to build a suitable enclosure. Failure to do so can result in the dog’s destruction (s39A(4)). The owner has a right of appeal to the Magistrates Court (Administrative Appeals Division) (s39A(6)).

A person can destroy a dog if the person sees the dog attacking another person, animal, guide dog or hearing dog (s41((1)(b)), or if they themselves are being attacked (s41(1)(a)). Dogs found at large on primary production land relating to livestock (for example, a cattle farm) can be destroyed by a person with the authority to act on behalf of the land owner. (s41(3)). A person who destroys a dog must notify the general manager of the local council within 14 days of the destruction (s41(4)).

Other dogs may be destroyed if an authorised person or veterinary surgeon is satisfied that the dog poses a threat of injury to any person, pr death or serious bodily injury to another animal. This also applies where the injury has occurred (s42(1)). There are also grounds for destruction on humane grounds – if the dog is found distressed or disabled to the point of continued suffering. There is authorisation to enter a premises to carry out destruction of a dog (s42(2)). Situations where this might occur would be where a person has been injured by a dog, and the dog owner refuses to release the dog to a vet or authorised person, or where animal cruelty is observed on a premises and the animals held there have very little chance of rehabilitation to health.

Guide Dogs

Visually or hearing impaired persons are entitled to be accompanied by a genuine guide dog at all times and in all public places and on all public transport. Guide dogs owners and guide dog trainers are issued with an identity card by an approved guide dogs or hearing dogs institution (s3Guide Dogs and Hearing Dogs Act 1967 (Tas)). 

Cats

The Cat Management Act 2009 and Cat Management Regulations 2012 have imposed conditions on cat owners in an attempt to deal with the problems of feral cats, and to encourage responsible ownership. They came into effect on July 1st, 2012. Cats are classified by the Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) as a priority species for management and a harmful invasive species, as they have serious impacts on native wildlife when both domesticated and when they have turned feral. Feral cats are typically much larger and more aggressive than domestic cats, and can destroy or compete with important, vulnerable fauna, such as quolls and bettongs.

The purposes of the Cat Management Act 2009 are to:

  • Promote the responsible ownership and welfare of cats, including the desexing and microchipping of domestic cats
  • Provide for the effective management of cats, in particular allowing humane handling and management of unidentified, stray and feral cats; and
  • Reduce the negative effects of cats on the environment.

The Cat Management Regulations 2012 are enacted under that legislation. The Regulations detail:

  • cat management facilities, such as cat shelters, and their operations;
  • microchipping and desexing of cats;
  • other requirements for cat owners, such as health checks; and
  • registration for cat breeders.

Microchipping and desexing

Cat owners must ensure that any cat in their care, over the age of 6 months of age is  implanted with a microchip (s12, Cat Management ActReg 14Cat Management Regulations). There are exceptions where a veterinary surgeon certifies that this would adversely impact on the health and welfare of the cat. Details that must be entered into the microchip database include such things as name, residential address and contact number of the cat owner, the name of the cat, the breed, whether the cat has been desexed, its age and colouration (Reg 15).

Desexing is required where the cat is more than 6 months of age except where a vet certifies that the procedure will interfere with the health and welfare of the cat, the cat is for the purpose of breeding by a registered breeder or the cat is a prescribed cat (s14). The Regulations define a prescribed cat as cats registered with an approved cat show organisation (Reg 18). Desexing must be done by a qualified veterinary surgeon.

Cat Breeders

As a first step to reduce the number of unwanted cats that are euthanased each year, it is now an offence to breed cats unless the owner is a registered breeder. A person who seeks registration as a cat breeder must make an application to DPIPWE to be approved. The Secretary of DPIPWE has the power to refuse, approve and revoke cat breeder registrations. If a person is a member of a cat organisation that has been acknowledged by the Secretary of DPIPWE, they are taken to be a registered breeder. Everyone else must make an application for approval (s30). The Secretary must be satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person, and that it is appropriate in all the circumstances to grant the application.

Anyone can sell or give away a cat but the animal must be at least 8 weeks of age, microchipped and desexed (unless a care agreement has been entered into), wormed and vaccinated (s15). Cat sales between registered breeders and genuine show cats will be exempt.

Feral and stray cats

Where feral and stray cats are found on ‘Prohibited Areas’ such as Crown land, private timber reserves, reserved land, private land subject to a conservation covenant, or State Forests or Reserves they may be the subject of cat management actions, which include the humane destruction, trapping and desexing of cats found in those areas (ss18-21). Local councils may declare certain areas to be prohibited areas or cat management areas (s21), under sections 19 and 20 of the Act.

Feral and stray cats may also be controlled on rural land and in remote areas as outlined below.

Seized, Unclaimed and Surrendered Cats

Cat management facilities will scan cats to discover microchipping to attempt return of a cat to its owner (s23). However, an aggressive cat, or one that an operator at the facility believes on reasonable grounds to pose a danger to health and safety will not be scanned (s22(3)). If a cat is to be reclaimed, cat management facility operators can microchip and desex cats (s24(2)), except where there is an exemption under the Act, such as for cats kept by registered cat breeders (s24(4)).

If a cat remains unclaimed, whether or not it was microchipped, or it has been surrendered, cat management facilities may find the cat another home, offer the cat for sale or cause the cat to be humanely destroyed (s25).

Destruction of Cats

The destruction of cats may take place in the context of cat management programs (ss17-21), on some private property, or in the context of seized, unclaimed and surrendered cats. An operator of a cat management facility may humanely destroy a cat, or cause a cat to be humanely destroyed if they have a reasonable belief that the cat has cause or is likely to cause serious injury to a person, another animal or itself; the cat is not microchipped is unfit to be placed or offered as a domestic pet; or is not microchipped and the facility is unable to accommodate the cat (s26). This means that microchipped, unclaimed cats can remain indefinitely in a facility if no suitable home is found for them.

Powers of local councils and inspectors

Councils can make declarations that class areas of land as prohibited land or cat management areas (s21). Authorised persons, which include police officers, or persons authorised under the Animal Welfare Act, the Dog Control Act, or the Cat Management Act, have the power to:

  • enter, search and inspect buildings;
  • search for and seize any cat on premises, which they have lawfully entered;
  • set traps on premises lawfully entered;
  • examine and scan cats for the presence of a microchip;
  • desex a cat;
  • microchip a cat; and
  • transfer a cat to a cat management facility.

Other powers of authorised persons are listed at section 7 of the Act. Generally, these are powers related to enforcing compliance with legislation and gathering evidence of any breach of the Act.

Powers of land owners to manage cats on property

Land owners engaged in primary production relating to livestock on rural land have the power to trap, seize, or humanely destroy cats found on their private land. They may also trap, seize or humanely destroy cats found on land that is more than one kilometre away from any place genuinely used as a place of residence, In these circumstances, a land owner can destroy the cat, or return it to its owner (if known), or arrange for the cat to be taken to a cat management facility (s17).

Other provisions

The Act states that cats are not to be abandoned. The penalty for doing so is a fine of 20 penalty units, which currently stands at a fine of over $2000 (s37). The provided alternative is to surrender a cat or cats to a cat management facility (s36). There may be some fees associated with doing so. Cats are also not to be offered as lucky door prizes or a raffle prize or any game of chance. A fine of up to 10 penalty units is associated with breaching this provision (s38).

Cat Management Facilities

In Hobart, the cat management facilities are facilities operated by the RSPCA or the Hobart Cat Centre Inc  Cat management facilities are also local council-run facilities with the capacity to handle and hold cats.

Birds, Domestic Fowl and Livestock

Some native birds, such as the sulphur crested cockatoo, may be kept as pets without the need for a permit, others are totally protected or may only be obtained from a licensed dealer or permit holder.

The Local Government Act 1993 (Tas) allows local councils to make by-laws to regulate health and environmental services. Some councils have by-laws which regulate the keeping of poultry and other animals. It is recommended that you check with your local council to find out if there are any restrictions on keeping poultry and other livestock in a suburban setting.

For example, the Hobart City Council Health and Environment Services By-Law 2008 at by-law 23, provides that:

  • A person must not keep any poultry within six (6) metres of any dwelling-house, or within one (1) metre of any fence line or boundary, or allow any poultry to have access to any area within six (6) metres of a dwelling-house except if the sale of live poultry is part of the usual business of any shop and the poultry is in properly maintained cages.
  • A rooster cannot be kept within 300 metres of a neighbouring dwelling without the written approval of the occupants of that neighbouring dwelling. By-law 20 also provides that approval in writing from the General Manger is required before a person is allowed to keep any horse, pig or any other livestock in a stable, sty lot, paddock or secure premises. 

The Local Government Act at section 194 gives a local council the authority to impound stray animals and to sell, give away or destroy an impounded animal.

Wildlife

The Wildlife (General) Regulations 2010 which are issued under the Nature Conservation Act 2002  regulate the taking and possession of wildlife. 

It is an offence for a person to buy, sell or possess any wildlife taken contrary to the regulations (Reg 38 and Division 5). The regulations provide for permits and licences and set out the different categories of protected and restricted animals. Schedules 2 and 4 of the regulations list the species which are partly protected, protected or specially protected wildlife. These include a wide range of native birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and even invertebrates such as the Tasmanian glow worm.

A number of native birds, such as the  sulphur crested cockatoo or a rainbow lorikeet may be bought, sold or held without a permit (Schedule 3); whereas a permit issued under regulation 24 is required if a person wishes to take, have possession of, buy or sell or otherwise dispose of other protected wildlife. The regulations provide for a number of other permits and licences: for example, a permit to take wildlife for scientific or educational purposes (Reg 25); and wallaby, muttonbird and hunting licences (Regs 1314 and 15).

Injuries Caused by Other Animals

In Public Places

The common law divides all animals into two categories. The first category includes all animals and birds which, by habit or training, live in association with man, for example, cats and all common farm animals. The second category includes all remaining animals, and the law deems them to be ‘naturally wild’. The keeper of an animal which belongs to the second category is liable for any injury that animal causes. In such a case it is not necessary to show that the keeper was negligent or that they knew that the particular animal had shown a ‘previous mischievous propensity’. The category to which a particular species of animal belongs is a question of law, the degree of domestication of any individual animal being irrelevant.

The keeper of an animal which belongs to the first category will only be liable for damage caused by that animal upon proof of the keeper's negligence or of their knowledge of the animal's propensity to cause damage of the kind complained of – hence, an action in negligence must be established. The owners of cattle once enjoyed freedom from liability for damage caused by the cattle straying onto the roadway, whether as a result of the owner's negligence or not. This ancient exception was removed by legislation in Tasmania and in such a situation the ordinary principles of negligence will now apply.

On the Owner's Premises

Responsibility here depends on the principles of ‘occupier's liability’. If the occupier has a public liability insurance policy (nowadays most householders' policies include such cover) this will generally provide cover for liability for damage done by animals.

Exceptions from Liability

No liability exists in situations where damage or injury is due to the fault of the person sustaining it (for example, where a person provokes an attack on themselves) or where a person has otherwise accepted the risk of injury.

Contacts and Resources

Animal management is part of local council responsibilities. The Hobart City Council provides comprehensive information on dogs.

You can also visit The Dogs Home website for information on adopting dogs, and care available for dogs.

Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment provides Information for Cat Owners and a Fact Sheet on Cat Ownership and Information on Wildlife Management.

Questions and queries about cat management facilities should be directed to:

RSPCA Launceston
63 Remount Rd,
Mowbray 7248
Ph 6332 8282

RSPCA Hobart
553 Pass Rd,
Mornington 7018
Ph 6244 3033

RSPCA Devonport
108 Tarleton Rd,
Spreyton 7310
Ph 6427 2566

Hobart Cat Centre
12 Selfs Pt Rd New Town 7005
Ph 6278 2111

Animals Tasmania provide an independent advocacy service for animal welfare and may be contacted regarding any concerns about animal exploitation, abuse, and suffering. 

Disclaimer

This does not constitute legal advice and the Tasmanian Law Handbook should not be used as a substitute for legal advice. No responsibility is accepted for any loss, damage or injury, financial or otherwise, suffered by any person acting or relying on information contained in it or omitted from it.