Pet owners who keep their dogs locked up and do not allow them to exercise forlonger than one day could face a fine of up to $4,000 under sweeping changesthat enshrine animal feelings into ACT law.

Key points:

  • New laws include harsher fines for mistreatment
  • Fines will apply for injuring an animal and not reporting it — including hitting a kangaroo
  • Under the new laws people can legally break into cars to protect animals

Under the bill, confinement is judged on the dog’s size, age and physicalcondition.

And anyone found confining a dog for longer than 24 hours would have toprovide two hours of exercise or pay the fine.

But provisions do exist within the legislation for reasonable restraints, suchas chicken coops, bird cages and cat containment areas.

Under the proposed laws the ACT would become the first jurisdiction in thecountry to recognise animals as “sentient beings” — the idea that animals areable to feel and perceive the world.

The concept recognises that “animals have intrinsic value and deserve to betreated with compassion” and “people have a duty to care for the physical andmental welfare of animals”.

“The science tells us that animals are sentient,” ACT City Services MinisterChris Steel said.

“I know with my dog he gets very excited when we’re about to go on a run.

“I think most dog owners, most cat owners know their animals do feel emotion.”

The animal welfare amendments, to be introduced into the ACT LegislativeAssembly this week, would establish a suite of additional offences, includinghitting or kicking an animal, abandonment, and confinement in a car that islikely to cause the animal injury, stress or death.

A person would be allowed to legally break into a car to protect an animalfrom serious injury or death, if they acted honestly and there were no otherreasonable options like calling the police.

Having an animal in a moving vehicle without proper restraint would also bepunishable by up to one year in prison or a $16,000 fine or both.

New protections for guide dogs, assistance animals

The new laws would also create specific offences for failing to provideappropriate food, shelter, water, hygienic living, grooming and medicaltreatment to an animal.

For example, an owner could be prosecuted if their pet suffered an eyeinfection due to hair growing into its eyes, was impaired due to unclippednails or had irritated skin due to fleas.

The bill also doubles penalties for cruelty to an animal to up to two years’imprisonment or a $32,000 fine or both, and increases punishments foraggravated cruelty to three years behind bars or a fine of $48,000 or both.

Fines would also apply for injuring animals and not reporting it — such as acar hitting an animal, including kangaroos.

For the first time in the ACT, guide dogs and other assistance animals wouldalso need to be accredited and listed on a register.

It would become an offence to prevent a person with an assistance animalentering a public place, remove an assistance animal or impose a charge forthe animal — with a fine of up to $8,000 for an individual or $40,500 for abusiness.

And anyone caught pretending that an animal was an assistance animal wouldface a fine of up to $3,200.

Animal sentience could have broader implications

The ACT adheres to the national code of practice in culling animals, includingin kangaroo culling, which is supported by the RSPCA.

Veterinarian Dr David Rizkalla, from the Gables Veterinary Group, said therecognition of sentience was a good place to start enforcing animal rights.

“It’s more about protecting animals from people who can harm them, than givinganimals better opportunities,” he said.

But he said it was important to clearly define which animals were recognisedas sentient.

“It could get in the way of the economy,” he said.

“I think it has to be quite clear if you introduce that sort of thing to largeanimals, like cows.

“Farmers spend money on the animal if it gets them more money, it’s a profitthing, it’s not a sentimental value, it’s an economic value.”

Source: ABC News, reprinted PIAA Newsletter

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