People who fail to walk their dog or groom or maintain their pet face potentially heavy fines under new anti-cruelty laws proposed by the ACT Government.
Leaving an animal unattended in a car will also attract fines up to $3200 under the proposed laws, which also allow a person to break into a car to save an animal if there is “serious and exceptional circumstances” and if the “person believes that a dog’s life is in danger”.
Having an animal in a moving vehicle without proper restraint would be punishable by up to one year in prison and a $16,000 fine.
The Animal Welfare Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 is set to be introduced the Legislative Assembly this week by ACT Minister for City Services Chris Steel, after receiving feedback from the community earlier this year.
Mr Steel said the main objective of the bill is to recognise that animals are “sentient beings with intrinsic value” that deserve to be treated with compassion and that people have a duty to care for an animal.
The bill would introduce new offences including failing to groom and maintain an animal, lack of shelter for an animal and criminal charges if someone is found guilty of hitting or kicking an animal.
Under the bill, anyone found confining a dog for longer than 24 hours would have to provide two hours of exercise within 24 hours or pay a fine up to $4000.
Mr Steel said this does not apply to someone who keeps their dog in their yard, house or apartment and does not have the opportunity to walk them every day. It would, however, apply in a situation where a dog is tied to a pole for days on end or is kept in a cage where it cannot move.
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 for aggravated cruelty to three years behind bars or a fine of $48,000 or both.
The draft bill had proposed to limit the number of dogs a person can walk to a maximum of three, but this was dropped after a community backlash.
Mr Steel said the draft laws would enable the Government to prevent those who were cruel to animals from owning, caring for or living with animals.
“The feedback provided in developing this bill indicated that there is incredibly strong support for the ACT Government to recognise animals as sentient beings,” he said.
“On Thursday, the ACT Government will undertake an Australian first, by moving to pass legislation that recognises animals can feel emotion and pain.
“I am committed to ensuring that the ACT has the most comprehensive and effective animal protection laws in the country and this bill will go a long way in achieving that goal.”
RSPCA ACT has provided input to Mr Steel’s bill and CEO Michelle Robertson said she felt encouraged by the ACT Government’s push to have animals recognised as sentient creatures.
Ms Robertson believes the vast majority of Canberrans are responsible and loving pet owners but this bill is for the minority who continuously do the wrong thing.
“We believe in the five freedoms for animals and under the current legislation, we are only able to take action on the first three, which are: freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort and freedom from pain, injury and disease,” Ms Robertson told Region Media.
“The fourth freedom is the freedom to express normal behaviour. If you are a big dog that is confined, you cannot express your normal behaviour because your movement is restricted.
“The fifth freedom is freedom from fear and distress. If an animal is a sentient being, we know that they can suffer mentally but we have never been able to do anything under a legal framework.”