Your Pets and the Law
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Your Pets and the Law

If you already own a cat or dog or are considering getting one, as well as taking care of all of their day to day needs, health care and welfare, it's also important to have a basic understanding of the law regarding keeping pets in the UK and your liability for their actions.Although pets are legally considered as 'property' and so owners of both cats and dogs enjoy the right of legal protection and recourse if their pet is stolen or wilfully hurt or injured, there is some divergence from that point onwards, as cats and dogs are considered rather differently to each other legally in England and Wales (Scottish law is slightly different). Dog owners have a stated duty to control and supervise their pet when in a pubic place and manage where they can go and their actions, whereas cats are considered to have a legal 'right to roam'- although this does not release the cat owner from potential liability and responsibility under the law if their pet causes damage to another person or the property belonging to them.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act which passed into law in 2006 states that all animals kept as pets in the UK must have provision made for a suitable living environment, including the freedom to exhibit normal and natural behaviour patterns, a suitable diet, and protection from pain, suffering, wilful neglect and preventable disease.It also covers the penalties for wilful neglect or causing deliberate harm to an animal (whether owned or not) which can include a prison sentence, fines of up to £20,000, and being banned from keeping animals. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 also states that it is illegal to sell an animal of any type to a person of less than 16 years of age.

The law regarding theft of owned pets

The Theft Act of 1968 covers companion animals, and if your cat or dog is stolen then you have the same legal rights of recourse as you would if anything else you owned was illegally taken. In an instance where an animal is lost or strays, the pet is still considered to be the property of the original owner, and anyone who finds a lost pet must make reasonable endeavours to do everything possible to locate the original owner and return their pet to them before any provision for permanent re-homing can occur. The Criminal Damage Act of 1971 also considers it an offence in contravention of this act if any person deliberately harms or kills an animal belonging to another person. This is in addition to the Animal Welfare Act clauses as stated above.

Dogs and the law

As the owner or a dog, as well as enjoying the rights (and responsibilities) of ownership which are designed to protect you and your pet from theft, neglect and malicious injury, you too have various duties and responsibilities to ensure that your dog does not cause injury or harm to another person or property, and to make sure that your dog is under control and cleaned up after in public places.As the keeper or owner of a dog, you must ensure that your dog wears a collar with a tag showing your contact details at all times when in a public place- microchipping is also recommended, but is not legally controlled, and is not considered a suitable substitute for a tagged collar. You are legally obliged to clean up after your dog in any and all public spaces, including on the road, in fields and parks, on beaches, and in specially designated dog walk areas. You must bag up the poop, and dispose of it in a specially provided dog waste bin or other suitable receptacle. On some roads and in many public places, your dog must be kept on a lead at all times, regardless of whether or not you are confident of being able to control and recall your dog when off the lead. Similarly, if your dog should cause an accident or damage to property such as by running into traffic, damaging crops, digging up someone's garden or breaking someone else's property, you hold ultimate liability for their actions and can be prosecuted under civil and criminal laws accordingly. The same applies if your dog were to attack a third party, or cause accidental injury such as by knocking someone down in play.Special mention is made of the protection of livestock from dogs chasing or worrying them, such as sheep, poultry or any other farm animals. You must control your dog at all times around other animals, and should your dog be found to be worrying livestock then the farmer or owner of the affected animals has the right to stop or prevent your dog from doing so- up to and including shooting your dog.You are also responsible for the actions of your dog within your own home or on your own property, if the actions of your dog cause a nuisance, such as in the case of a persistently barking dog, which is covered under environmental and noise abatement legislation.

Cats and the law

Cats are regarded rather differently to dogs under the law, as they are considered to have the 'right to roam,' which means that they are not expected to be restrained or managed at all times when outside of your home or property. However, you do still have a duty of care to take all reasonable measures to ensure that your cat does not damage another person's property or cause injury.Under planning laws, if a significant number of cats are kept in a domestic property, the local council is within their rights to require the owner to apply for a change of use order for the home to reflect that the amount of cats kept is not within usual domestic norms. The amount of cats which constitutes 'usual domestic norms' is not set, and generally depends greatly on their impact on the surrounding environment and any complains or problems with neighbours who may be affected by the pets you keep.The Environmental Protection Act of 1990 also makes provision to intervene in cases where cats cause significant nuisance in their local area in terms of noise, fouling gardens, and smells.

Responsible pet ownership

Keeping a companion animal is a privilege, not a right, and the caring pet owner takes their responsibilities very seriously. It's important to consider the wider implications of your pet ownership and how you can ensure that your cat or dog does not cause a nuisance to other people, both for the ongoing wellbeing of your pet and to foster good relationships with your neighbours and the other people which your pet comes into contact with.Pet insurance for both dogs and cats sometimes provides coverage for third party legal liability and damage caused by your pet, and is strongly advised for both your own peace of mind and the protection of your animal as a part of responsible pet ownership.

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