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Animal sentience recognised for the first time under new ACT laws

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Animal sentience recognised for the first time under new ACT laws

By Jake Evans


The ACT has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to change the legal status of animals from being purely 'property' to sentient beings in their own right.


Key points:

The ACT now recognises animals as having intrinsic value and rights

The new laws criminalise neglecting to provide food, water and shelter for pets

Owners can also be punished for failure to groom or care for their pets


The animal welfare legislation passed today extends the rights of Canberra's cats and dogs — but the practical implications are not as far-reaching as they sound.


City Services Minister Chris Steel said it is a bill that makes it easier to support animal rights most people already recognise. "What we've done today in recognising sentience is simply recognising what we already know about animals," he said. "The science tells us that animals feel and perceive things, and we're simply seeking to recognise that under law."


The new laws enshrine simple rights for animals, such as the right to free movement. Owners can now be penalised for tying a dog up for more than 24 hours, leaving it unable to exercise. "If an animal was chained up or caged up for days on end, then they should absolutely have some exercise for one or two hours," Mr Steel said.


There are still reasonable exceptions to that law, such as allowing chicken coops, bird cages and cat containment areas.

But the new laws criminalise any confinement that restricts an animal's movement — including farm animals.


Potential imprisonment for neglecting basic rights

The laws also recognise an animal's right to food, water, shelter, clean living and health care, with specific offences for failing to attend to those necessities. For example, if a cat or dog's nails were left unclipped to the point of impairment, or its skin became infected due to fleas, an owner could be punished with up to a year imprisonment.


A spokeswoman for the Minister said an element of "reasonableness" and "seriousness" is considered in applying the law. "Neglect of a cat or dog would likely be considered and treated more seriously than not keeping a fish tank clean," the spokeswoman said.


There are also new offences punishing people who hit or kick an animal, abandon it or confine it in a car have also been passed.


And while the laws relate mostly to pets, requirements to report a mammal hit by a car remain, as does an obligation to alleviate suffering of an injured bird or other non-mammal. Mr Steel said the laws reflect the love Canberrans already show to animals.


The laws will come into effect in six months.



Well, it's a start...

Edited by Sonny
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