Can Australians Get Fines For Not Walking The Dog?

By Sassafras Lowrey, October 2019
woman walking dog

Photo by Jonathan Slater on Unsplash

Non-Canine news sites have been reporting that a new animal welfare law in Australia will require dog owners to walk their dogs daily—or be faced with a $4,000 fine. Across social media I saw dog lovers raising concerns that if similar laws were to be enacted in their area that they might not be in compliant and at risk of being fined.  However the legislation has a very narrow focus, and one that isn’t expected to have any meaningful impact on the majority of dog owners.

Passing the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly last week, The Animal Welfare Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 is being considered a zero-tolerance approach to animal cruelty. It is also the first time under law in Australia that animals are being considered as sentient beings. This is a huge shift in legal understanding moving animals out of the category of property—like a couch, or lamp, and instead recognizing that dogs are capable of feeling emotion and pain, and that laws governing their care need to take that into account. The legislation dictates that “animals have intrinsic value and deserve to be treated with compassion and have a quality of life that reflects their intrinsic value.” The law makes clear that it is not enough for the physical needs of an animal to be met, but in addition their mental welfare must also be taken into account when looking at the quality of life of dogs. Specifically, under area 6F “Failure To Exercise A Dog”:

“(1) A person in charge of a dog commits an offense if-

  1. The dog is confined so that it cannot exercise for a continuous period of 24 hours; and
  2. The dog is not exercised, or allowed to exercise itself, for -
    1. The next 2 hours; or
    2. The next 1 hour and for another hour in the next 24-hour period”

The legislation provides additional clarity that the regulations in the “Failure To Exercise A Dog” section do not apply to dogs who are “kept in a yard or residence in a way that it can move freely; or the dog needs to be confined for the dog’s welfare.” So, for example dogs who are on crate rest on veterinary advice such as after a surgical procedure would not fall under the jurisdiction of this legislation. Similarly, dogs who are in the home during the day with a guardian, or while the guardian is at work would also not have a mandatory exercise period as they are considered able to move freely during the day. This legislation will not have an impact on the majority of pet dogs who spend their days with their families or in the home or yard and is only about dogs who are kept confined (in crates or small runs) for 24 hours a day. Those dogs under this law must be given a minimum of 2 hours of exercise after a period of 24 hours of confinement should have “appropriate opportunities to display behavior that is normal for the animal.” The legislation is designed to enforce the idea that dog have the legal right to be and act like dogs, to play and move freely at least for a very limited amount of time each day. This new legislation doesn’t actually dictate what kind of exercise a dog gets just that they must be given space and time to freely move.  

In addition to the exercise requirements, the updated law prioritizes giving additional power to investigators to help animals who are being abused, and stricter penalties for those convicted of animal abuse charges. New sections of the Animal Welfare Amendment also include a ban on the use of any device that administers an electronic shock (such as ecollars). There is a fine and possibility of one year of imprisonment for utilizing these kinds of collars on dogs. Examples named in the legislation include remote ecollars and property boundary collars (like “invisible fences”). Pet related businesses that sell animals, board animals or deal directly with pets will also now be required to have licenses to operate. In a press release, the local RSPCA said they believe that most Capital Territory residents are “responsible and loving pet owners and foresee very little impact that the changes to the Animal Welfare Legislation will have on responsible pet owners or businesses who have animals on site.”