Do let the dogs out: Huge fines for pet confinement part of ACT animal welfare overhaul

Pet shops and boarding kennels will be licensed and all pets recognised as "sentient beings with intrinsic value" under major amendments to animal welfare legislation tabled in the ACT Assembly this week.

In a major overhaul of the current legislation, a person will be allowed to break into a car to save a suffering animal where the action is deemed reasonable.

Animals will be recognised as sentient beings in the ACT in Australian first, under an overhaul to the territory's animal welfare legislation. Picture: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Animals will be recognised as sentient beings in the ACT in Australian first, under an overhaul to the territory's animal welfare legislation. Picture: AP Photo/Martin Meissner

The bill also sets a maximum time limit of 24 hours on a dog's continuous confinement. Failing to exercise the dog immediately after that may attract a maximum fine of $4000.

Hitting, kicking or throwing something at an animal will be an offence which could also attract a $4000 fine, although jockeys using whips during horse races will be exempt.

The toughest penalties under the legislation are reserved for people involved in violent animal activity such as cockfighting or dogfighting, hunting competitions or live baiting.

Anyone who takes part will be fined $48,000 and face three years in prison. Anyone who attends these events will also face a $16,000 fine and a year's imprisonment.

Confining an animal, or even transporting it in a way which causes it injury, pain or stress, will attract a maximum penalty of $16,000 and a year's imprisonment.

An identical penalty will apply for anyone who places an electric shock device on an animal, such as a shock collar.

Releasing an animal from another person's custody or control without consent, such as taking a dog off a lead or leaving a cattleyard gate open, could attract an $8000 fine.

Under the new laws, using force to break into a locked car to rescue a distressed animal, or helping someone to do so, will be legal provided the person exercises "appropriate care and skill" and is not significantly affected by drugs or alcohol.

To be forcibly rescued, the animal must be distressed, injured or at risk of being injured, or in need of urgent veterinary attention.

The new laws will require pet shops to apply for a licence which will be valid for up to five years.

Owners of pet shops must comply with the relevant codes of practice, keep extensive records on to whom they sell animals and on where they will be kept, and comply with any special licence conditions imposed in the interests of animal welfare.

Operating a pet business in the ACT without a licence will attract an $8000 fine.

Under the act, animal welfare inspectors can ask a pet owner for their personal details. Refusing to provide them could result in a fine of up to $2400.

Guide dogs, hearing dogs or service dogs will be provided unfettered access to public spaces and buildings including churches, restaurants, clubs and public passenger vehicles such as buses, taxis and Ubers.

Anyone who denies legitimate access to a person and their registered assistance dog, or adds a fee or charge for the dog's use or access, will face a fine of up to $4000.

A hard line is also taken with anyone who pretends their dog is a registered assistance dog. Faking it will attract a $3200 fine.

Using a sick or injured animal for breeding will be an offence and this will also include "unfit" animals placed on show.

For instance, if a person is in charge of a petting zoo and uses an animal distressed by human contact, the owner may be fined up to $8000.

The ACT Liberals expressed concern about the "massive overreach" that the new laws deliver.

"Canberrans adore their animals and overwhelmingly care for them as much-loved members of the family," opposition spokeswoman Nicole Lawder said. "It appears elements of these new, unwarranted laws target responsible, animal-loving pet owners, effectively turning them into criminals."