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Home Resources & Technical Articles Criminal Offence Topics (A to Z) Animal Cruelty Offences Animal Cruelty Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

Animal Cruelty Offences and Penalties in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

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Australian National Character Check (ANCC) makes every effort to provide updated and accurate information to its customers. However due to the continuously changing nature of legislations for the Commonwealth and various States and Territories, it is inevitable that some information may not be up to date. The information on the website is general information only. The contents on the website do not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal or professional advice. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, suitability, accuracy or availability with respect to the information.

The Australian Capital Territory encourages the welfare of animals (domestic/in the wild) and mandates animal owners to their duty to care for the animals. The Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT) contains the ACT legislation towards animal owners or managers in the jurisdiction.

The Act further provides guidelines about penalties for offenders in animal cruelty, enforcement of the laws and stipulates the conducts of officials. It also provides the codes of practice to guide farmers and farm animals for work or slaughter.

If an individual is convicted for an animal cruelty offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on a police check.

What is animal cruelty?

Section 7 of the Act prohibits all forms of cruelty to animals in any form. It is an offence that incurs the maximum penalty of 200 penalty units or two years imprisonment, or both, depending on the type of the offence.

The Act defines cruelty to animals where;

The person causes pain to the animal, especially without reason or license from any committer. It may be a defence if the pain was for medical aid or benefit and was licensed by an official.

  • Beating an animal in a manner that causes it pain or injury
  • Abusing, terrifying or tormenting the animal
  • Injuring the animal
  • Knowingly/recklessly Feeding it a toxic substance
  • Leaving the animal in a fumigated area or space
  • Injecting the animal for any unlicensed approved purpose
  • Moving or transporting animals that are reasonably incapable to travel
  • Loading animals unfit for carrying such amounts of load
  • Killing an animal through a non-approved means
  • Any other acts that would reasonably count as cruelty to a living thing (animal)

  1. Aggravated cruelty towards an animal

The crime of animal cruelty is made worse if the Act results in the death or severe injury of the animal. It is immaterial if the person was reckless or intentional as to the matter resulting in the animal's death.

The crime for an aggravated matter for animal cruelty is a 300 penalty units in fines or imprisonment for three years. For some cases, the court may even issue both depending on the severity of the matter.

It is an aggravated matter if the Act causes serious animal injury or permanent damage to their mental health. Permanent injury is usually longstanding and affects the animal for a long time.

  1. Duty of Care

The Act clearly states the duties and responsibilities of those in charge of animals. It states the various positions or reasonable steps the law expects from such people. Ignorance or recklessness for such laws is not a defence for this section.

A person found guilty of failing their duty of Care can incur penalties as much as;

  • 100 penalty units,
  • One-year imprisonment, or
  • Both

Duty of Care towards an animal includes;

  • Feeding the animal in a manner that ensures its survival
  • Providing the necessary healthcare and medicine when the animal is injured
  • Providing essential and helpful accommodation for the animal, especially where it is in danger of predators
  • Only use the animal for its relevant duties and other reasonable conditions. These conditions are often stipulated by an ethics committee or other licensed bodies regarding animal control. For example, a farm animal should not be used for other duties like transporting goods over long distances.
  • Abstain from Hitting the animal, especially in a manner that is prohibited by the Act or regulations
  • Prevent the animal from ingesting toxic substances like poisons, especially where they result from your actions.
  • Provides means for the animal to exercise or roam in their captivity.

  1. Abandoning an animal

It is an offence to abandon an animal that you care/provide consent for. In court, it is immaterial if the Act was a reckless action from the person. Under section 6G of the Act, this offence carries a maximum penalty of 100 penalty units or 1-year imprisonment or both.

  1. Assisting an injured animal

It is an offence to injure an animal and take no step as to offer treatments and solutions to the injury. The Act prescribes up to 100 penalty units or one year or both for such offences. A reasonable means to avoid such a charge will be to contact a relevant person or engage a veterinary doctor.

The crime of not telling a relevant person about an injury carries a punishment of 20 penalty units.

  1. Unlawful release of an animal

It is an offence to indiscriminately release an animal from captivity under another person’s control. It also includes cases where the animal may be injured or killed, and the person was reckless about the release.

The Act stipulates the punishments of 100 penalty units and one-year imprisonment for such offences, or both.

  1. Administering Poison to an animal

It is an offence to administer a poisonous or toxic substance to a domestic animal. The Act stipulates penalties reaching 100 penalty units in fines and 1-year imprisonment or both for such offences. However, it is a defence for this section if the person has a reasonable excuse for such action, especially for medical purposes.

  1. Laying Poison

It is also an offence to lay poisons or traps with the hope of injuring another domestic animal. It does not matter to the court that the accused person claims the Act was reckless or deliberate. It may also be an aggravated matter that the Poison causes the animal's death.

The Act stipulates punishments up to 100 penalty units and 1-year imprisonment for such offenders, or both.

  1. Illicit use of electric devices around animals

It is a serious offence to apply an electrical device in a manner that causes pain or suffering to the animal. Section 13 of the Act prescribes 100 penalty units in fines and a one-year imprisonment term.

  1. Using or owning prohibited items

Certain items are generally prohibited under the regulations and laws relating to animals. The prohibited items are defined by the relevant ethics committee and are updated within respectable periods.

Anyone found guilty of illegally possessing and using any of these "prohibited items" will incur up to; 100 penalty units or 1-year imprisonment.

  1. Transporting animals

While certain animals are built and meant for transport, it is an offence for a person to transport any animal in a manner that will cause it pain. It may also constitute an aggravated charge that the animal dies due to the action.

It is an offence with maximum punishment of 100 penalty units or a 1-year imprisonment term. For this section, the term transport refers to;

  • Carrying the animal using a moving vehicle,
  • Confining the animal in a bid to move it (them).

  1. Violent animal activities

It is an offence to be at or take part in the violent animal activity; it is an offence that incurs harsh punishments of;

  • 300 penalty units, or
  • Three years imprisonment, or
  • Both. Depending on the severity of the offence.

It is also an offence to be at a place of violent activity, especially if a person reasonably knows that a violent activity is holding. The offence incurs a penalty of 100 penalty units, 1-year imprisonment or both, depending on the severity of the offence.

  1. Rodeos and Game parks

Under section 18 of the Act, it is an offence to partake in a Rodeo or any derogatory use of animals for fun. According to S18 of the Act, a person guilty of this offence will get punishments up to 100 penalty units in fines or 1-year imprisonment.

A rodeo is a public show for animals; it is usually illegal unless with a permit.

  1. Medical and Surgical procedures

It is an offence for a person who is not a professional veterinary to handle an animal in medical matters. It is an offence that carries the maximum punishment of 100 penalty units, 1-year imprisonment.

Even as a veterinary surgeon, there are specific Codes and Conduct that you must follow. The court can also slam such offenders with 50 penalty units in fines. The prohibited acts for veterinarians unless for special medical purposes include;

  • Docking dog’s tail
  • Cropping a dog's ear
  • Removing a dog’s ear
  • Performing any other sort of unauthorised medical procedures on the animal.

Codes of practice

The Act allows for certain conditions where special acts (that would usually pass as cruelty). However, these actions must fall within the Code of Practice listed in Part 3 and section 21 of the Act.

The code of practice covers all matters, including;

  • Using or dealing with animals for scientific purposes,
  • Management and control of companion or travelling animals
  • The use of electronic goods or products or other instruments
  • Transport of livestock
  • The rural dealings with animal and welfare
  • Control and management of feral animals
  • Commercial pest controls
  • Poaching and shooting of animals

Depending on the circumstances, a minister may approve or disallow a code of practice relating to animal welfare.

It is an offence that a person is reckless about a code of practice conditions. Failure to comply with the requirements incurs punishments of 100 penalty units.

Will a Animal Cruelty Offence in Australian Capital Territory (ACT) show up on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check?

If an individual is found guilty of an animal cruelty offence, the offence will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on the results of their Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

Individuals can obtain a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.


Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT) -

Animal Welfare Act 1992 (ACT) (Austlii References) -

RSPCA (What are the Penalties for Animal Cruelty Offences?) -

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