Miaow for Equality!
By Fleur Carter for CatsMatter
Whilst cats and dogs may well share equal affection in the hearts of many Britons, sadly these two creatures do not share equality before the law. It is worth considering some of the major legislation that covers the lives of cats and then to look more closely at the legal disparity that exists between felines and many other animals.
The Animal Welfare Act 2006
The Animal Welfare Act (2006) applies in England and Wales - many of the same basic principles are covered in the Animal Health and Welfare Act (2006) in Scotland and the Welfare of Animals Act (2011) in Northern Ireland.
The Act aims to prevent animal cruelty and seeks to promote the welfare of animals. Both domestic and stray/feral cats are covered in the legislation.
The owner/those in charge of or responsible for their cat must:
- Ensure a suitable environment
- Ensure an appropriate diet
- Ensure their animal exhibits normal patterns of behaviour
- Ensure their animal is housed with, or apart from, other animals
- Ensure their animal is protected from pain, injury, suffering and disease.
All these above points apply to dogs, cats and other pets.
Theft Act 1968 and Criminal Damage Act 1971
Both cats and dogs are viewed by law as the ‘property’ of their owner and therefore the theft of a cat is treated in the same way as a theft of any other property. It is expected that all reasonable efforts should be made to find the owner. As cats, and their canine counterparts, are regarded as property it is an offence if anyone (without lawful excuse) kills or injures one.
The Common Law Duty of Care
It is commonly accepted that because of cats’ nature and disposition they possess the ‘right to roam’. Feline freedom to wander contrasts with restrictions imposed on the owners of dogs and livestock who have a legal responsibility to keep their animals under control (under the Dangerous Dogs Act and Road Traffic Act). However, cat owners still have a general duty of care to ensure their cats do not cause injury or damage to property.
The valiant combined efforts of Cats Matter, Cats Protection and other interested parties along with the support of DEFRA have secured a significant victory with the Government’s announcement that it wants to bring into force the compulsory microchipping of cats. It is believed that 26% of cats in the UK are not microchipped and it is hoped that mandatory microchipping will help cat owners be reunited with their lost or injured moggies and also reduce the number of cat thefts (which went up by 12.3% last year alone). DEFRA report that 99% of people support making microchipping compulsory. Dogs have had to be microchipped since 2016.
Road Traffic Act 1988
The absence of the inclusion of cats in the Road Traffic Act of 1988 is regarded by many as an abomination. Under section 170 of the Act, if a vehicle has an accident with an animal where ‘damage is caused’ to the animal it is a criminal offence for a driver not to stop, make reasonable effort to find the owner and to report the accident to the police within 24 hours. The animals stipulated in the Act are: dog, horse, cattle, donkey, mule, sheep, pig and goat. Controversially the Act does not include cats. A survey conducted in 2017 by Carbuyer found 59% of those questioned wanted the same requirement extended to cats. CatsMatter estimates that 630 cats are hit by vehicles every single day in the UK (and approximately a quarter of those cats die). Some of these cats are left abandoned on the road by the driver responsible and die a slow, lonely, and painful death. Owners are often left not knowing what happened to their beloved moggie. An Insurer, Admiral, estimates that as many as 8,000 cats could be left to die on UK roads each year.
In conclusion, the iconic words of George Orwell in Animal Farm seem particularly pertinent here: ‘all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others’. It appears grossly unfair that our 10 million feline companions in the UK who provide so much love and affection for our species are not afforded the same rights as many of their animal counterparts.
Ali, T & Bloom, D. (2020, 23rd December) All Cats Will Have to be Microchipped by Law Under Government Plans. The Daily Mirror
Cats Protection Cats and the Law: Essential Guide. Cats Protection
Dimmer, S. (2017, 3rd October) What Should You Do if You Hit a Dog with Your Car? Leicestershire Live
Hymas, C. (2021, 14th April) Cats to be Microchipped by Law in Government Crackdown on Pet Thefts the Daily Telegraph
Insure the Box. What to Do if You Hit an Animal While Driving? Insure the Box
Marsh, S. (2021, 15th April) Cat Owners May be Forced to Microchip Pets as UK Thefts Soar. The Guardian
Mendez, S. (2018, 15th February) Running Over a Cat: Why Does the Law Differ Between Cats and Dogs? Admiral
Nurse, A & Ryland, D. (2014) Cats and the Law: A Plain English Guide. The Cat Care Group
Orwell, G. (1945) Animal Farm Secker and Warburg
Shaw, N. (2021, 17th April) Every Cat in the UK Will Have to be Microchipped Under New Law. Coventry Live