It is a serious offence in Queensland (carrying a maximum of 1 year in prison) to abandon, or release, an animal for which you are responsible (unless you have a reasonable excuse, or legal authority to do so).
- Intensive Corrections Order
- Community Service Orders (CSO)
- Section 19 order
The Offence of Unreasonable Abandonment
The offence is created by section 19(1) of the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 which says that:
- A person in charge of an animal must not abandon or release an animal unless the person has a reasonable excuse or the abandonment or release is authorised by law. Maximum penalty—300 penalty units or 1 year’s imprisonment.
- In this section— abandon, an animal, includes leaving it for an unreasonable period.
As with offences of cruelty, an abandonment offence will normally be prosecuted by a private lawyer paid by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (‘RSPCA’) and, in most cases, a person who is guilty of the offence will be required to pay the RSPCA for the cost of hiring that lawyer (in addition to any other penalty imposed).
What the Prosecution Must Prove
In order to convict you of the offence the prosecution must establish that you:
- Had responsibility for an animal, and
- You abandoned or released the animal (including leaving the animal unattended for an unreasonable period of time), and
- You had no reasonable excuse, or lawful authority, for the abandonment or release.
What Conduct can Constitute Abandonment?
You might be guilty of abandonment if you leave an animal, for example a dog or cat, at your home without any provision for care while you are absent for an extended period of time (for example overseas on holiday). Similarly, if you become unable or unwilling to care for an animal and you simply release it (instead of, for example, surrendering it to the RSPCA) you might be guilty of an abandonment offence.
Additional Penalties for Abandonment Offences
As with cases of cruelty, if you are guilty of the offence of abandoning an animal a court has the power to impose a number of penalties upon you which are additional to those normally levied in criminal cases. For example a court can, in addition to imposing a fine or sending you into jail, order that you forfeit all animals that you own or have care of to the RSCPA and/or that you be prohibited from owning or caring for an animal (at worst, forever).
It is also possible for a court to order that a person who abandons an animal pay for the cost of veterinary treatment, or destruction, which the RSPCA might have incurred in relation to the animal. These costs can be far in excess of even the cost of the RSPCA’s lawyer (which will normally also be met by a defendant to an abandonment charge).
It is not uncommon for the ‘additional’ penalties in abandonment cases to be heavier, in a practical sense, that the substantive punishment for the offence. Many of these additional penalties can be negotiated with the RSPCA and it is therefore essential that if you have been charged with abandoning an animal that you obtain legal advice, and representation, at an early stage to best mitigate their severity.
Which Court Will Hear Your Matter?
Abandoning an animal is a misdemeanour which will be heard and determined in a Magistrates Court.
Types of Penalties:
Imprisonment : Even though it is not a sentence of last resort (as it is in some other states) imprisonment is the most serious penalty which a court can impose upon a person. At its most severe a sentence of imprisonment means that a person must spend a specified period of time within a correctional facility, also called a prison, a jail or a gaol. Read more.
Intensive corrections order (ICO): An Intensive Corrections Order (‘ICO’ for short) is, technically, a form of imprisonment but which is served wholly in the community. This means that a person who is made subject to an ICO will not spend any time in prison but will, instead, be required to adhere to a number of requirements that the court will order. Read more.
Probation: A court can make a Probation Order either by itself, meaning the whole of the sentence is probation, or as a component of a sentence of imprisonment, meaning that a person is ordered to serve a period of time (not longer than 1 year) in prison and is then subject to a probation requirement upon release. Read more.
Community service order(CSO): As the name implies, a Community Service Order (‘CSO’ for short) is an order which requires a person to perform unpaid work, normally at some kind of community facility, for a stated number of hours (to a maximum of 240) within a nominated time (usually 6 or 12 months). Read More.
Recognisance: A recognisance is a promise which a person makes to be of good behaviour for a stated period of time. A court is empowered to release a person who enters into a recognisance, either with a surety, which is a sum of money which the person agrees to pay if they breach the recognisance, or without one. Read More.
Fines: A court is empowered to impose a fine, which is a sum of money which a person is required to pay to the State, for any offence regardless of whether the law creating it nominates a fine as part of the applicable penalty. Read More.
Section 19 dismissal: A court can discharge a person absolutely, or upon them entering into a recognisance, without recording a conviction against them, if it is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so. Read More.
In all cases where you are sentenced to a penalty other than jail, the Court can choose not to record a conviction against you, meaning your criminal record will remain clear and any complications with work or travel may be avoided.