Cats and the law: a report for International Cat Care (iCatCare) (formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB))

Nurse, Angus and Ryland, Diane (2013) Cats and the law: a report for International Cat Care (iCatCare) (formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB)). Project Report. Lincoln Law School, Middlesex School of Law.

Research Report Cats and the Law 20 November 2013.pdf
Research Report Cats and the Law 20 November 2013.pdf - Whole Document

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This research examines the legal status of cats, within the UK’s legal system (primarily in
England and Wales) but also in an international context. It considers a range of different
areas of law and conflicting perspectives within the UK’s animal welfare, contract, criminal
and environmental law and also addresses issues of ownership and liability. In particular, the
research examines how both domestic and wild cats are subject to different protection under
the law and the manner in which ambiguities concerning the status of wild and domestic cats
impose liability on humans for their actions in dealing with cats. The research was
commissioned by the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB) (now International Cat Care (iCatCare))
on behalf of the Cat Group1who identified that a number of legal questions could arise for cat
owners for which there does not currently seem to be a definitive answer. While the legal
status of cats is, in principle, well established under common law as they are personal
property, problems can occur because cats exist in a range of states e.g. feral, semi-feral,
domesticated and stray. Some grey areas exist in relation to animal welfare legislation and in
respect of the liabilities of cat owners. There has been little or no attention paid by legal
researchers to addressing the legal status of cats except within the context of animal welfare
offences, some prior research into offences involving wild cats2 and research into whether
animals (including cats) can be said to have legal rights.3The research considers this issue in
the context of not just the enforcement of animal welfare law but also within the context of
other aspects of the law, which includes policy and ethical considerations relating to animal
ownership and welfare.
The research deals primarily with domestic cats in England and Wales. The primary
legislation imposing responsibilities on cat owners is the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which
consolidates much earlier legislation and both promotes animal welfare and provides an
enforcement mechanism through which punishment may be pursued where there is a breach
of animal welfare standards. The UK Animal Welfare Acts4 are part of the criminal law and
impose a duty to ensure welfare (although this research is not confined to evaluating welfare
considerations) and an important part of the Acts is the requirement for a ‘responsible person’
to ensure that a cat’s needs are met. However, the question of what constitutes ownership or
being a responsible person and whether a cat is domestic is not always straightforward. Our
research also deals with offences under wildlife legislation where these may impact on cats
living in a wild state or on recognised species of wild cat. Separate from the provisions of
keeping and care of a cat, the research also considers issues relating to the sale or theft of cats
noting that under the common law cats are regarded as property or objects, albeit animate, in
terms of being owned and possessed. Damage to a cat by a third party can be akin to (certain)
property damage giving cat owners the right to take action for redress to damage to ‘their’
The issue of liability is also dealt with by this research and the courts have clarified a number
of issues relating to the harm caused by cats and liability in respect of that harm, which we
discuss in this research, treating aspects of the common law and the imposition of strict
liability under the Animals Act 1971. The question of liability is not always a straightforward
issue; while there are specific provisions for example in the Environmental Protection Act
1990 concerning nuisance caused by animals, they have been strictly interpreted so that the
natural behaviour of a cat is generally not considered to be a nuisance even where damage is
caused. However, cases where an excessive number of cats is kept such that their noise or
odour cause harm to the health of neighbours or constitute a nuisance have also been decided
such that the cat’s owner is responsible and can be required to take action to abate the
4 There is country-specific legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland; the Animal Health & Welfare (Scotland)
Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. The three animal welfare acts have similar
aims of preventing harm and promoting animal welfare although there are some differences in the respective
Lincoln Law School, Middlesex School of Law - A Report for International Cat Care 7
nuisance.5 In addition, the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs
(DEFRA) Code of Practice on the Welfare of Cats contains provisions on keeping cats in a
suitable environment. While the Code holds ‘advisory’ status rather than itself being
enforceable, we argue that the Code’s guidance combined with the Animal Welfare Act’s
provisions changes the dynamics of liability such that action might be taken under the Animal
Welfare Act 2006, allowing the court to consider a failure to provide the necessary catfriendly
environment required by the Act (in accordance with the Code),as opposed to
considering the specific nuisance requirements of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
This widens the scope of the action that might be taken against cat owners, and is significant
in the fact that the focus for the imposition of liability has shifted from the harm caused to
other humans to the degradation of the health and welfare of the cat. We explicitly consider
this issue in the research.
This research investigates different aspects of the law as it applies to cats and conducts an
analysis of the requirements placed on cat owners under the law. It also considers how the
law can be interpreted on issues of liability, responsibility, and the care of cats, as well as the
ambiguities in the status of cats that give rise to confusion under the law.
This report thus attempts to provide not only an overview of the law but our analysis of some
of the main areas of confusion raised by iCatCare as causing problems for cat owners and,
where applicable, for re-homing institutions.6 Some of these questions inevitably touch on
compensation and recompense issues where complaints or claims for loss or damage arise.
While dealing with the substantive issues of liability, responsibility and legal protection in
answering questions, we only briefly deal with compensation issues as the specifics of cat,
business, and even home, insurance relevant to such claims are outside the scope of this

Additional Information:First issued 12 October 2011, revised March - September 2012, April - September 2013
Keywords:Cats, Feline Advisory Board, Animal welfare
Subjects:M Law > M290 Law by topic not elsewhere classified
D Veterinary Sciences, Agriculture and related subjects > D328 Animal Welfare
Divisions:College of Social Science > Lincoln Law School
ID Code:12673
Deposited On:13 Dec 2013 09:16

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