The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is the first jurisdiction in Australia to recognize animals as sentient beings and not just property.
Last month, the region passed animal welfare legislation to protect cats, dogs, and other pets, but also farmyard animals. Dogs cannot be tied up for more than 24 hours without exercise and farm animals cannot be kept in any form of confinement that restricts their ability to move.
Chicken coops are still allowed, as are birdcages and cat containment areas, reports ABC.
City Services Minister Chris Steel said in a statement last month, “what we’ve done today in recognizing sentience is simply recognizing what we already know about animals. The science tells us that animals feel and perceive things, and we’re simply seeking to recognize that under law.”
The new laws — which will come into effect in six months — criminalize serious neglect and abuse of pets. It recognizes their right to food, water, shelter, clean living, and health care. However, consequences vary depending on the animal. A spokesperson for Steel told ABC, “neglect of a cat or dog would likely be considered and treated more seriously than not keeping a fish tank clean.“
Speaking on Behalf of Animals
The ACT isn’t alone in recognizing the sentience of animals. In India, some animals have even been granted personhood. Earlier this year, the Punjab and Haryana High Court gave animals in Haryana the status of a “legal person or entity.” They now have the same rights as a living person.
Animals — including birds and aquatic beings — cannot be treated “as objects or property” according to the new order.
Justice Rajiv Sharma wrote the order. He said in a statement, “we have to show compassion towards all living creatures. Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf.”
“No pain or agony should be caused to the animals,” he continued. “Cruelty to animals also causes psychological pain to them. In Hindu Mythology, every animal is associated with God. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behavior, medical care, self-determination.”