What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

For many people the world over, there are few things worse than a person who mistreats an animal. Most animals, especially those considered pets, are normally viewed as lovable playmates that require the highest degree of love and compassion. Sadly, this sentiment is not universal and there are people out there who wouldn’t think twice about abusing the creatures around them. What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals? Is animal cruelty illegal and what is considered abuse?

The Animals Protection Act of 1962 lays out, in excruciating detail, the actions that can be considered offenses in relation to animals and the illegality of them.

These actions include, but are not limited to, –

  • Cruelly overloading or overriding an animal
  • Cruelly beating or kicking an animal
  • Unnecessary or cruel chaining, containing or tethering
  • Unnecessarily starving or dehydrating
  • Keeping an animal in a dirty or parasitic location causes infection and other health problems
  • Failing to provide adequate veterinary treatment
  • Exposure to poison or other harmful chemicals

There are many other forms of cruelty detailed in the act and all citizens are encouraged to read through these to better understand what constitutes abuse.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

– Mahatma Gandhi
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

What are the Penalties for Animal Abuse in South Africa?

According to Section 2 of the aforementioned Animals Protection Act, animal abuse can result in fines, prison time, seizure of animals, and a ban preventing the individual from owning animals in the future.

Obviously, the severity of the punishment will be based on factors such as the level of cruelty shown along with the number of animals abused. For instance, someone found guilty of cruelly and unnecessarily chaining up a dog could reasonably expect a fine (depending on the context) whereas someone found guilty of explicitly torturing multiple animals would most likely end up in jail. 

What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

How Do You Report Animal Abuse? – What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

If you believe that an instance of animal cruelty is taking place it is advised that you contact your local SPCA. It is understandable that most people might consider calling the police directly, but, in cases involving animals, the SPCA has been authorized in much the same way as the SAPS.

If for whatever reason, you do not wish to or are unable to contact the SPCA, you can reach out to other independent societies such as the Animal Anti-Cruelty League (AACL).

What is the SPCA Process for Animal Rescue?

A common complaint from animal lovers is that the SPCA or other animal rescue organizations take too long to save abused animals. Sometimes, this can even cause people to take the law into their own hands. To prevent illegal and reckless behaviour, it’s important to understand the legal process conducted by the SPCA when allegations of abuse are made.

The SPCA investigative process generally works like this

What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

Keep in mind, each case is different and this is only a very rough framework depicting how the process could play out

Can I Rescue an Animal if the SPCA takes Too Long?

As you can see, the process of animal rescue is not always a speedy one. With this in mind a frequent question that gets asked is, can I rescue abused animals myself?

What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

According to the SPCA, this matter is complex and the answer is highly contextual. If you are witnessing an animal in immediate distress and you can help it without exposing yourself to danger, you are encouraged to help.

On the other hand, the average citizen does not have the same sort of authority as the SPCA or the SAPS, as such, individuals are reminded that they could face serious legal repercussions if they take matters into their own hands.

With regard to mob justice, the powers that be strongly condemn actions taken against the alleged abusers. They acknowledge that tensions often run high in such scenarios but they also advise the public to allow the proper authorities to deal with these types of situations. During trials, however, witness testimony is highly sought after to bring abusers to justice.

What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

Can the SPCA Take Your Pet?

In certain cases, yes, the SPCA is able to legally seize animals that they believe are being mistreated.

Additionally, The Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 169 of 1993 empowers SPCA’s and the National Council to carry out legal proceedings against individuals who they believe have broken the aforementioned laws.  

Some other powers given to the SPCA (usually after obtaining a warrant from the local magistrate) include –

  • The ability to enter into a property to examine the conditions in which an animal is kept
  • Arrest a person who is suspected on reasonable grounds of breaking the law regarding animal abuse

What Happens if my Pet Attacks Somebody? – What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

In many cases of owner liability and animal attacks, South Africa more or less acts under the ancient Roman principle of ‘actio de pauperie’, this essentially means that when an animal attacks a person, the owner of the animal is ‘strictly liable’.

Simply put, the only defenses available to you when your pet attacks someone are –

  • The victim had no right to be where they were when attacked (ie, the person was attacked while breaking into your house)
  • The animal was provoked by the victim or a third party
  • The victim knew the risks posed by the animal and voluntarily accepted them
  • The animal was under the control of a third party at the time of the attack who failed to prevent it
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

Can a Police Officer Kill my Pet? – What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

Most people are aware that if an animal is posing an immediate threat, the police are allowed to legally terminate it, but there are other instances in which the police have this power.

For instance, Chapter 5 of the Animals Protection Act stipulates that if an officer comes across an animal that is so diseased or injured that he/she believes that it would be cruel to keep it alive, the officer may kill the animal even if the owner is absent or refuses, after certain conditions are met, namely –

  • A veterinarian must be summoned to inspect the animal and confirm the officer’s view
  • If no veterinarian is available, 2 reasonable adults must instead confirm the viewpoint
  • After the animal is killed, if the owner was absent and their address is known they must be informed of the termination

In Conclusion – What does the Law say about Animal Cruelty in South Africa?

There are many forms of animal abuse identified in South African law, too many to list here, but the most common forms include

  • Beating
  • Dehydrating
  • Starving or,
  • Unnecessarily harming pets.

Additionally, it is illegal to keep animals in parasitic or excessively dirty locations or to fail to provide adequate medical care to them.

What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?
What is the Law on Cruelty to Animals?

Multiple agencies have been set up to prevent and prosecute animal abuse, the most prominent of these are the SPCA and the AACL. In situations involving alleged animal abuse, people are encouraged to contact the SPCA rather than taking matters into their own hands as the SPCA has a certain level of authority in such matters and ordinary citizens may face legal repercussions.

Once called, the SPCA will conduct an investigation into the alleged abuse, this may result in a warning and follow-up visit, however, in instances of extreme abuse, the agency will attempt to receive a warrant from the local magistrate in order to seize the animal and potentially arrest the owner.

If an animal attacks someone the liability will normally fall on the owner with few exceptions. Police officers are allowed to kill animals that pose an immediate threat or animals that they believe are excessively injured or diseased after certain conditions have been met.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although in many instances, our posts cite the constitution, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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2 Responses

  1. May 16, 2022

    […] than normal. Reactive Investigations – SPCAs also send investigators out to respond to reports sent in by concerned groups. These instances, for example, can involve minor disputes in which a neighbour or passerby believes […]

  2. June 7, 2022

    […] SPCA has also been given the authority to seize mistreated animals in certain […]

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