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Dog and Cat Control (Ontario)
Legal Guide

Chapter 1 - Overview
(01 August 2019)

  1. Introduction
  2. Dogs and Cats

1. Overview

This Dog and Cat Law (Ontario) Guide integrates the several Ontario laws that deal with dogs and cats ideally into a comprehensive, coherent whole. Prior to the 2019 update the guide was labelled "Dog and Cat Control Legal Guide" but both the statute and the case law have shown that this not merited any further - the law is slowly moving beyond that.

This gradual development emanates from changing social morays (largely urban-based) and has shown it's most recent legal change with the addition of the OSPCA's species-specific 'care standards'. I also take some share of the responsibility for a development in animal-positive law in civil litigation with a case addressed in Ch.7 ["Civil Liability, Trespass and Related Topics: s.6 Civil Liability for Harm on Dogs and Cats"], with what may be the first significant civil award for 'pet damages' for an intentional dog killing.

2. Dogs and Cats

The law of pets in Ontario is largely the law of dogs. And that law is mostly 'control' law, dealing with dogs and their potential to cause harm to human safety and, frankly, the 'nuisance' that dogs can subject humans to with their natural behaviour.

So we see much of the guide devoted to DOLA (Dog Owners' Liability Act), the ARA (Animals for Research Act)(which it shares with cats) and municipal bylaws which have overwhelmingly focussed on dog danger and nuisance. Only with recent amendments to the OSPCA ("care standards" for dogs) have we seen any development in the 'welfare' side of things for either dogs or cats, that area having been static with the OSPCA Act and the Criminal Code anti-cruelty provisions (only penalty increases in 2008) for generations.

Cats, despite their roughly 'equal' population (some would say more) with dogs in making up most pets, only share the dubious honour of their role in the Animals for Research Act (ARA) at the sticky end of the dog and cat control regime. And that role is not on the 'danger' side of things, only the nuisance.

Beyond that the most significant body of law bearing on cats is property law, and even that is diminished by the fact that cats are only 'property' to the extent that Ontario's cold weather entices them to co-habit with humans. Having viewed and worked with cats from places as far apart as Malaysia to Greece I can testify to the reality that cats do often enjoy humans, but that is predicated on the food that we give them - when they can move on, they often do.

Outside the ARA, cats don't even share the same degree of legal complexity that most native Ontario wildlife do: beavers and ruffed grouse are devoted more legal ink than are cats. Coupled with their legal ambivalence, cats have a greater independence than dogs possess and with them we come close to the most independent, albeit symbiotic, and widespread conscious relationship that we have with any other species on the planet.

It is for this reason that cats are, whether they and we like it or not, the main 'voice' of animality to humans. Dogs are naturally acquiesent and subservient, it will take a lot a abuse for a dog to run away other than as a romp - but a cat can and will run away given the oppourtunity, indeed they often do that when things are fine 'at home'.

Cats may be the closest communication we have with 'free' animals. That status is important, and is going to be increasingly important as human destruction of ecosystems across the plant reaches it's tertiary stages. The choice that humans have between finally respecting nature on the one hand, or writing it off as an evolutionary artifact on the other, can only be made positively if we embrace a new relationship with animals - and that must be one based on respect. And most importantly, this cannot be abstract respect, dictated to us by our conscience as to what we should feel and do towards nature - that has been tried and failed. The respect must be something much more personal, even to the point of personal relationships we have with individual animals.

I don't know if the relationship that some of us have with cats and other animals is going to bear that political weight. Many people don't have any relationship with any animals, and with some it is entirely a negative, as with hunters and industrial agricultural. But I do think that the relationship we have with pets, particularly cats with their 'freer' mentality, holds greater hope for us together to recover what is left of a positive relationship with other species.


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Last modified: 03-01-23
By: admin