Who’s to blame when dog kills cat on the Sunshine Coast, Australia?

There is a tortuously tricky decision to be made about which owner is liable in terms of criminal behaviour and compensation under a civil claim after a cat wandered onto a next-door neighbour’s property (front garden) and was killed by the dog living at that property on the Sunshine Coast in Australia.

Sunshine coast Australia

Sunshine coast Australia. Photo: Zest Cat Rental

The complexity in liability and criminality arises because the Sunshine Coast Council is one of those rare jurisdictions where they insist that “cats need to be contained to their property at all times. This may mean you need to adjust your fencing and build a cat enclosure if you want your cat to exercise outside.”

The cat’s owner broke that rule, and they are apologetic. But they may be fined even though they lost their cat as a result. But what about the dog’s owner? Their dog killed their neighbour’s cat. Is the owner liable to pay compensation? Normally the answer would be yes but in this instance the cat is trespassing against the council’s rules.

On a strictly legal basis, trespass doesn’t apply to cat, but this council’s rules are clear. In terms of compensation, the cat’s owners were negligent in allowing their cat to roam onto the unfenced front garden of their neighbour’s property.

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The attack happened there. Dogs don’t have to be confined to their owner’s property, but they must be under the control of their owner. That would apply to any country with decent regulations.

And I would suggest that a dog should be under the control of their owner inside their home as well as outside to protect visitors to the home or babies for instance. And a dog owner should be prepared for the unexpected. I would argue that this dog owner is liable to pay compensation despite the fact that the cat should not have been there under the law of this council. However, the cat owner’s negligence in not complying with the rules would mitigate the damages.

It is entirely possible too that the dog owner will be fined by the council for failing to comply with rules concerning dog control and supervision.

The council have a long list of rules regarding dog owners including that “dogs must be within close proximity of the owner and be responsive to their commands”. And dogs must be “under your direct supervision at all times and not harassing, intimidating, attacking, stalking, mounting or body slamming another animal or person.”

A council spokesperson said: “Owners may also be subject to other penalties and regulations if their pet is involved in an attack…”

The dog may be deemed dangerous by the council. Although it is natural behavior.

That probably applies to both inside and outside the home. In conclusion, my guess is that both the cat owner and dog owner are going to be fined under the Sunshine Coast Council’s regulations and the dog owner might be sued by the cat owner for the loss of their cat.

I would doubt that they will sue because non-purebred cats have little value in terms of a claim for monetary compensation although when you ball together the emotional consequences to the owner a reasonable figuring compensation may be due.

This council is perhaps the most organised of any council in terms of managing and administering cat and dog ownership. Both cats and dogs need to be registered with the council and of course they must all be micro-chipped. It is incredibly rare for an obligatory registration process for cats to be in place throughout a council’s jurisdiction. I can’t think of any other at the moment.

Because dogs are registered it is easy for this council to lay with a dog dangerous if that dog has attacked other animals or people and this would place added restrictions on ownership.

P.S. The story comes from ABC News in Australia. Thanks.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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