Animal Law

dogAnimal law is a new and emerging area of law and concerns protecting the rights of nonhuman animals, assisting owners with issues regarding their pets and taking action against those who have mistreated and harmed animals. Couper Geysen – Family and Animal Law recognise the sentience of nonhuman animals, the importance of their companionship, and advocate the promotion of their welfare and rights. Our goal is to engage with civil law to provide an opportunity of justice for nonhuman animals.

Taking action where animals have been harmed and abused

This area largely concerns questions of the welfare of nonhuman animals and whether their needs and interests are being met. We advocate the best interests of the animal victim and their right to have access to basic requirements of life, including (but not limited to) water, shelter, food, sanitary living conditions and medical attention.

Wrongful death and negligence

While the current legal system holds the status of humans and nonhuman animals to be different, we maintain that the life and wellbeing of nonhuman animals are just as important as that of humans. Where a nonhuman animal has been wrongfully killed or injured, or has been injured as a result of negligence of a third party, we will employ the civil law to provide avenues for compensation.


Where there are complaints of an animal causing nuisance as defined by tort law, we will endeavour to organise appropriate investigations and reports by suitable agencies. In some matters, such as a civil dispute between two individuals, it may be possible to mediate a solution between the parties; however in cases of public nuisance extra steps may be necessary.

Veterinary negligence/malpractice

Veterinary practitioners owe a duty of care to their animal patients, which create certain fiduciary obligations that must be observed. If there are circumstances where these obligations have not been met and an animal has been injured or harmed as a result, the civil law provides a right of recourse. In order to determine whether a practitioner has acted negligently or engaged in malpractice, it is necessary to examine the facts, as well as industry standards of practice.

Body corporate exclusion of pets

While the benefits of companion animals are well documented in the area of anthrozoology, there is often the conflicting interest between a tenant who wishes to enjoy the company of another species, and a landlord or body corporate who seeks to protect the value of the property and interests of other tenants. However in circumstances where the animal poses no threat or inconvenience to the property or neighbours, it is possible to resolve the matter peacefully through open communication and a mediated resolution.

Dangerous dog cases

If a claim is made against your dog for being vicious or unfit for society, it can be a traumatic experience for both you and your companion, particularly if it is to be destroyed. It is possible to address such decisions by making appropriate investigations into the allegations, particularly where the act was uncharacteristic or provoked, and suggesting rehabilitation where possible. We promote an approach that considers the nature of the individual dog, rather than its breed.

Family law – companion animals

In family law matters, the interests of nonhuman animals often need to be protected throughout the legal process that may unfold. In the event of a breakdown of relationship and subsequent custody disputes, we aim to act in the best interest of the animal, and recommend mediation where possible.

Another area of family law where nonhuman animals can fall victim is in cases of domestic violence. There has been a well documented link between abuse perpetrated against animals and abuse or violence against other humans. In circumstances where violence against nonhuman animals is evident, it can either be a matter of animal cruelty within the home, or linked to domestic violence against other family members as a tactic of isolation, intimidation and manipulation. In either case, interests and welfare of the victims must be recognised and protected, in order to prevent the cycle from continuing.

Estate planning (for pets)

Planning ones estate can be an emotional process, and requires delicacy in drafting to maintain a clear intention. Ensure your companion animal/s receive proper love and attention in the case that they survive you, and talk to us about the options available for maintaining their standard of living and care.

In circumstances of the loss of a companion animal we recommend grief counselling, as it is unlikely that a legal recourse will provide the healing process necessary for mourning.

If you have concerns in relation to a nonhuman animal, however are not sure what category it might fall under, please do not hesitate to contact us to discuss the matter further.

Alternatively, if the matter is urgent or relates to a case of animal cruelty, or for more information, please contact RSCPA