Casual Legal: The Animal Protection Act

By Andrew Skeith
Reynolds Mirth Richards Farmer LLP
Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Service Provider

There is an important piece of legislation that grants peace officers various powers to deal with animals who are in distress: the Animal Protection Act, RSA 2000, c A-41 (the “Act”).

Municipalities should have a clear understanding of  these powers, and their availability, when it comes to dealing with distressed animals.

The Act gives peace officers the following powers:

  • The ability to lay charges against the owner or any person who causes or allows the animal to be in distress
  • The power to take any action that the peace officer deems reasonably necessary to relieve the animal’s distress, which can include such things as arranging food, water, shelter, and medical treatment for the animal but can also include taking possession and custody of the animal away from the owner
  • The power to enter into premises or to search premises in order to take custody of an animal in distress, or to remove the distress of the animal
  • The power to inspect premises of businesses to ensure animals are not in distress.

In the event an animal is found to be in distress and a peace officer takes possession of an animal, the peace officer will typically deliver the animal to a caretaker -- usually either a veterinarian or a shelter, depending on the animal’s medical needs. The costs associated with caring for the animal (such as shelter, water, and food), are ultimately the responsibility of the animal’s owner. The caretaker who provided the care usually must pursue the owner to recover their expenses.

If a charge is laid against a person for causing distress to an animal, the animal should not be returned to the care of the person responsible for causing distress to the animal in the first place. The Act allows a peace officer to apply to the Court of King’s Bench for a court order granting custody of the animal to the peace officer pending the disposition of the charges against the person or owner of the animal.

If a custody order is sought, it should provide that in the event the individual is found guilty (or pleads guilty), ownership of the animal should permanently be granted to the peace officer, who can then place the animal in a shelter, adoption agency, or elsewhere to ensure the animal receives proper care. Otherwise, there may be situations where the ownership of the animal is unclear, even if the owner is found guilty of causing distress to the animal.

To access Alberta Municipalities Casual Legal Helpline, Alberta Municipalities members can call toll-free to 1-800-661-7673 or send an casuallegal [at] (email) to reach the municipal legal experts at Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP. For more information on the Casual Legal Service, please call 310-MUNI (6864) or send an riskcontrol [at] (email) to speak to Alberta Municipalities Risk Management staff. Any Regular or Associate member of Alberta Municipalities can access the Casual Legal Service.

DISCLAIMER: This article is meant to provide information only and is not intended to provide legal advice. You should seek the advice of legal counsel to address your specific set of circumstances. Although every effort has been made to provide current and accurate information, changes to the law may cause the information in this article to be outdated.