Reuniting lost pets legislation
Reuniting pets reforms under the Domestic Animals Amendment (Reuniting Pets and Other Matters) Act 2022 (RP Act) are effective from 1 October 2022.
The RP Act amends the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (DA Act) to allow participating vets and registered animal shelters (shelters) to directly reunite lost cats and dogs (herein referred to as pets) with their owners.
This reform follows an extensive public consultation process on the laws and processes relating to pet reunification, where community and stakeholder feedback has informed design of the final laws.
Under the amended DA Act, shelters and participating vets will be able to reunite lost pets with their owners more efficiently and without the need for a written agreement with local council under section 84Y of the DA Act.
Shelters and participating vets without an existing 84Y agreement are required to report certain data on the cats and dogs they reunite to their local council. This ensures council, as the primary regulators for domestic animal management, maintain appropriate and necessary oversight of dog and cat movements in their municipality.
Information will assist councils to follow up any compliance matters, such as supporting owners to keep dogs contained to the property or ensuring pets are appropriately registered. This helps maintain public safety, equity, accountability and transparency.
If a vet is unable to provide lost pet reunification services, they do not have to take the lost pet and may refer members of the public to other participating vets, shelters, or to the appropriate council.
Under certain circumstances, a vet or shelter must relinquish a lost pet to local council, to protect public safety and animal welfare. This includes situations where an animal is declared dangerous, is suspected to have been involved in a dog attack or the owner is not identifiable.
If you are collecting a lost pet from a vet, they can ask you to pay a reasonable fee to cover some of the reunification costs. Owners of lost pets are encouraged to consider paying this fee as vets are providing owners and their pets with a valuable community service. All pets must be returned to their lawful owner on collection whether the reunification fee is paid or not.
Pet owners are encouraged to keep their contact details current with their local council and microchip registry, to ensure lost pets are returned to the lawful owner in the event they become lost or injured. This can be done by visiting petaddress.com.au.
Vets and shelters can access more information about the reforms at Information for participating vets and animal shelters.
Deceased pets on council property
From 1 October 2022, council authorised officers and council contracted authorised officers are required to take all reasonable steps to check a deceased pet for identification if found on council land, and during the course of their regular duties.
Where a pet’s owner can be identified, council must attempt to contact and notify the owner of their deceased pet as soon as practicable.
Frequently asked questions
As soon as reasonably possible after finding a lost or stray cat or dog, you must take the animal to:
- the local council in which it was found or allow a council authorised officer to collect the pet from you; or
- a local vet that agrees to accept lost pets (providing a pet reunification service is voluntary for vets); or
- a registered animal shelter; or
- a person or business that has an 84Y agreement with the council in which the pet was found
No, this scheme is voluntary for vets and not mandated. If a vet is unable to reunite lost pets, they may refer members of the public to other participating vets, shelters, or to council.
Yes. Shelters usually have the capacity and capability to hold animals for the time required to reunite them with their owners. If they already have an 84Y agreement with the council on how to manage lost pets, they will be obliged to follow the process set out in that agreement and these reforms do not change current arrangements.
The new laws only apply to shelters and vet clinics without a council agreement under section 84Y of the Domestic Animals Act 1994 (DA Act). If a vet or shelter has an existing 84Y agreement with council that includes management of lost pets, it must continue to operate under that agreement.
Yes, if the local vet agrees to accept lost pets. Reuniting pets is voluntary for vets. It is recommended you contact the clinic before dropping off the pet, to make sure they can accept it.
Lost pets should be taken to a vet in the council it was found. Most lost pets live nearby, so taking them to a local vet helps to ensure they get home as quickly as possible. This reduces stress for the animal as well as their owner. Taking the pet to a distant vet could result in the pet not being reunited with its owner.
No. Under no circumstances should a pet be abandoned at a closed vet clinic or any other location. Pets have been seriously injured or have died after being left at, or tethered to, a closed vet clinic or shelter. You should come back when the vet is open or contact your local council.
Vets can request a nominal reunification fee, but cannot compel payment or make reunification dependent on payment.
Vets provide an important community service, and must balance this with competing business pressures. Some vets may request a nominal fee to help cover some of the costs involved in caring for and reuniting the lost pet, similar to council pounds.
If you are asked to pay a reasonable fee for reunification, please consider doing so to help vets to continue to provide this important service.
Yes. For some people it may be more convenient to call their local council and ask them to collect a lost pet they have found.
If a local vet does not accept lost pets and you are unable to find an alternate local vet that does, it will need to be provided to a council authorised officer to reunite the pet with its owner.
It is important lost pets get home to their lawful owner. To protect the pet’s welfare and the rights of its owner, the law requires lost pets to be reunited according to specified processes. There are instances where pets have been claimed through social media by the wrong people. This is a distressing outcome for the pet owner and a poor welfare outcome for the pet.
Local councils, shelters and participating vets all have the expertise and equipment to care for and reunite lost pets
The change delivers on government’s commitment to allow vets and registered animal shelters to directly reunite lost dogs and cats with their owners
This will improve animal welfare, by ensuring lost pets get home as quickly as possible, and reduce the burden on local councils by allowing vets and animal shelters to assist with direct reunification services.
The reforms only apply to vets and animal shelters without an existing 84Y agreement with council. Appropriate ownership verification, reporting and council referral requirements are included, to maintain public safety, equity, accountability and animal welfare.
The circumstances in which lost pets must be relinquished to council by a vet or shelter relate primarily to public safety, uncertain ownership and animal welfare. Lost pets provided to a vet or shelter must be relinquished to council if:
- there are concerns about the health or welfare of the pet, or if it has been neglected.
- the shelter or participating vet reasonably suspects it is a dangerous or menacing dog (based on its microchip information or dangerous dog collar).
- the shelter or participating vet reasonably suspects it is a restricted breed dog (i.e. Japanese Tosa, Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino, Perro de Presa Canario, American Pit Bull Terrier).
- the shelter or participating vet reasonably suspects the dog has been involved in a dog attack.
- the shelter or participating vet cannot identify the owner within 24 hours after receiving the pet, or cannot contact the owner in a reasonable time.
- the owner or their agent does not collect the pet within the agreed recovery period.
Once a pet is accepted by a vet or registered animal shelter, the pet is scanned for a microchip to obtain the owner’s contact details.
The vet or registered animal shelter will then contact council to verify ownership against the pet’s registration details, then contact the owner and provide a timeframe for pet collection. Owners can nominate someone to collect the pet on their behalf (their ‘agent’). If ownership could not be verified with council, the owner or their agent must provide evidence that satisfies the vet or registered animal shelter that they are (or represent) the owner. Proof of ownership could include a recent council pet registration renewal or vet bill. If there is any doubt over ownership, the pet must be provided to council to determine the lawful owner.
Shelters and participating vets must scan the pet for a microchip and make a reasonable effort to compare microchip information with council pet registration data in order to verify ownership. As council pet registration is renewed annually, it is likely to be the most accurate.
As lost pets may be delivered out of council operating hours, on weekends or public holidays, shelters and participating vets may not be able to verify ownership with council. Vets and shelters must therefore request proof of ownership, and must be satisfied that the owner or their agent (i.e. representative) is collecting the pet. If they are not satisfied that the right person is presenting to collect the pet, the pet must go to council to determine ownership.
A reasonable effort would include a phone call or email to council’s domestic animal management area during business hours, or contacting council’s after-hours ranger service (if available).
Pet owners, or their agent, must provide some evidence that demonstrates ownership of the pet, as listed on the animal’s microchip and/or council registration information. This could be a recently paid council registration or veterinary bill that shows the pet’s microchip number and owner’s details.
If there is any doubt over ownership, the pet must go to council to determine the lawful owner.
Aggression or intimidation from the public should not have to be tolerated by vet or shelter staff. If a situation gets out of hand, police may be called in to manage any threatening situations.
The recovery period is:
- the first 24 hours after the pet was handed in, or
- the period nominated by the vet or shelter, or
- a period agreed between the vet or shelter and the owner.
Contact your local council, they will instruct you on what you should do next. You can find out which council you live in on the Know your council website.
It is important that local councils, as the primary regulators for domestic animal management, maintain oversight of animal movements within their municipality.
Information will assist councils to follow up any relevant compliance matters, such as supporting owners to keep dogs contained to the property, or ensuring pets are appropriately registered.
Record keeping and reporting details are prescribed in the DA Regulations. It is a simple process for all participating vets and shelters, that requires collection and reporting of information such as:
- Phone number of person handing in lost pet (if provided)
- Date and time animal was handed in
- Whether the pet is a dog or cat
- The suburb or municipality the dog or cat was found (if known)
- The pet’s microchip number
- The council tag registration number and council name (if a microchip can’t be located)
- Owner’s name, residential address and telephone number
- Agent’s name and phone number (if agent is collecting the pet on behalf of owner)
Date and time pet was collected.
Vets and animal shelters can continue to reunite the pet using the microchip registry information. The owner or their agent will be required to satisfy the vet/shelter that they are (or represent) the lawful owner by providing some form of proof of ownership. If the vet/shelter are not satisfied that they are the owner, or their agent, then the pet must be relinquished to council.
For pet owners
Current contact information will help to reunite you with your pet quickly if it becomes lost.
Microchips are permanently implanted in your pet. While council tags are an excellent way to help identify a lost pet’s owner, and must always be placed on pets when outside their owner’s property, they can get lost or damaged. Microchips look to provide reliable ownership information, so should be updated as soon as an owner’s contact details change.
Ownership details can be checked and updated on the Pet address website.
No. You must keep contact details current with both your council and microchip registry.
Pet owners can go to the Pet address website to identify the correct microchip registry, then update their details to ensure they are current. Contact your local council to update your details. You can find which council you belong to on the Know your council website.
Your pet will be transferred to local council and you will likely need to collect it from the council pound or shelter.
If the vet or shelter has been unable to verify ownership with council, the pet owner (or their agent) must provide evidence that demonstrates they are the pet’s owner as listed on its microchip or council registration information. This could be a recently paid council pet registration or veterinary bill, that shows your pet’s microchip number and its owner details.
If the vet or shelter was able to verify ownership with council, simple identification (like a driver’s licence) showing the owner’s name and address that matches microchip and council ownership details will suffice.
If there is any doubt over ownership, the vet or shelter is required to provide the pet to council to determine the lawful owner
Important: Do not expect a pet to be returned to you if you do not provide necessary identification or proof of ownership on collection. Vets, shelters and councils are required to determine that the pet is returned to the correct and lawful owner.
Aggression, intimidation, threats or violence towards vet or shelter staff (who are trying to verify ownership and providing a valuable community service) will not be tolerated. Police may be called to manage the situation.
The collection of ownership information is a legislative requirement for the pet reunification process under the Domestic Animals Act 1994. The information helps ensure pets are returned to their lawful owner, rightful homes and enables follow-up if any mistakes are made.
Any personal information collected will be managed in accordance with data and privacy laws.
Your name, residential address, phone number and your pet’s details will be verified and collected as required under the Domestic Animals Act 1994, in order to verify lawful ownership. Information will be provided to council to document pet movements, and enable compliance activities where required. If a person does not wish to provide these details to the vet or shelter, the pet will need to go to council to determine lawful ownership.
If your pet is unlucky enough to be injured while lost, it may require urgent veterinary treatment. If your pet requires any veterinary treatment that is not considered first aid, a vet will discuss options with you before providing treatment. This includes an agreement on treatment and costs.
Veterinary treatment costs are not related to the reuniting fee.
The RP Act makes additional legislative amendments to improve administration of the DA Act. Key changes include:
- improving administration of the Commercial Dog Breeder scheme and Pet Exchange Register
- clarifying existing Authorised Officer inspection powers, including facilitation of remote compliance functions
- confirming that non-racing greyhounds, walked on a lead outside the owner’s property, do not require a muzzle
- clarifying definitions and court banning order powers.
Early proclamation has enacted all ‘other matters’ reforms from 1 June 2022.
This page will continue to be updated with more details as the ‘reuniting pets’ changes come into effect.
The Domestic Animals Amendment (Reuniting Pets and Other Matters) Act 2022 (the Act) includes various legislative amendments to reinforce, clarify and improve administration of the puppy farm reforms, including:
- providing clarity on the number of dogs that can be approved for a commercial dog breeder (up to a maximum of 50).
- clarifying that the Chief Veterinary Officer can recommend specific conditions be imposed on a commercial dog breeder approval or renewal.
- increasing the time period within which the Minster must make a decision on commercial dog breeder applications or renewals from 40 to 60 days, to allow enough time for required processes, inspections, and Ministerial consideration of recommendations and reports.
- clarifying that the Minister must give notice to the relevant council regarding a refusal to grant or renew a commercial dog breeder approval.
Various amendments have also been made throughout the DA Act to remove any ambiguity about existing Authorised Officer monitoring, entry, search and inspection powers over breeding domestic animal businesses.
In 2019, the Pet Exchange Register (PER) was established to issue unique source numbers to be displayed in pet advertisements and improve traceability of pet sales in Victoria.
To improve administration of the PER and associated compliance activities, the Act introduces amendments to:
- require microbreeders applying for a source number to provide information on any convictions or findings of guilt for an offence under the DA Act, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986, regulations under these Acts or offences against equivalent laws in other jurisdictions.
- require all source number applications to include the applicant’s address and contact details.
- enable a person to apply for a source number for the purpose of providing it on their pet’s microchip record.
Source numbers have been traditionally issued to breeders, domestic animal businesses and those intending to advertise a pet for sale. Changes introduced on 1 July 2020 require a source number to be listed on a pet’s microchip; this amendment facilitates compliance with that requirement.
The Act includes the following amendments relevant to the powers, duties and functions of officers authorised under the DA Act:
- A new provision allows authorised officers to require a person to produce a document or record when investigating suspected non-compliance.
Similar provisions exist in other Acts. The reform enables regulators to approach telecommunications companies and addresses difficulties in determining a person’s identity when pet advertisements include only a mobile number.
The provision provides a reasonable excuse for a natural person to refuse to comply, if doing so would incriminate them.
- The Act amends the circumstances in which an identity card needs to be produced. Identity cards will not need to be produced when exercising powers by post or electronic communication, or if the request is unreasonable in the circumstances.
The changes were introduced to allow authorised officers to perform their duties remotely, especially during emergencies like COVID-19, floods and bushfires.
- A new provision makes it an offence for a person to threaten, abuse or intimidate an authorised officer or a person assisting an authorised officer, consistent with similar offences in other legislation.
- Amendments have been made to provide more detail and standardise instruments of appointment when appointing departmental and restricted authorised officers. Instruments of Appointment will now specify the period of appointment and applicable locations, as well as relevant provisions and powers that can be exercised.
- Allowing RSPCA Victoria general inspectors to obtain information from an animal registry service (microchip registry) without needing to first apply to the Secretary of the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR). This amendment will facilitate more efficient investigations and compliance activities.
The Act introduces the following changes to mirror practices currently in place via Governor in Council exemption orders:
- amendments to reflect that non-racing greyhounds, walked on a lead outside the owner’s property, are not required to wear a muzzle.
- amendments so anyone advertising a Greyhound Racing Victoria (GRV) greyhound for sale can do so without needing to obtain, or having to include, a PER source number. GRV has a traceability system which tracks greyhounds prior to their retirement from the industry.
An administrative error relating to a legislative cross reference was also corrected, to ensure GRV can retain custody of greyhounds seized under section 82B(2)(a) of the DA Act.
Greyhounds must be leashed when outside the premises of their owners.
Greyhounds are, however, permitted to be off-lead if they are being coursed, exercised or trained on land dedicated for that purpose. Leashing exemptions also apply to greyhounds participating in obedience training classes or being exhibited for show purposes.
Greyhounds can have poor recall and may instinctively give chase to something that grabs their attention. Leashing requirements aim to ensure greyhounds always remain under the effective control of their owners, given their size, training, natural instincts, and capacity to reach high speeds in a short time.
Under the DA Act, local councils already have the power to establish dedicated pet greyhound off-leash areas. The Victorian Government has encouraged councils to consider this power, by writing to each council Chief Executive Officer and providing them with a set of guidelines on relevant laws and considerations for establishing greyhound off-leash areas safely.
A potential option may be councils allowing pet greyhound owners to use existing off-lead dog parks between specified hours or on specified days. If existing off-leash dog parks cannot be made safe for greyhounds, councils may need to build a new facility to ensure greyhounds can be properly supervised and don’t hurt themselves or anyone else.
Councils also develop Domestic Animal Management Plans (DAMP) in consultation with their communities. Residents wishing to advocate for off-leash greyhound areas are encouraged to contact their local council, as this may inform local solutions as part of DAMP development.
In 2016, the Government established a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Legislative and Regulatory Framework Relating to Restricted Breed Dogs. A key recommendation from this Inquiry was to maintain the requirement for greyhounds to be on-lead in public.
As a result of the Inquiry’s recommendation to review Victoria’s muzzling and leashing policies for pet greyhounds, the Government consulted extensively with Greyhound Racing Victoria and many greyhound rescue and rehoming groups before it repealed muzzling requirements for pet greyhounds in January 2019. As part of that consultation, several groups indicated support for maintaining leashing requirements.
The Act makes a suite of minor and technical amendments to the DA Act to improve administration, animal welfare and compliance outcomes, including:
- Amending the definition of a ‘recreational breeder’ to ensure that they are registered with the Applicable Organisation (AO) as a breeding member and that their breeding females are also registered with the AO. Changes also require an Applicable Organisation to notify the DJPR Secretary when a person resigns as a breeding member from the organisation.
- Increasing flexibility for Governor in Council exemption orders to now allow for the exemption of a person or class of person – and the power to apply, adopt or incorporate any standard, code of practice or other document to an exemption to ensure there are relevant controls that can also be applied to the activity.
- Clarifying that a Magistrate Court can make an order prohibiting a person who is found guilty of certain offences listed under section 84WA of the DA Act from keeping or keeping for the purpose of sale, or selling, an animal of a specified species.
- Adding new provision to section 84WA of the DA Act that allows the Magistrate Court to make an order that prohibits a person found guilty of offences listed in that section from working for a recreational breeder or microbreeder.
- Aligning the foster care registration fee period with the existing registration period for pets, to facilitate easier administration of fees.
- Allowing the Minister to delegate the power to declare an organisation as a declared bird organisation.
- Enabling the Secretary to delegate powers, duties and functions to persons not employed under the Public Administration Act 2004 (PA Act). This is required as certain officers appointed outside the PA Act are heavily involved in DA Act administration, operation and regulation (e.g. RSPCA Victoria, Council Chief Executive Officers, GRV).