An interesting case for animal law enthusiasts is currently playing out in Dandenong, in the outer-suburbs of Melbourne, Australia.
In February 2011 Dandenong resident Vu Ho was fined $220 for keeping a pet sheep on a suburban block and ordered to remove the sheep. Ho argues that the sheep is a loved member of the family, a pet (rather than livestock). He does not want to relinquish her and has taken the matter to the Victorian Supreme Court, with a further appeal likely to follow.
Animal activists are calling on Dandenong City Council to allow Ho's sheep (creatively named Baa) to remain living on the property.
While that would probably be an optimal outcome for both Ho and Baa, I am curious to see how the matter plays out in court.
Animals were once an integral part of the city scape. Livestock, including sheep, routinely lived close to humans and would be droved into the city for sale and slaughter.
With urban modernisation animals were removed from cities, suburbs, and now apparently outer-suburbs. This occurred as the price of land increased and as city authorities became more concerned about hygiene.
Of course one type of animals was permitted to remain in the city - the companion animal.
Companion animals come in many shapes and sizes. So how do we know when we are looking at a companion animal? Well, according to Dandenong City Council a companion animal will never come in the shape of a sheep.
The definition I would offer is that a companion animal is an animal kept for non-economic purposes, and they normally lives in small numbers either close to the family home, or in it.
In my book 'Animals, Equality and Democracy' I argue that one of the problems with legislative inconsistency in animal welfare laws is that companion animals fare better than other types of animals. That conclusion appears to apply to Baa very strongly. Yet I also feel that Dandenong City Council does have some difficult questions to answer. Why can't Baa be a pet? Which other animals cannot be a pet? Why can't a single sheep live on a suburban block.
It should be a very interesting case. Stay tuned!