Region: Ontario Answer # 4012

What is considered animal abandonment?

Depending on where you live, the definition of “animal abandonment” will vary according to provincial animal protection legislation. However, all provinces and municipalities commonly refer to pets and companion animals when addressing animal abandonment – not wildlife.

Ontario animal protection legislation does not define “animal abandonment.” However, the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Humane Society (“Ontario SPCA”) defines animal abandonment to be

“when an owner or temporary caretaker of an animal leaves that animal in a public or private place (inside or outside) without intending to return for it and without making provision for its continued care.”

Common examples include where an owner dies, or when a pet becomes disruptive or too large.

What to do if you believe an animal has been abandoned

Sometimes, an animal that appears to be abandoned might just be a lost pet.

There are a number of things you can do if you find a lost or stray pet to try and find the guardian, including searching online (there are websites dedicated to lost pets). However, if you are unable to find the owner, and you think that an animal has been abandoned, you should call your local animal control or animal shelter to report the abandoned animal.

Most cities have a process to follow to report a lost pet. The Toronto Humane Society provides great information on what to do if you have found a lost or stray pet. They ask founders of lost pets to follow these steps:

  • Check for an identification tag.
  • Call 311 to connect the owner with their pet.
  • If no identification tag exists, call 311 for next steps.

You can also call Toronto Animal Services at 416-338-7297.

Provincial authorities often have their own process for more serious cases of animal abandonment. In Ontario, you should call 1-833-9-ANIMAL to report the abandoned animal to the Ontario Animal Protection Call Centre.

When is abandoning an animal an offence?

It is important to note that the mere act of abandoning an animal does not lead to liability issues. However, when an abandoned animal is in distress – as defined in provincial animal protection legislation and/or municipal by-laws – and the owner can be located, liability may arise.

Conditions of distress include:

  • Injured, sick, in pain or suffering;
  • lack of food, shelter, veterinary treatment;
  • unsanitary conditions;
  • abused or neglected.

Provincial legislation: offences, and penalties

Under section 15 of the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act it a regulatory offence to cause or permit distress to an animal.

If and individual is found guilty of this offence, under subsection 49(2) of the Act penalties include:

  • For a first offence: a fine of not more than $130,000, or imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or both; or
  • For a second or subsequent offence, a fine of not more than $260,000, or imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or both.

Municipalities: offences and penalties

City of Toronto

Chapter 349 of the Toronto Municipal Code addresses “Animals.” While the Chapter does not specifically prohibit animal abandonment, the by-laws impose specific responsibilities on animal owners to provide appropriate care for their animals. Abandoning an animal may be an act contrary to these specific responsibilities, and result in penalties imposed by the by-law.

Responsibilities imposed on animal owners can be found at section 349-6, which include:

  • Providing adequate and appropriate care for the animal. This means that the animal owner must:
  • Provide food of sufficient quantity and quality,
  • Provide access to water of a drinkable temperature,
  • Access to shelter that is sufficient to protect the animal,
  • Veterinary care, etc.

If a person contravenes any provision under this Chapter, they may be liable to a fine of up to $100,000, and other penalties if applicable.

Criminal Code offence

It is a criminal offence as an animal owner to abandon an animal in distress. Section 446(1) of the Criminal Code states that every one commits an offence who:

“being the owner or the person having the custody or control of a domestic animal or a bird, or an animal or a bird wild by nature that is in captivity, abandons it in distress or wilfully neglects or fails to provide suitable and adequate food, water, shelter and care for it.”

If charged with this offence, individuals may be found guilty of:

  • an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than two years; or
  • an offence punishable on summary conviction.

What should you do if you can no longer care for your pet?

If you find you are unable to continue caring for your pet, there are alternatives to consider before surrendering it, including:

  • Reaching out to family and friends for help
  • Determining the cause of pet behavior issues and treating them
  • If allergies are an issue, reduce pet allergens in your home i.e., limit the animal’s access to certain rooms, try an air purifier
  • Contact your local animal shelter for more advice.

If you are still unable to keep your pet, provinces and their municipalities have processes in place to allow you to safely surrender your pet.

For instance, the City of Toronto provides a process for surrendering an animal at a local animal shelter by appointment, regardless of where you live in Toronto. A surrender fee is charged and will vary depending on the pet being surrendered. However, it may be waived or reduced depending on the owner’s annual household income. Visit the City of Toronto website for more information on how surrender your pet.

What if someone other than a private citizen finds an abandoned pet?

In some provinces, legal authorities may have responsibilities under provincial animal protection legislation in cases where they have found an abandoned animal and they choose to take it into custody.

In Ontario, the PAWS Act does not provide for the specific responsibilities of legal authorities who come into contact with abandoned animals. However, section 36 states that if the Chief Animal Welfare Inspector takes an animal into its care, and no person is identified as the owner within a prescribed period of time, the animal is forfeited to the Crown. This prescribed period of time is five business days as established by the regulations. In addition, section 62 and the regulations provide that an animal shelter will be deemed to be the owner of an abandoned animal if no person is identified to be the owner within five business days; or no person has claimed the animal within five business days.

More info

Contact your local government for additional information on animal abandonment laws where you live. For more detailed information on offences against animals in Canada, view other sections of Animals and the Law, or visit our Links and Resources.

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