Domestic Animal Legal Definition:

A pet; dogs, cats or other tame animals or birds and which serve some purpose for its owner or others.

Related Terms: Domitae Naturae , Ferae Naturae , Animal , Companion Animal , Wildlife

The term domestic animal is often defined in a statute, such as legislation dealing with cruelty to animals or residential tenancy.

For example, in the National Parks of Canada Domestic Animals Regulations, at §1 includes dependent beasts with backbones:

"Domestic animal means an animal of a species of vertebrates that has been domesticated by humans so as to live and breed in a tame condition and depend on humankind for survival."

Or §823.041 of Title XLVI of the Florida Statutes:

"Domestic animal shall include any equine or bovine animal, goat, sheep, swine, dog, cat, poultry, or other domesticated beast or bird."

These statutory approaches are consistent with the evolution of the common law.

ferret - LuluIn Biblical terms, Justice Wallace of the British Columbia Supreme Court, wrote, in Diversified Holdings:

"In the beginning, Genesis said mankind should have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

"However, as society became more sophisticated and man brought certain animals into a state of subjection, under English law at least it was considered appropriate to distinguish between those animals which under normal circumstances are usually found at liberty, animals ferae naturae, and those animals which are generally tame, living in association with man, animals mansuetae or domitae naturae.

"Domestic animals are the subject of absolute ownership, with all the rights, duties, privileges and obligations that legal relationship entails.

"Animals ferae naturae are not the subject of absolute ownership, although a qualified property in such animals might be acquired by taking or taming them or while they are on one's estate. An action for damage resulting from the trespass of animals existed only in the case of those animals in which a right of property could exist at common law. "

In 1883, Colam v Pagett, the accused was charged with cruelty to animals pursuant to the English Cruelty to Animals Act. The statute defined the protected class in an open-ended fashion but with an initial list which did not include birds (emphasis added):

"... and horse, mare, gelding, bull, ox, cow, heifer, steer, calf, mule, sheep, lamb, hog, pig, sow, goat, dog, cat or any other domestic animal."

The Court found that "any pet bird ... are clearly domestic animals...."

In 1894, Harper v Marcks, the British Court was faced with the issue of caged lions at a zoo. Justice Cave:

"These lions are not domestic animals.... They are really wild animals in confinement. The mere caging and keeping in captivity a wild animal is not enough to make it a domestic animal... They are kept in a cage and prevented by terror from obeying their natural instinct to tear the (zoo performer) to pieces."

His colleague, Justice Wright agreed with his brother Cave as to these particular lions but added:

"Animals, however wild by nature, may become domestic under some circumstances. I should think that leopards trained to hunt for their master, otters trained to catch fish and elephants trained to assist in the capture of wild elephants might be held to be domestic."

In 1940, camels were put to the test in McQuaker and were held to be domestic animals:

"Nowhere in the world are camels wild."

In 1870, the United States Supreme Court, in Spring Co., and after reviewing the distinctions between ferae naturae animals and those stated to be domestic held that:

"Domestic animals, such as oxen or horses, may injure the person or property of another, but courts of justice invariably hold that if they are rightfully in the place where the injury is inflicted, the owner of the animal is not liable for such an injury unless he knew that the animal was accustomed to be vicious; and in suits for such injuries such knowledge must be alleged and proved, as the cause of action arises from the keeping of the animal after the knowledge of its vicious propensity."

Other example of domestic animals may include ferrets (pictured above), hamsters, turtles or even pot-bellied pigs.

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