The Pet Animals Act 1951 establishes a regulatory regime for "pet shops" under which local authorities (district and borough councils) are responsible for inspecting and licensing premises.
What kinds of animals are protected by the Act?
The Act establishes a regime designed to benefit the welfare of animals in the pet trade. "Animal" is defined by the Act to include "any description of vertebrate". It therefore applies to a broad range of animals, including all mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. The word "pet" is not defined, but, in the case of cats and dogs, the Act relates to those sold or kept "wholly or mainly for domestic purposes". Animals sold or kept "for ornamental purposes" are also included.
What kinds of establishments are covered by the Act?
The Act does not restrict the definition of "pet shop" to establishments visited by potential customers as the ordinary meaning of "pet shop" would suggest. Section 7(1) of the Act defines "pet shop" to include:
(i) carrying on at premises of any nature (including a private dwelling) of a business of selling animals as pets, and(ii) keeping animals in any such premises with a view to their being sold in the course of such a business, whether by the keeper of the animals or by any other person.
This definition is broad enough to cover premises that merely hold animals that are in the pet supply chain.
The regulatory regime
Section 1 of the Act lists five non-exclusive considerations for the local authority to take into account when deciding whether to grant a license. These are expressed as "the need for securing" that animals are:
a) kept in suitable accommodation,
b) supplied with food and water and visited at suitable intervals,
c) that mammals are not sold at too early an age,
d) that reasonable precautions will be taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and
e) that appropriate steps will be taken in case of fire or other emergency.
The local authority is to specify conditions in the licenses that they grant that appear necessary to secure those objectives. Keeping a pet shop without a license and failing to comply with a license condition are criminal offences.
Prohibition of selling animals on the streets and at markets
Section 2 makes it an offence to carry on a business of selling animals as pets:
(a) in any part of a street or public place, or
(b) at a stall or barrow in a market.
A subject of considerable dispute between certain local authorities and animal welfare campaigners has been whether one-day exotic animal fairs are prohibited by the section. These are events, typically held at leisure centers and racecourses, at which a number of breeders and dealers have stalls from which they sell animals.
On the plain wording of the section, it would appear that such events are prohibited, both because they are usually held in a "public place" and also because each trader will be selling animals at a market stall. The word "market" is not defined in the Act, but the word is not qualified by the word "outdoor" and the common law definition and ordinary meaning of "a market" is a concourse of buyers and sellers.
Prohibition on selling pets to children under 12
Section 3 makes it an offence to sell a pet "to a person whom he has reasonable cause to believe to be under the age of twelve years".
Detailed discussion of the licensing and regulation of pet shops
Pet Animals Act 1951