III. What are my legal rights regarding pet shops?
A. Animal Traders Licence
Under Reg 4(1) of the Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Animal Traders) Regulations (Cap. 139B) it is not legal to carry on a business as an animal trader without a licence. Besides, all premises used for the sale of animals are required to be licensed. Under Reg 13 of the Regulations, it is an offence to hawk an animal or bird or sell an animal that is unweaned, punishable by a level 1 fine (currently $2,000). Unlicensed trading carries a penalty of a fine at level 1 (currently $2,000). Trading from unlicensed premises carries a penalty of $1,000.
There is no separate licensing scheme for commercial breeding facilities. Along with pet shops, breeders are also considered to be animal traders under the licensing scheme. The exception which currently allows a person to sell his own pets, or the offspring of such pets, as a one off or occasional hobby breeder, is likely to be closed later this year, in response to strong public opinion that all animal traders should be licensed.
Licences are issued by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and require an animal trader to comply with health and welfare conditions set out by the Department (please click here for more information). Primary enclosures, housing facilities and outdoor areas are required to comply with the Department’s licensing conditions. Under Reg 5(3) of the Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Animal Traders) Regulations, the sale of diseased animals is prohibited. Members of the public who are concerned that licensing conditions in a pet shop/breeding establishment are not being met may contact the AFCD to investigate.
The conditions attached to an Animal Traders Licence under Reg 5(3) require that:
- All dogs for sale in licensed premises have a microchip device with an individual code number implanted under the skin (this microchip provides evidence that the dog has been vaccinated for rabies by a registered veterinary surgeon in Hong Kong; or, for imported animals, a registered veterinary surgeon in the country of origin).
- Before sale, dogs of over five months of age must not only have the above mentionedmicrochip implanted, but must also have a dog licence from the AFCD. This licence identifies the microchip number and the keeper of the dog (pet shop/breeder), and the licence for the dog should be transferred to the purchaser upon sale of the dog.
- The pet shop or breeder must have a scanner for reading the microchip devices in the dogs for sale available for customers on the pet shop premises at all times. The purchaser of a dog should ensure the dog he is purchasing has a microchip number that correctly matches the documentation before accepting the sale. Every dog has a different microchip number which is used touniquelyidentify the dog when issuing a license for it. Under section 21(3) of the Rabies Ordinance, owning an unlicensed dog is an offence punishable by a fine of $10,000 or six months imprisonment.
- All dogs must be vaccinated against distemper, parvovirus and infectious hepatitis before they can be legally sold. An animal trader is required to keep certificates for these vaccinations (issued by a veterinary surgeon) for every dog offered for sale. The vaccination certificate must state the dog’s personal microchip number. Similarly, all cats offered for sale must be vaccinated against feline panleukopaemia and feline respiratory disease. When a dog is sold the original vaccination certificate and license for that dog must be given to the new owner/keeper.
Breaches of the conditions of the Animal Traders Licence are punishable by a $1,000 fine.
B. Buyer beware
There is no general legal right to return an animal after sale and therefore purchasers should be cautious about buying animals without knowing their origin. Animals are goods and to buy one is to make a purchase of unknown quality. While there is an implied condition on sale that the animal is reasonably fit for purpose, there is no warranty as to its quality, unless such a guarantee is specifically provided by the seller. The legal rule of caveat emptor (buyer beware) applies.
At this time there is no legal requirement that prospective purchasers of animals be permitted to inspect the premises in which the animals for sale were bred. Purchasers also have no general right under the law to return animals to the breeder/pet shop if they become sick after sale. Prudent purchasers should insist on checking first hand the health and welfare of a puppy/kitten’s parents, the conditions in which the parents mated, and other breeding animals being kept by the breeder before purchasing the animal.
C. Internet sales
The conditions attached to an Animal Traders Licence are also enforceable against an Internet seller. Internet sales limit the opportunity for the buyer to check microchips, licensing, vaccinations and the health/sociability of the parents of any animal purchased. Where the buyer does not have an opportunity to check the state of the animals in detail before buying, any poor welfare or poor condition of the animals sold can be easily hidden from prospective purchasers. In particular, buyers should beware of the possibility that animals sold on the Internet may have been smuggled into Hong Kong from China where there are no animal welfare laws and the threat of rabies is of real concern.
To ensure that the animal you purchase is in good health, the most prudent choice is to avoid purchasing from animal traders altogether and adopt a pet from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) or other reputable NGOs.
D. Pet boarding facilities
Under Reg 2 of the Public Health (Animals) (Boarding Establishment) Regulations (Cap. 139I), all boarding establishments (including pet hotels) are required to have a licence from the AFCD. Operating such a business without a licence is an offence punishable by a fine of $2,000 (reg 4 of the Public Health (Animals) (Boarding Establishment) Regulations). The boarding establishment should have its current licence on prominent display. The AFCD also keeps a list of all licensed boarding facilities/pet hotels on its website and any persons wishing to board their animals should check that the premises has been licensed before leaving their animal alone at the facility. You may click here for the list. Any suspected acts of cruelty should be reported immediately to the police or the AFCD for investigation and possible prosecution. Consumer complaints that do not involve criminal activity should be reported to the Consumer Council. For more details, please go to “Consumer Rights“.
E. Grooming parlours or shops
While there is no separate licensing requirement for running a grooming parlour or shop, any grooming facility which provides accommodation for animals must have a pet boarding establishment licence (as described above). Many grooming facilities sell animals as well, as the business also operates as a pet shop. Grooming shops which sell animals must have an Animal Traders Licence for the premises (described above). Such a licence should be on prominent display. The AFCD also keeps a list of all licensed Animal Traders on its website. Any persons wishing to leave their animal at a grooming parlour or shop should check that the premises are safe for their animal before leaving it alone at the facility. Any suspected acts of cruelty should be reported immediately to the police or to the AFCD for investigation and possible prosecution. Consumer complaints that do not involve criminal activity should be reported to the Consumer Council. For more details, please go to “Consumer Rights“.
F. Animal adoption
Upon the adoption of a dog aged over five months, it is the duty of the adopter to have the dog’s licence transferred to his name (section 20 of the Rabies Regulation). The adopter should also ensure all vaccinations are up to date and take the animal to the vet for repeat vaccinations as necessary.
You should think twice before adopting an animal. The AFCD has prepared guidelines on things to consider before adopting animals, and also a list of NGOs from which animals are available for adoption. You may refer to the following links:
Guidelines on how to be a responsible pet owner; and
A List of Animal Welfare Organizations.