In an Australian first, a new law in the ACT will recognise animals as sentient beings in terms of welfare requirements and treatment.
This essentially means that an animal is acknowledged as capable of feeling emotions in some capacity, and that the mental state of an animal can affect its welfare.
Fines will be increased for mistreatment, and issues around abandonment will also be acknowledged as punishable.
However, questions have been raised over how enforceable such laws are, and many people are skeptical of just how capable an animal is of feeling emotions.
Associate Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare at CSU, Raf Freire, said it was not unbelievable that animals have an emotional capacity.
"Think about animals that do have emotions, which is us," he said.
"If you think about our emotions, and think in terms of biology, think about why we might have them, they serve us to deal with really complex situations, so when making decisions, imagine us in a primitive environment. We constantly have to make decisions like going out and getting food, staying sheltered, always weighing up the pros and cons.
Professor Freire said it was emotions that help with the way we respond.
"If we are feeling happy or adventurous, we might go and explore new things. If we are sad we might be more withdrawn and take less risks," he said.
"Animals though, in the wild, are faced with exactly the same situations so it really is not too unexpected that they might have a similar process for solving those problems. It would be unusual to assume that humans are the only beings who have developed emotions out of the entire animal kingdom."
Wagga resident Kyle Hadden owns a Dalmatian, and said his pet demonstrated clear signs of havign an emotional capacity.
"When I first started dating my girlfriend, my dog Lexi would get jealous of her," he said.
"If we were cuddling on the couch or in bed, Lexi would jump up and wedge herself in between us with her back facing my girlfriend, and just give her this sassy stare."
An expert of animal behaviour, Professor Freire gave an example of how animal emotions are measured.
"Research currently looks at animals in having affective states, which are synonymous with emotions in humans. It was first shown in rats in a neat experiment repeated about 20 or so times with other species that shows something akin to moods influencing how animals respond," he said.
"Essentially, you train an animal with a particular action that leads to a positive reward like food, maybe in a bucket to the left, and then say a bucket to the right will lead to something unpleasant happening. From there, you put them in situations for certain amounts of time to induce a negative mood, like housing in confinement, something like that, compared to a positive scenario like playing or nose work in dogs.
"Then return to the training test, and present the bucket halfway between the two original placements. If the animal is in a positive state from the session of playing or the like, it will interpret the bucket in middle as approachable because it may get a treat, but after a negative scenario, the animal will avoid it at risk of an unpleasant response. It's called judgement bias."
When enforcing these new laws however, Professor Freire said subjectivity must come into play.
"Regulations do not have to be purely objective. We have plenty of regulations that are to do with what we find offensive at an emotional level, like freedom of speech," he said.
"There is evidence that animals respond to emotions, so they deserve to be treated as such. With a lot of regulations to do with the housing of farm animals, environments used to be quite refined and laws moved towards a specific measurement of space needed for 'quality of life' which was purely objective. But when you move to free range, objectivity doesn't necessarily tell us how the animal is doing.
"We definitely need different measures that perhaps focus more on what effect the treatment has on the animal, rather than being prescriptive of a space measurement."
In terms of whether or not these new laws would actually have an affect on cruelty rates, an RSPCA spokesperson said it was something they would follow closely, acknowledging that animal cruelty was difficult to measure.
"RSPCA NSW is watching the legislative amendments in the ACT with interest, and will be keen to see what impact they have on sentencing outcomes, and animal cruelty statistics generally," they said.
"Animal welfare is a complicated area, and the RSPCA uses all of the tools at its disposal to try and improve welfare outcomes."
While you're with us, did you know that you can now receive updates straight to you inbox each day at 6am from The Daily Advertiser? To make sure you're up to date with all the Wagga news sign up here.