Animal abusers face harsh justice

Top News | Phoenix Un Apr 26, 2019
A three-month public consultation on a new animal welfare law is likely to start today, with the maximum penalty for animal abusers possibly reaching 10 years.

The Policy Address of 2018, citing frequent animal abuse cases, promised to hold a public consultation early this year on "preliminary proposals for legislation relating to animal welfare."

The proposals would "include exploring raising the penalties for acts of cruelty to animals and introducing animal keepers' responsibility of positive duty of care of animals."

At the moment, animal abuse falls under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance - anybody inflicting unnecessary suffering on any animal is liable on conviction to a fine of HK$200,000 and to imprisonment for three years.

Sources say the government might start the consultation today on replacing the old law with a new "Animal Welfare Ordinance," which would increase the punishment to combat animal cruelty.

The government has no clear plans on maximum imprisonment, but the public may choose from the range of four years to 10 years on a "dim sum paper" - people mark their choice with ticks - during the consultation.

The government also suggested authorizing courts to disqualify anybody violating the law from owning pets for a certain time or permanently.

The law would also authorize law enforcers to intervene in cases of animal maltreatment where the pet was not severely hurt or killed, and to enter private places to take the animals away.

A new concept of "pet owner responsibility" would also be introduced in the law, requiring owners to provide adequate food and living environment for pets, to guarantee legal protection for animals.

The law would also allow law enforcers to issue "improvement notices" to government officers to warn first-time offenders, and the offenders would be prosecuted if they breached the laws again.

The legislation is expected in 2021.

Lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu, dubbed the "cat lawmaker" who is well-known for his concern over animal rights, wants the government to take the opportunity to introduce animal police specialized in handling animal-related crimes.

He also said the legislation would be a key battle. "It's a golden time now and we can't fail, because if we fail, I don't know how long we will have to wait for another opportunity," he said.

Kwong believes the key would be increasing punishment - "we would like to maximize the punishment."

He also said he would propose during the legislation process to review the policy on euthanizing animals by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department. "They should ask for more money from the financial secretary, and should not kill animals arbitrarily with the excuse of lacking manpower and land," Kwong said.

But the chairwoman of the Society for Abandoned Animals, Noel Fan Wan-ching, said the laws might not regulate animal euthanizing if it was the pet owner who asked the AFCD to dispose of their pets.

"It's because the pet owners are the owners of the pets' chips, thus the pets are the property of the owners, meaning the AFCD may not find new owners for the pets," Fan said.

She also said the punishment for abusing animals should be increased, but a maximum imprisonment of five years would already be enough. "A punishment of five years in jail in addition to a fine of HK$300,000 will already be very heavy."

She also said the definition of feeding animals should be extended from pet owners to other cases such as construction sites, with dogs helping security there.

"Dogs are abandoned right after construction work is finished," she said.

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May 2019