Last year, 1871 dogs and 222 cats were abandoned by their owners in Hong Kong, according to data from the city’s Agriculture, Fisheries, Conservation Department (AFCD). Most of the abandoned animals, unfortunately, end up being put to death.
Irresponsible owners ultimately have to shoulder the blame for the animals’ deaths, but the sad fact is that those people always escape punishment.
According to the Rabies Ordinance (Chapter 421), abandoning animals is an illegal act. Owners throwing away their pets without giving reasonable explanation could be given up to HK$10,000 fine and six-months imprisonment.
However, it is not an easy task to gather sufficient evidence to press the charges, as a spokesperson for the AFCD told HK Animal Post. That’s why until now, not a single owner has been fined or jailed for abandoning their pets.
The situation has shown that the law enforcement on animal abuse prevention is ineffective in Hong Kong.
To redress matters, many members of the public are calling for the introduction of “Animal Police”, a new team tasked specifically to deal with animal issues. Discussions are underway among animal welfare organizations as to how that matter should be taken forward, but the most viable suggestion is to establish a new department under the existing Police Force.
Taiwan, Holland and United States have set some precedents.
In 2011, New Taipei City assigned 34 police officers to serve as Animal Police personnel. They have been trained to deal with animal abuse cases. If they discover on the internet videos or pictures of animal abuse, they will conduct proactive investigations.
Meanwhile, the Party for the Animals in Holland fought and successfully established animal cops back in 2011. The police officers receive a 12-day training program on animal-related knowledge. They have to carry out police duty on normal days, but would focus on dealing with animal abuse cases when there are such complaints or reports.
In Hong Kong, there is also an urgent need for legislators to update and revise the animal welfare laws. The current animal protection rules are far from adequate.
Amanda Whitfort, associate professor of law at Hong Kong University and a long-time animal rights advocate, described the city’s animal laws as outdated.
The Animal Cruelty Ordinance was enacted in 1935, and it has not been comprehensively updated since. Under Hong Kong law, animal cruelty is a criminal offence, that could bring maximum penalty of HK$200,000 fine and imprisonment for three years. However, the prosecution rate has remained extremely low through the years.
“Sometimes it is not that the police don’t want to take action, it’s that they lack the proper legal instruments to do so,” Whitfort explained to Timeout magazine.
She gave an example. “If you see a dog locked in a cage and deprived of water, you can’t say it’s a case of animal abuse until the dog is completely dehydrated under the current situation.”
Animals have to suffer a lot before the police can actually take action. The legislative mindset is still focused on cruelty rather than animal welfare, which is a reactive mentality and not a preventive one.
Talking about preventive measures, the government should also launch education programs to teach people to respect all living things in order to get to the root of the problem.
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