Monday, April 19, 2010

Animal cruelty laws need more bite

"When people are cruel to animals they will be cruel to one another"- Herbert N. Casson

April 19, 2010
Stories by BAVANI M

LAWS governing animal welfare in Malaysia have no bite. Take Section 44 of the Animal Act 1953 (2006 Amendment) which says that anyone guilty of an offence of cruelty to animals shall be liable to a fine of RM200 or imprisonment for a term of six months or both.

The sentence is too light and those found guilty hardly get the maximum sentence.

The governing authority with the statutory right to take legal action against animal abusers is the Veterinary Services Department (VSD). The VSD, however, has been accused of taking a lackadaisical approach to enimal cruelty cases.

Lack of enforcement by the department has been blamed for the rise in cruelty cases in the city.

Even municipal councils have been branded as toothless because of a lack of enforcement of the by-laws.

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Selangor marketing and communications manager Jacinta Johnson-Chan said a total of 657 cruelty cases were reported last year with 90% of it involving dogs but none were prosecuted.

The rare abuse cases that went to court resulted in the owners getting off with just a paltry fine.

However, the case of seven-year-old German Sheperd Sheena, who had to be put down after suffering abuse at the hands of her owner, sparked nationwide protests from animal activists pushing for a change in legislation.

Animal lovers got together to sign a petition calling for, among others:

·An increase in the fine from RM200 to RM10,000;

· Increase the jail term from six months to two years;

· A lifetime ban on animal ownership for those charged charged with abuse; and

· Urging the public to be responsible pet owners.

A total of 83,032 signatures were collected and the petition was submitted to the Prime Minister’s Department in January, 2007.

There has been no news since then and, despite all the efforts of animal welfare groups, nothing has changed in terms of enforcement.

SPCA chairman Christine Chin blames it on the lack of enforcement by the authorities concerned and the lack of willpower to change things.

“Such paltry sentences send out the wrong message to the public that it’s alright to abuse animals.

“Despite having these laws, no one really gets punished for cruelty and that’s why it keeps happening again and again,” she said.

“Municipal councils also don’t seem to address cruelty cases despite having provisions to do so.

“In fact, the councils are contravening their own by-laws,” she said, adding that local authorities seemed to be only interested in catching strays and putting them down.

Animal rights lawyer N. Surendran said that municipal council by-laws come under the Local Government Act 1976 and there were sections dealing with cruelty to animals.

However, Surendran said he had never heard of anyone being taken to court under these by-laws.

Surendran, who is also the president of the Malaysian Animal Rights and Welfare Association (ROAR), cited the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) by-laws as an example.

He said that Section 10 of the 2007 by-laws stated that any person who ill-treats a dog can be fined not more than RM2,000 or be put in prison for not more than a year or both.

He said the council’s enforcement officers could take action on cruelty cases but, for some reason, they refuse to do so despite having clear proof.

Surendran cited the recent KTM dog abuse case as an example.

“Despite identifying the perpetrators, the authority concerned chose to do nothing.

“This is not the first time though, there have been numerous cases with proof of animal abuse and the governing authorities always seem to turn a blind eye,” he said, adding that in the KTM dog abuse case the governing authority was the VSD.

“Malaysian animal laws are one of the worst (see chart) in the world and the situation has certainly put a dent in the image of the country as a developed nation.

“It sends out the wrong perception to foreigners when they see and hear about animal abuse cases,” he said.

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