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Demystifying Malaysia’s Animal Welfare Bill

 


On 17 June 2015, the Dewan Rakyat passed a landmark Animal Welfare Bill after four years of debate. Before the passage of this bill, the law pertaining to animal abuse and neglect had lacked teeth – definitions were weak and penalties were laughable. Those who struggled long and hard to draft this Bill and then to get it passed concede that the new law is not without flaws. It is, however, a vast improvement over what came before.

Since few of us have the patience to plow through 50 pages of the Bill, let’s look at the key points.

First, the Bill is effective in only peninsular Malaysia and the Federal Territory of Labuan, not in Sabah or Sarawak.

 
Who will be enforcing the law?

The Bill will be enforced by Animal Welfare Officers, who will be specially trained and equipped; they will have authority to investigate, enter properties and seize animals when appropriate. So far, a total of 160 enforcement officers and 2,500 technical employees from the Veterinary Services Department (DVS) have been identified to be appointed as Animal Welfare Officers.

 
Time to get licensed!

The Bill will require all individuals and businesses that carry out activities involving animals to obtain a license. The licensees must ensure animals are free from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

 
What are owners required to provide for animals in their care?

  1. a suitable environment;
  2. a suitable diet;
  3. ability to exhibit its normal behavior patterns;
  4. housing with or apart from other animals, as required for its species; and
  5. protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease

Failure to provide these things can lead to a fine of RM15,000 – RM75,000, a prison sentence of up to two years, or both.

If an Animal Welfare Officer serves an animal’s owner with a list of needed improvements, and the owner fails to comply, he or she may be hit with an additional RM10,000 – 50,000 penalty and/or a one-year jail term.

The term “suitable” is maddeningly vague, of course – how do we define suitable environment and diet for each species? That point appears to be at the discretion of the DVS officers; it is not spelled out in the Bill.

 
How does the Bill define ‘cruelty’?

This is a very long list, but it’s worth reading! There are some gaps and loopholes in it, but it very clearly bans any kind of animal fighting, canned hunts, dynamite fishing, and nearly all other behaviours that we would expect the new law to prohibit.

The bill still permits ear-cropping, tail-docking, de-clawing and de-barking, but only when performed by a licensed veterinary surgeon. This will disappoint many animal-lovers who would love to see these procedures banned altogether.

A person is guilty of cruelty if he:

  1. cruelly beats, kicks, overloads, tortures or terrifies any animals;
  2. overrides and overdrives any animal, [with the exception of equestrian sports, which are already covered in another bill]
  3. either causes an animal suffering in the ways mentioned above or allows others to do so;
  4. fails to provide an animal with sufficient food, drink or shelter;
  5. causes any unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal;
  6. transports any animal in such manner as to cause unnecessary pain or suffering;
  7. employs any animal which is ill, unfit, wounded, or otherwise unfit to be so employed;
  8. mutilates any animal in any manner including ear cropping, tail docking, defanging, declawing, branding, piercing or debarking unless as done by a licensed veterinary surgeon;
  9. skins, roasts or kills any live animals for superstitious belief through a procedure which causes pain and suffering to the animals;
  10. extracts any parts of any live animals through a procedure which causes pain and suffering to the animals for the purpose of getting skins, oils or other animal products;
  11. dynamites, electrifies or poisons any streams, rivers or other water bodies for the purpose of killing, harvesting or catching animals;
  12. keeps any animal chained or tethered with a short or heavy chain or cord, or hobbles the legs of animal;
  13. confines any animal in any cage or other receptacle which does not measure sufficiently in height, length and width to permit the animal’s natural movement;
  14. offers for sale any animal which is in pain by reason of mutilation, starvation, thirst, overcrowding or other ill-treatment;
  15. possesses, without reasonable cause, any animal which is suffering in pain by reason of mutilation, starvation, thirst, overcrowding or other ill-treatment;
  16. abandons any animal in circumstances which it is likely to suffer trauma, pain or suffering by reason of relocation, starvation, thirst, injury, or illness;
  17. allows any animal to go out unattended in any place while the animal is infected with infectious disease;
  18. as an owner, causes the death of any diseased, disabled or injured animal;
  19. takes part in fighting or baiting of any animal, or provides a place for the purpose of fighting or baiting any animal;
  20. promotes or takes part in any shooting match or competition of which animals are released from captivity for the purpose of such shooting; or
  21. takes part in any sport or activity involving the use of animals, where such animals are subjected to cruelty, either during the sport or activity itself or while in training.

It’s worth noting that the following are not defined as cruelty:

  1. any acts which the Board has determined to be accepted veterinary management procedures;
  2. any baiting of any pest animals for the purposes of public health, disease control, population control and relocation for conservation done by any lawful authority or any person approved by the Board; or
  3. feeding of animals as food for other animals in accordance with their natural eating habits.

The penalty for an animal cruelty conviction is now RM20,000 – RM100,000, a prison term of up to three years, or both.

This is such a tremendous improvement – the previous penalty for animal cruelty was a maximum fine of RM200. Yes, you read that right: 200 Ringgit.

 
What about animal testing?

The new Bill includes guidelines that limit animal testing to licensed academic institutions, and the health and behavioural needs of the animals to be tested should also comply with the Board’s regulations.

 
Does the Bill say anything about killing animals?

Yes, quite a lot, actually, and there are some loopholes here, too.

One topic that has elicited outrage amongst animal-lovers is the inhumane treatment of strays – particularly stray dogs – by council employees who are sent out to catch and/or destroy them. The Bill prohibits killing animals with firearms and poisons (unless authorised by DVS for purposes of disease control). The definitions of animal cruelty (see above) should prohibit the other inhumane methods that the dog-catchers have typically employed. Here, though, is a potential loophole: Killing animals is permitted if “the killing is done for the purpose of animal population control by any authorized authority under any written law”. In other words, if a city council decides that it needs to cull stray dogs and cats, it is permitted to do so, using a method that doesn’t violate the terms of the Bill.

Killing animals is permissible when…

  1. the killing of the animal is for the purpose of human consumption;
  2. the animal is incurably ill as determined and certified by the veterinary authority or a registered veterinary surgeon;
  3. the killing of the animal is deemed necessary to end the suffering of such animal as determined and certified by a veterinary authority or a registered veterinary surgeon;
  4. the killing is done to prevent an imminent danger to the life or limb of a human being;
  5. the killing is done for the purpose of animal population control by any authorized authority under any written law;
  6. the killing is approved by the animal ethics committee at the end of any research, testing and teaching procedures; or
  7. the killing is for any other reasons as determined and certified by a veterinary authority or registered veterinary surgeon.

In short, euthanasia is still legal, as are livestock slaughter and legal hunting.

 
So when we see instances of abuse or neglect, what do we do?

The most direct form of action is to report the issue to DVS. You can find the contact details for your nearest state and district DVS offices here. Ring up your local office and ask to speak to an Animal Welfare Enforcement Officer.

Staff at various animal welfare NGOs, such as PAWS and SPCA will have no greater enforcement ability than they had before. They cannot enter a property without the owner’s permission; they cannot seize an animal against an owner’s will. If you feel that an issue in the Klang Valley can be resolved by speaking to and educating a pet-owner, by all means, report it to SPCA Selangor’s animal welfare inspectorate. They can investigate and have a chat with the owner about improving the animal’s care.

If you would like to read the full, comprehensive version of Malaysia’s Animal Welfare Bill 2015, you can download the PDF version here.

Let’s hope this new law will be coupled with strict, effective enforcement, and we will see a significant reduction in animal abuse cases in Malaysia!
 
 


 

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Amanda Coffin

Amanda is a long-time resident of Kuala Lumpur. She lives with two cats and is PetFinder.my's Forum Moderator. She also owns her own freelance writing and editing company, Stylus Inc.

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3 Comments

  1. avatar

    Thank you for taking your initiative to read and summarise for us. Hopefully the implementation of the new law will change the animal rights scene in Malaysia. Thank you once again.

  2. avatar

    Thank you for sharing Amanda. May I have your contact? Id like your opinion on something if that’s ok. Thank you.

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