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Animal Cruelty Wither The Laws That Come With No Bite [ Part 2/2 ]

 


At the time of this writing, the Animal Welfare Bill is being tabled for discussion. The Bill is in the stages of finalization and, I am reliably informed, should see the light of day very soon.

Regardless, even if this Bill is eventually passed into an Act, it is still in my opinion a woefully insufficient sanction in comparison to the crime. One of the main reasons for having punishments is so that it acts as a deterrent for society. If the punishment for a crime far outweighs the benefits of committing it, sociologists would argue, human nature dictates that people will generally shun committing it.

On this score, a fine of RM50,000.00 only hurts financially, and an increase of 6 months jail term a woefully short amount of time. We must remember that we are talking about a maximum sentence here, meaning it affects people who have committed an act of cruelty of the highest degree. We are not talking about a cheeky neighbor who occasionally flicks water into your dogs eyes to irritate the pooch or a grumpy jogger who uses a stick to strike at random strays who harasses him on his morning runs. For those who are convicted of such crimes of a lesser degree of cruelty, the Courts still retain the discretion of handing out an appropriately lighter sentence.

No, when talking about high level cruelty here, I am referring to sadistic souls who wouldnt bat an eyelid when plunging a rusty metal rod into the throat of a dog and leaving it chained and bleeding by the roadside. Im talking about demented individuals who would pour scalding water on cats simply because they get a high from hearing the terrifying screeches cats make when getting burned alive, or twisted people who would dump small animals inside construction holes and then bury them alive with wet cement. In my books, those convicted of such crimes deserve nothing less than getting flayed alive, having salt poured into their wounds and then getting strung, drawn and quartered in the town square. But hey, since were not living in a Braveheart or Robin Hood times, I would settle for something maybe a little less gut-wrenching. But lets get real, a paltry RM50,000.00 or 1 year jail time?! Compared to their deplorable acts, such a sentence would tantamount to a friendly pat on the perpetrators wrists. Such a sentence would fly smack in the face of animal welfare and would be akin to perpetrators sticking the middle finger to people who have fought, and still are fighting, the long-drawn battle for protection of animal rights.

What I would love to see introduced in any new animal welfare legislation is powers for Courts to blacklist convicted animal abusers. There could be some form of national registry for convicted offenders. Veterinary services, animal shelters and even pet shops should then be directed not to allow people appearing on such blacklists not to be able to adopt or buy a pet. Of course, this has to be balanced with imposing time frames or durations to such bans so as to enable offenders to repent and be given a second chance upon expiry of the ban, according to the severity of their offence.

Perhaps they could even introduce a system where this blacklist can appear on some official website. This way, animal shelters, owners and lovers can cross-check certain individuals or shops before sending their pets to board in temporary animal hotels and such.

Of course, the main thrust of any tightening of animal welfare laws should be increasing the custodial sentence. 6 years should be an adequate maximum jail term, with the option of whipping depending on the severity of the crime.

The purpose of such laws is to send a message out to any would-be offender that society takes protection of animal rights very seriously.

Apart from the law itself, enforcement (or the lack thereof) is another battle animal rights advocates have continually had to face. See, the law is not a living thing. It cannot think, move on its own or feel. It needs relevant people imbued with certain powers to guide it, use it and carry out its purpose.

When it comes to preventive laws against animal cruelty under the Act, it is the police and the veterinary authority who are supposed to breathe life into it. Section 45 of the Act sets out the numerous powers that these authorities have to bring perpetrators to justice. Despite this, the reality is that there has been an observed lackadaisical attitude taken towards reports of animal cruelty. From the numerous accounts of people whom I personally know who have made reports of animal cruelty, there is a common and unanimous expression among them, and that is of disbelief and shock at the apathy and lack of urgency shown by the authorities towards their reports.

Even if culprits are arrested or apprehended, the ratio and frequency of convictions is disheartening. Writer Jeswan Kaur, in an online article dated 31 January 2011 (http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/opinion/2011/01/31/amended-animal-act-still-lacking-bite/) stated that since 1953, there has only been 2 or 3 convicted animal abusers who had been jailed, and with each custodial sentence ranging for a few days only. In another online article dated 23 April 2012 (http://www.venusbuzz.com/archives/17218/coming-soon-animal-welfare-bill-in-malaysia/), Nina Hidayat states that in 2009, 657 animal abuse cases were reported but none of them were prosecuted. When you compare these to the amount of animal cruelty being reported, the figures just dont add up. Amongst the many developed countries in the world, Malaysia has consistently ranked low in terms of animal protection laws.

It is as if we have double standards towards crime depending on the victim involved. If word goes out that a young boy has just been abused, the level of urgency and/or attention society gives to the crime differ far greatly compared to reports of a pet getting beat up by its owner. There should not be a difference. An animal is made up of flesh and bones as much as we are. They feel pain, they feel terror and they get injured. Just like us.

However, just because animals cant articulate or verbalise against such abuse, we tend to turn a death ear to their cries. This includes the very people empowered under the Act to protect them. I am not painting a wide brush stroke by proclaiming that all of them are apathetic towards animal cruelty, but the harsh reality is that whilst there are always a few good men amongst them, there are the majority that are in need of an attitude revamp. Perhaps the new Bill sets out measures to correct such attitudes, for example greater accountability and/or response time for any reports being made. It is certainly hoped so.

Until the new Act is officially passed and we can see the full reach of its effects, all we as members of the public could do is to continue spreading awareness and being proactive (within the confines of the law of course) against animal cruelty.

On a micro level, we should stay vigilant and immediately take steps to report any animal cruelty we encounter. We should thereafter follow up actively and put pressure on the authorities to act on such reports. On a macro level, spreading the word amongst fellow animal lovers also helps in this day and age of instantaneous information and social media. We should, whenever possible, spread awareness and constantly harass our elected representatives and politicians to ensure that firstly, the law reflects the realities of our situation, and that enforcement of existing laws are done promptly, swiftly and with full commitment.

In a nutshell, our laws for prevention of cruelty to animals severely lacks in bite and commitment. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope yet that the Animal Welfare Bill, if passed, would represent something of a shifting of attitudes towards animal welfare. It represents the struggles of animal rights advocates all these years in educating the public and pushing for better protection of animal rights. And we cant stop here. We have to keep pushing, keep fighting and keep spreading the awareness so that hopefully some day, the laws will genuinely reflect the commitment of the public in sending out a strong and unequivocal message that it is definitely NOT alright to trample on the rights of our furry friends.

 

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Yu Jian

ONG YU JIAN is a lawyer by profession (in Messrs Raj, Ong & Yudistra), animal lover by passion. He is a 30 year old Penangite who loves football, movies, music and having a pint or two and a laugh with the lads at the pub. A staunch believer that all men and animals were created equal, he believes in the power of the scribe (or keyboard) to give voice to the segment of community that cannot speak up.

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