New bill against animal cruelty: Got teeth or not? activists ask

New bill against animal cruelty: Got teeth or not? activists ask
Some dogs under the care of the Animal Lovers League.

The Animals and Birds (Amendment) Bill is a "huge leap forward" and shows a commitment from the Government to protect animal welfare here, activists told The New Paper yesterday.

The Bill, which was passed in Parliament yesterday, will mean stiffer fines and longer jail terms for animal abusers.

Those who commit acts of animal cruelty face a maximum fine of $30,000 or three years' jail, or both.

Animal-related businesses face a maximum fine of $100,000 or three years' jail, or both.

Currently, those convicted of animal cruelty under the Animals and Birds Act can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to a year, or both.

Under the Bill, pet owners who neglect their pets will also, for the first time, face a fine and/or a jail term.

Individuals who fail to provide care for their animals face a maximum penalty of $20,000 or two years' jail, or both, while animal- related businesses face a fine of up to $100,000 or three years' jail, or both.

The changes will also require staff in animal-related businesses to be trained in animal care.

The enhanced penalties will send a strong message against animal cruelty, said Mr Louis Ng, chief executive of animal welfare group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres).

"The Bill defines cruelty (against animals), which I think is good. I hope this Bill will be a deterrent, as it will send a message that cruelty to animals is morally wrong," he added.

GOOD STEP

Ms Eunice Nah, volunteer chief advocate at the Agency for Animal Welfare, also said the Bill is "a good first step".

"It remains to be seen how effective the Bill will be," she remarked. "But I will choose to remain hopeful that more can done in the future."

Ms Joanne Ng, chief executive of the Cat Welfare Society, said the Bill has been "long awaited" and is a sign of a changing climate.

"More people now have an interest in the welfare of animals.

"But what we would like to know is how the authorities are going to enforce these rules, because enforcement is a key issue," she added.

In Parliament, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said the aim of the Bill "is to take a responsive and preventative approach to animal welfare and nip problems in the bud".

He pointed out that this is a better approach as compared to reacting only when it is too late, and pet owners have to be hauled up for animal cruelty amidst public outcry.

The amendments will also "instil responsible and appropriate behaviour in all stakeholders who play a part in an animal's life cycle".

The Bill was lauded as timely by all six backbenchers who spoke on it in an hour-long debate.

The Members of Parliament (MPs) also praised Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) - who chaired the Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee (AWLRC), which was set up in April 2012 to review the issue.

He also initiated the Private Member's Bill with fellow backbenchers Alex Yam, Gan Thiam Poh, Edwin Tong and Vikram Nair.

Private Member's Bills are introduced by MPs who are not Cabinet ministers.

However, Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) was concerned that if applied rigidly, the duty of care imposed on animal owners in the amendment may drive up pet abandonment.

In reply, Mr Lee said owners who take proper care of their pets need not fear running afoul of the law as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) will enforce the law "sensibly, fairly and even-handedly".

In his closing speech, Mr Yeo acknowledged that there will be challenges ahead. Successful prosecution requires credible evidence, he said.

"In this regard, I urge members of the public to step forward and render assistance to the authorities," he said.

The last major review of animal welfare legislation was in 2002.

According to AWLRC's report last year, cases of animal abuse handled by AVA grew from 377 in 2008 to 484 in 2012.


This article was first published on November 6, 2014.
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