More teeth for law to protect animals

PET-RELATED businesses must ensure their staff are trained to handle animals, while pet owners have been put on notice that they cannot neglect their animals. Owners must ensure their pets are provided with enough suitable food and water, and are not treated or confined in a way that would cause them pain.

These are among the requirements spelt out in changes to the existing animal welfare law that Parliament approved yesterday.

The changes to the Animals and Birds Act, which won support from all six MPs who spoke on it, include enhanced penalties.

For instance, business owners who do not provide training for staff who handle animals can be fined up to $5,000, face a maximum jail term of six months, or both. They can also be banned from doing business for up to a year.

Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC), who lent his support to the changes, said: "The amendments are timely and I am sure the updated legislation, backed by rigorous enforcement, will enable us to be better stewards and custodians of our fellow creatures."

Overall, the amendments make those in charge of animals - such as pet owners, shelters, fosterers and stores - more accountable for the welfare of animals.

As Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) put it, a key idea has been to eventually move from a reactive regime reliant on penalties and punishment to a proactive system which focuses on getting people to do the right thing.

Mr Yeo, who chaired the Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee that pushed for changes to the law, pointed to elements that have now been put in place: LThe National Development Minister will be empowered to make training mandatory for anyone in a business who handles animals for a living;

LThe authorities can issue codes and set standards for the proper care of animals;

LThe Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) can direct a person to take corrective action if he is found to have taken inadequate care of animals under his charge;

LCourts can disqualify a person from owning an animal or from working with animals.

Just as Mr Yeo acknowledged that the law was not a "magic bullet", MPs who lauded the changes also suggested ways that it can continue to be strengthened.

Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) said animal abusers should be given counselling and education to reduce the likelihood of their being repeat offenders. Ms Tin Pei Ling (Marine Parade GRC) had recommendations for improving the pet licensing process, to reduce cases of abandonment.

Speaking during the debate, Minister of State (National Development) Desmond Lee said the AVA will review rules on dog licensing to see if owners should inform the AVA when there is a change of ownership and provide details of the new owners.

He said a society's standards of animal welfare reflected its maturity and compassion, and also made the point that there were emotive and varied views on animal welfare which the Government has to balance in its management of animals, as well as when safeguarding public safety and health.

Mr Yeo indicated as much, saying when wrapping up the debate that animal welfare was a shared and collective responsibility among all parties.

Key changes

ANIMAL handlers, those who foster and care for pets temporarily, as well as owners are legally responsible for providing proper care for animals.

- New codes of animal welfare spell out what constitutes proper care. Failure to abide by them can be used as evidence to prosecute offenders.

- Both individuals and businesses that commit acts of cruelty or fail to provide duty of care will face tiered and higher penalties. Repeat offenders will face harsher punishments.

- Staff working with animals in relevant businesses must be trained in animal care and handling. A fine, jail term, or both will be meted out if this is not complied with. There will also be a temporary ban on the business.

- The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority will have more enforcement powers like issuing written directives to owners. Its officers can take pictures, audio and video recordings for evidence.

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