Cru­elty con­cerns

In con­junc­tion with World An­i­mal Day to­mor­row, Star2 looks at the ris­ing in­ci­dence of an­i­mal abuse in the coun­try, and the need to stem the tide.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CHIN MUI YOON

AN­I­MAL wel­fare in­spec­tor Glyn Roberts has en­coun­tered nu­mer­ous cases of an­i­mal cru­elty in many coun­tries. But there was one in Malaysia that sick­ens him to this day.

A man had tied his mon­grel out­side his house in Se­ta­pak, Kuala Lumpur, to keep watch over his car. The dog be­gan bark­ing un­der the sear­ing mid­day sun. A neigh­bour, in­censed by the in­ces­sant bark­ing, came out with a parang and slashed the dog.

“The dog re­ceived a deep gash from one side of its head to its neck. Its owner tied a ban­dage around its wound. It was left that way for days un­til the SPCA took it away and it was put down be­cause it was suf­fer­ing tremen­dously. I don’t un­der­stand why the owner didn’t get an alarm for his car in the first place,” Roberts says.

Although the dog owner and a neigh­bour iden­ti­fied the at­tacker, both were too ter­ri­fied to press charges.

“If he could slash my dog, he could just as eas­ily do it to me,” the owner re­port­edly said.

An­other case last year was that of a man who tied an old dog to the back of his car and dragged it along the road in Sec­tion 17, Petaling Jaya, Se­lan­gor, leav­ing a bloody trail. The ter­ri­fied dog was bleed­ing from its badly blis­tered chest and all four paws. Sev­eral neigh­bours wit­nessed the in­ci­dent, but none wanted to tes­tify against the per­pe­tra­tor, who sup­pos­edly had men­tal ill­ness.

Both cases never made it to court for lack of wit­nesses and pros­e­cu­to­rial ev­i­dence.

Will the ex­pected amend­ment to the ar­chaic An­i­mal Act 1953 next year make a dif­fer­ence?

The Agri­cul­ture and Agro-based In­dus­try Min­istry is amend­ing the Act dur­ing next June’s Par­lia­men­tary sit­ting. It is pro­posed that the ex­ist­ing penalty of a max­i­mum fine of RM200 and six months’ jail term be in­creased to RM50,000 and a year’s jail for con­victed an­i­mal abusers.

The An­i­mal Act 1953, among oth­ers, aims to con­trol the move­ment of an­i­mals into and out of Penin­su­lar Malaysia, and cov­ers the slaugh­ter of an­i­mals, cru­elty to an­i­mals, and an­i­mal care and wel­fare.

“The ex­ist­ing penal­ties are too light,” says lawyer Wong Ee Lynn, an SPCA vol­un­teer.

“In con­trast, un­der the Malaysian Pe­nal Code, the penalty for killing or maim­ing any an­i­mal of the value of RM5 and above is im­pris­on­ment which may be ex­tended to a term of two years, or a fine, or both. So un­der the An­i­mal Act, if you were to stomp on and kill three stray kit­tens, you are li­able to a max­i­mum im­pris­on­ment of six months, which to our knowl­edge has never been meted out for the of­fence of cru­elty to an­i­mals.

“But if you were to maim a chicken be­long­ing to your neigh­bour, you may be sen­tenced to two years’ jail. The fail­ing of an­i­mal pro­tec­tion laws in Malaysia is that it is an­thro­pocen­tric – hu­man eco­nomic con­cerns take prece­dence over an­i­mal wel­fare.”

The in­creas­ing num­ber of an­i­mal abuse cases that have sur­faced over the past few years has put the coun­try in the spot­light. (See story on page 4.)

Thanks to so­cial me­dia like YouTube and Face­book, the once dis­parate in­di­vid­ual an­i­mal res­cuers and wel­fare groups have be­come a strong and de­ter­mined force that cre­ated waves of protests and out­rage each time an abuse case is high­lighted.

How­ever, many cases did not come close to a court­house due to the lack of ev­i­dence or wit­nesses, and no fol­low-up by au­thor­i­ties un­der the Depart­ment of Vet­eri­nary Sciences (DVS) which is em­pow­ered to pros­e­cute an­i­mal abuse cases. The DVS comes un­der the purview of the Agri­cul­ture and Agro-based In­dus­try Min­istry.

Take the case of the stray dog that was caught at the Ke­pong KTM sta­tion in Kuala Lumpur in March last year. A wooden stick was shoved down its throat, and its neck and leg were tied to a grille. Pic­tures of the bleed­ing dog sur­rounded by its own fae­ces cir­cu­lated in e-mails, prompt­ing KTM Bhd to is­sue a state­ment claim­ing that the dog was dis­turb­ing pas­sen­gers, hence it had to be caught.

“There were CCTVs po­si­tioned around the sta­tion. Were there footage which im­pli­cated a par­tic­u­lar worker? Did the au­thor­i­ties even in­ves­ti­gate? These are im­por­tant point­ers in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion when no­body saw the of­fence be­ing com­mit­ted,” says Roberts.

Vi­tal ev­i­dence

Roberts is the founder of Global An­i­mal Wel­fare So­lu­tions (GAWS), a Bri­tish-based or­gan­i­sa­tion which con­ducts train­ing in an­i­mal wel­fare and law en­force­ment for NGOs, an­i­mal shel­ters and or­gan­i­sa­tions around the world. He was in Kuala Lumpur ear­lier this year to con­duct the first An­i­mal Wel­fare Leg­is­la­tion and Crime Scene In­ves­ti­ga­tion work­shop at the SPCA.

Par­tic­i­pants in­cluded lawyers, vet­eri­nar­i­ans, stu­dents and independent an­i­mal res­cuers – all seek­ing to un­der­stand the process of gath­er­ing ev­i­dence.

“It’s easy to get emo­tional on see­ing cru­elty be­ing in­flicted on a de­fence­less crea­ture, but that doesn’t get us any­where, with­out a clear chain of ev­i­dence,” says Roberts, who has 18 years of ex­pe­ri­ence with the RSPCA in Bri­tain.

“A video clip has to clearly show where and when the video was shot so that it is sub­jected to Malaysian laws. You need to think like an in­ves­ti­ga­tor in a crim­i­nal case. How would you present the ev­i­dence in court?”

Pho­tos of abused an­i­mals some­times do not work on their own ei­ther. They must be sup­ported by additional shots which clearly show the environment where the crime took place.

Roberts high­lights an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a large horse farm in Bri­tain where there was a se­ries of im­ages to prove de­lib­er­ate cru­elty: water hoses near the sta­bles; when they were turned on; horses gulp­ing thirstily and fight­ing over the trough; al­gae in­side stag­nant pails of water; bales of hay that were not fed to the horses. Ev­ery an­i­mal was counted and num­bered.

Some­times, in tak­ing im­me­di­ate ac­tion, vi­tal ev­i­dence is lost. For ex­am­ple, upon see­ing a dog run­ning down the street bleed­ing from a rusty col­lar cut­ting into its neck, the an­i­mal is rushed to the vet. The case might wind up on YouTube and the dog owner iden­ti­fied, but the in­crim­i­nat­ing col­lar is gone. There

is noth­ing con­crete that points to the owner as the cul­prit, as he could claim the dog had run away.

In Bri­tain, in­di­vid­u­als have the right to pros­e­cute an­other for sus­pected an­i­mal abuse, but in Malaysia, the SPCA can only take down re­ports of in­ci­dents wit­nessed, col­lect ev­i­dence and sub­mit the ev­i­dence to the DVS; only a govern­ment body has the power to ini­ti­ate pros­e­cu­tion.

“Tech­ni­cally, you should be al­lowed to sub­mit a re­port di­rectly to the DVS. But be­cause it is al­most al­ways a crim­i­nal of­fence, you are of­ten ad­vised to lodge a po­lice re­port first be­fore bring­ing all rel­e­vant in­for­ma­tion and ev­i­dence to the DVS,” adds Wong.

“As in­di­vid­u­als or groups, we need to help the of­fi­cers to en­force the law ev­ery step of the way if we are to bring an­i­mal abusers to jus­tice,” says Sabrina Yeap, who was SPCA an­i­mal in­spec­tor for three years be­fore she started an­i­mal wel­fare NGO, Furry Friends Farm, in Se­lan­gor.

“Many of­fi­cers feel it’s not worth their time and ef­fort when the max­i­mum fine is a measly RM200. But each time a case comes to court, it stresses the im­por­tance of chang­ing the present laws which are in­suf­fi­cient to pro­tect the wel­fare of an­i­mals. We need a track record in court, whether we win or not.”

Dur­ing her term with the SPCA, Yeap has seen sev­eral cases be­ing suc­cess­fully pros­e­cuted in court. In 2005, Yeap worked closely with the DVS to nail en­gi­neer Dou­glas Lien San Chong who was hauled to court for gross ne­glect of his Ger­man Shep­herd, Sheena.

A post-mortem re­vealed that Sheena’s in­ter­nal or­gans had shrunk due to pro­longed star­va­tion. Lien was fined RM100. The DVS ap­pealed but Lien failed to show up for sub­se­quent hear­ings and the case was dropped.

“What is des­per­ately needed is ed­u­ca­tion for own­ers so that they will be re­spon­si­ble for their pets. Many peo­ple buy pup­pies when they are small and cute, but once they grow into bois­ter­ous dogs, they are dumped,” laments Wani Muthiah, founder of Malaysian Dogs De­serve Bet­ter (MDDB), an NGO staffed by vol­un­teers who res­cue and re-home strays.

“Pedi­grees are so cheap nowa­days. We need to re­turn to the past when they cost more and are ac­knowl­edged by MKA (Malaysian Ken­nel As­so­ci­a­tion) breed­ers. It’s one way of curb­ing the prob­lem. Right now we have back­yard breed­ers who cash in on the sit­u­a­tion with cheap dogs for sale.

“And would harsher penal­ties make a dif­fer­ence when some of the worst an­i­mal of­fend­ers are our mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils?” asks Wani. “What’s more press­ing is for coun­cils to have more hu­mane meth­ods of deal­ing with strays. Pets that were seized from homes end up with fa­tal vi­ral dis­eases af­ter spend­ing just one night at the coun­cil-run dog pound.”

So what de­fines cru­elty to an­i­mals? DVS di­rec­tor-gen­eral Datuk Dr Ab­dul Aziz Ja­malud­din says de­tails are still be­ing fine-tuned, but he gave an ex­am­ple: “If we for­get to feed our dog, keep it caged and it can­not seek food on its own, that’s cru­elty.”

Roberts ex­plains that an­i­mal wel­fare in­spec­tors in Bri­tain use the Five Free­doms as a bench­mark to as­sess the qual­ity of life of our pets:

Free­dom from hunger and thirst: Pro­vide ac­cess to fresh water and food.

Free­dom from dis­com­fort: Pro­vide suit­able shel­ter and a com­fort­able rest­ing area.

Free­dom from pain, in­jury and

dis­ease: Pro­vide im­me­di­ate di­ag­no­sis and treat­ment.

Free­dom to ex­press nor­mal

be­hav­iour: Pro­vide suf­fi­cient space, proper fa­cil­i­ties and the com­pany of sim­i­lar species.

Free­dom from fear and dis­tress: Pro­vide con­di­tions and treat­ment which do not cause men­tal stress.

The SPCA re­ceives 60 to 70 re­ports of an­i­mal abuse cases each month, mostly of dogs chained and caged all day, with­out proper shel­ter. Many house­holds use dogs as con­ve­nient “live” alarm sys­tems. Some tie their dogs and leave them on the nar­row ledges run­ning along the drains out­side their houses.

Last year, 663 cases of abuse were re­ported from all over the coun­try, in­clud­ing cases of zoo an­i­mals that were re­ferred to the Wildlife Depart­ment. Petaling Jaya tops the list at 75 cases.

Lo­cal coun­cils have also come un­der fire for their in­hu­mane ways of catch­ing and killing strays when vets should have been called upon to eu­thanise the an­i­mals. Many strays died ag­o­nis­ing deaths in the hands of these dog catch­ers, who are un­trained and un­qual­i­fied to carry out eu­thana­sia. Not a sin­gle case has ever made it to court.

Chin Mui Yoon/the Star

In­hu­mane: A stray dog that was las­soed by a coun­cil worker and later shot. Do dogs de­serve to be treated this way?

a stray spends its days for­ag­ing for food.

(be­low) this poor dog bears the marks of wires looped around its body. It is tied to a tree and food is left on the ground for it to eat.

(Left pic) a 2002 filepic of a dog pound. the writer re­ports that lit­tle has changed since.

dog lover V. Loganathan, 77, keep­ing an eye on a stray dog which has given birth to a lit­ter of pup­pies. Un­sym­pa­thetic peo­ple would want to re­move the dogs to re­duce the num­ber of strays in their area.

Keep­ing your dog caged with­out food or water con­sti­tutes abuse.

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