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.
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.
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.
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.