June 17, 2015 marked a momentous day for Malaysia as the Animal Welfare Bill 2015 was passed by the Dewan Rakyat. It proved to be one of those rare bills that garnered support from both sides of the political divide.
Animal lovers who were following the live debate on RTM1, spoke of how refreshing it was to see both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat MPs eloquently debate and support the new act.
In the words of SPCA's Selangor patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye - "While politics may divide us, let this new Animal Welfare Act unite us."
One of the key points of the act is harsher penalties for animal abuse - a minimum fine of RM20,000 and a maximum of RM100,000 or a jail term of up to three years or both, a far more severe penalty than the RM200 animal abusers had to pay under the Animal Act 1953.
As netizens celebrated the passing of the bill seen as a huge step forward in tackling cases of animal abuse and neglect, many people expressed scepticism on whether this new act would serve to effectively protect and grant dignity to the voiceless ones.
I must say that they do have a valid point, barely two days after the passing of the bill, an independent animal rescuer posted on Facebook about the sad plight of a malnourished stray cat which she had brought to a veterinary hospital in Petaling Jaya.
According to her post, the cat was in bad shape and needed to be boarded for treatment, but the vet told her that a deposit of RM1,000 was required for the boarding of stray cats and dogs. The rescuer had no choice but to take the sick cat home and feed her glucose water through a syringe, sadly the cat did not make it through the night, denied the expert medical attention she was severely in need of.
If even those whose job involves caring for animals can act in such a manner, what more the general public?
The hospital in question is one of two 24-hour veterinary hospitals in the Klang Valley, what if a stray cat or dog meets with an accident and is brought in by a good samaritan, would the hospital demand a huge deposit before accepting the animal for boarding? Why the discrimination against strays?
Though the passing of the bill was welcomed by animal activists, animal lovers and lawmakers, for many people out there it makes no difference, they will continue keeping their dogs on a leash 24/7, dumping it when they no longer want it, leave home for weeks without providing food or water for a pet confined within their compound.
But little do they know that these are all acts of non-physical abuse as defined under the new act, an extremely thorough piece of legislation which puts a huge emphasis on responsible pet ownership.
Non-physical abuse under the act is defined as - confining animals in an area that restricts their natural movement, abandoning, allowing the act of cruelty against an animal by its owner, depriving a pet of food and water.
The public has a huge role to play in ensuring that owners like these face the music, for the law can only serve its purpose when cases such as these are reported with supporting evidence, otherwise, law or no law, the cycle of abuse and neglect will continue.
Tackling the haters
Many cases of cruelty have been perpetuated by people who say they "fear" an animal. Never mind that their supposed fear might seem ridiculous in the face of an animal who itself might be in fear and in need of protection.
Fear was the reason given by the man who shot two arrows at Brianna, an old and partially blind Rottweiler who stood outside his home looking lost. The incident which happened on May 13, 2014, soon went viral on social media, angering netizens.
Caught in a firestorm, the man an army personnel, said he was trying to protect his children and family, an explanation that certainly makes no sense, despite about 100 police reports being lodged against him and over 94,047 online signatures on a petition urging for justice for Brianna, no action was taken against the man.
Brianna who was already ill and weak at the time of her rescue, succumbed to tick fever at a clinic in Subang Jaya where she was being treated on May 16, 2014. It is hoped that under this new law, dogs who were abused like Brianna would finally get justice.
Fear and hate has also led to many innocent animals being poisoned, especially stray dogs who have the misfortune of being in non-canine friendly neighbourhoods. In late August 2014, ten dogs who lived in a car park near the RHB building at Jalan Tun Razak died after consuming poisoned meat.
According to the feeders who took care of the dogs, some people who used the car park were unhappy with the dogs roaming around and had lodged a complaint with DBKL, despite the feeders pleading for time to remove the dogs, they were found dead soon after.
Also in 2014, several independent feeders found strays under their care in residential neighbourhoods poisoned to death. Tainted meat was found near the carcasses of the dogs.
Poisoning continues to be a huge issue and this has been rightfully addressed under the new law. Cruelty offences listed under the act includes poisoning, beating, mutilating.
However in order for the grievous offence of poisoning to be addressed, those who discover such acts must take the right action.
Don't just take pictures of the dead dogs and cats and upload it on social media. Lodge a police report, notify the SPCA and the Veterinary Services Department. For the authorities to take action, you must furnish them with the evidence.
Many people are unaware of this, but once you notify the Veterinary Services Department, they will come and investigate the crime scene to collect evidence - the most important evidence being the carcass of the animal for the purpose of conducting a post-mortem and the tainted meat which will be analysed to determine if it contains traces of poison.
So don't rush to bury the animal and throw away any piece of meat found near them, in many past cases of poisoning, these valuable pieces of evidence was disposed off without a thought. For this new law to be effective in convicting abusers, it needs to be backed up with solid evidence.
Be their voice
During the tabling of the bill in Parliament, Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said he hoped the law would increase public awareness on the importance of animal welfare, which in turn would lead to more people coming forward to lodge reports with solid evidence and be willing to serve as prosecution witnesses in court.
The minister raises a very valid point here, the law can have no bite without public support.
If we choose to turn away from an animal in need or think that an animal who dies from abuse deserves no justice, then no matter how severe the penalty under the law, they will never get the justice they deserve.
Law enforcement can no longer turn a blind eye
In the past many people who have borne witness to animal cruelty have lodged police reports, only to have the police tell them that nothing can be done anyway. Which pretty much translates to - we will not investigate this case.
This is precisely what happened when Azra Azreen found a stray cat whom she had cared for since it was a kitten, tied up with a string and disemboweled in a field near her house in Seberang Prai sometime last November.
The cat who was two-years-old at the time of her death, was named Socky. Despite meeting such a cruel end, Socky never got the justice she deserved.
When Azra when to the Seberang Prai police station to lodge a report, she was told that nothing could be done even if she had a witness. Now how strange is that?
Once this new bill has been gazetted as law, I doubt law enforcement personnel can dissuade people from lodging reports on cases of abuse, especially if the evidence is staring them in the face.
In August of 2012, it was reported that a shop assistant was sentenced to a one month jail term by the Kuching magistrate's court for smashing five puppies to death on a concrete floor behind a shop lot on July 18 the same year.
According to the facts of the case, Kumbang Jali, 55, became enraged when the mother dog tried to bite him when he went to throw rubbish behind the shop.
In a brutal act of revenge, he chased the mother dog away with a stick and smashed her puppies to death.
Animal lovers nationwide expressed outrage at how lightly he got off with a mere slap on the wrist jail sentence, but the maximum penalty provided under the section was a three month jail term or an RM500 fine.
With public awareness, supporting evidence, swift enforcement and harsher penalties under the new act, it is hoped that people like Kumbang Jali will not get away so lightly for what he did to five innocent young lives.
Education equals compassion
Besides harsher penalties for abusers, this new law also seeks to educate and create awareness on the importance of protecting the welfare of animals to prevent incidences of cruelty and neglect.
The act aims to promote this awareness through the establishment of the Animal Welfare Board.
The board will work closely with the Education Ministry to educate school children on animal welfare. Something which many animal activists say is lacking in our current education system.
Many cases of cruelty against animals are perpetuated by young children - tying animals up, drowning kittens and puppies, throwing stones and many other horrific forms of abuse which goes unaddressed.
Though we still have a long way to go, it is hoped that this new law will give our voiceless friends the protection, care and justice that they deserve.
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