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Cautious welcome for animal protection Bill

The Straits Times | Wednesday, Oct 15, 2014

The proposed Bill requires pet owners to provide reasonable care for animals under their charge. Those who neglect their pets will, for the first time, face a fine and/or a jail term.

ANIMAL welfare groups and pet owners have cautiously welcomed the tougher animal protection Bill introduced in Parliament last Tuesday.

But they warned that while the long-awaited move was historic, it remains to be seen whether the proposed law will be effectively implemented and enforced.

The Bill requires pet owners to provide reasonable care for animals under their charge. Those who neglect their pets will, for the first time, face a fine and/or a jail term.

Under the proposed amendments to the Animals and Birds Act, penalties for animal abuse will be increased, especially for repeat offenders and animal-related businesses. Staff working with animals in relevant businesses will be required to be trained in animal care and handling.

The Bill will also let the authorities adopt a code that sets new standards on animal welfare. Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Yeo Guat Kwang, who chairs the Animal Welfare Legislative Review Committee (AWLRC) driving the Bill, said the recommendations came from the ground, through the various stakeholder groups represented in the committee and from public consultations.

Voicing her worry, dog owner Gail Sethi, 50, said: "You can have all the laws in the world, but no enforcement."

Ms Verou Lau, vice-president of the Cat Welfare Society, hailed the Bill as historic, but said her biggest concern, which is shared by other animal welfare activists, is whether the enhanced law will be enforced.

The last major review of animal welfare legislation was in 2002. Cases of animal abuse handled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority grew from 377 in 2008 to 484 in 2012, according to AWLRC's report last year. Cases reported to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals rose from 870 in 2007 to 1,027 in 2011.

However, just 13 cases were prosecuted during this time, partly due to difficulties in gathering evidence. This challenge was acknowledged by the review committee, made up of MPs, animal welfare activists and industry representatives.

Mr Ricky Yeo, president of Action for Singapore Dogs, expects "a long road ahead" in changing mindsets.

"The way I see it, it is still very business-oriented, where pets are still part of the commercial landscape.

The balance is still very much skewed towards pets being a commodity, rather than a marginalised group that needs protection," he said.

He also called for the new laws to be enforced "with a strong moral conscience rather than just from a legal perspective".

Mr Marcus Khoo, 40, executive director of pet grooming and boarding services firm Petopia, also raised a practical point. He noted that ensuring that staff are trained would reduce the risk of negligence, but the industry finds it hard to get qualified workers.

In a statement last Tuesday, Mr Yeo said the road to raising animal welfare standards is certainly not over. "I hope that this Bill will be an important first step in strengthening animal welfare in Singapore and making it a shared responsibility by all stakeholders," he said.

MP Gan Thiam Poh (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), a member of the committee, told The Straits Times he expects the question of enforcement to be "debated in detail" in Parliament during the Bill's second reading on Nov 3.

"Of course, we want to make (the laws) practical and enforceable.

There's no point having a law we can't enforce," he said. But he cautioned that change cannot be expected "overnight".

davidee@sph.com.sg

Stiffer Penalties

AMENDMENTS to the Animals and Birds Act, to strengthen the protection of animals, were introduced in Parliament last Tuesday. The Bill, which included new and harsher penalties, will be debated in Parliament on Nov 3. Among the amendments:

- For the first time, pet owners who do not take adequate care of their pets will be slapped with fines of up to $20,000 and/or a two-year jail term.

- Animal abusers will face fines of up to $30,000 and/or a three-year jail term, up from fines of up to $10,000 and/or a one-year jail term.

- Animal-related businesses that contravene the Act face fines of up to $100,000 and/ or a three-year jail term, up from up to $10,000 in fines and/or a one-year jail term.


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