ONE is man’s best friend, while the other one supposedly has nine lives.
They are companion animals, but dogs and cats make up about 90% of animal cruelty cases reported to the Veterinary Services Department (DVS).
Animal abuse cases have been steadily rising over the past five years.
Last year, 510 animal cruelty complaints were received by the department – a 10% increase from 463 in 2016.
Department director-general Datuk Dr Quaza Nizamuddin Hassan Nizam attributes the increase in complaints to the stronger awareness among the public to report such crimes.
“It is now easier for the public to reach us due to the availability of avenues to make reports.
“We have set up a WhatsApp number, making it quicker and easier,” he says.
And as for dogs and cats bearing the brunt of man’s ugly side, Dr Quaza Nizamuddin said the big percentage is likely because these animals live in close proximity to humans.
“Most cases involve small animals, like pets. Others involve livestock and farm animals.
“The department and animal NGOs are constantly promoting responsible ownership among the public,” he says.
Dr Quaza Nizamuddin also credits the various animal rights NGOs who serve as an extra pair of eyes that look out for abuse cases to report.
The DVS itself has also been monitoring the treatment of animals, with 5,618 operations conducted last year.
The Animal Welfare Act was enforced in July last year, bringing with it heavier penalties for animal abusers.
Under the law, those who abuse animals will face a fine of between RM20,000 and RM100,000, a maximum jail term of three years, or both.
This is a significant change compared to penalties found in its predecessor, the Animals Act, which punishes animal abusers with a maximum fine of RM50,000, one year in jail, or both.
At present, there is a six-month “cooling period” for the general public to get educated about animal welfare before cases can be prosecuted under the new Act.
Dr Quaza Nizamuddin says rules and regulations for the new law are still pending, but should there be sufficient evidence, cases can be charged under the Animal Welfare Act.
“Trying to prove cruelty is not as easy as it sounds. We have to prove the case beyond reasonable doubt.
“We are trying to improve evidence gathering. But at the same time, we need full cooperation from the public.
“Those who wish to lodge complaints should be as specific as possible. Otherwise, we will have problems building a case,” he says, adding that the identity of complainants will be confidential while video or photographic evidence will strongly aid a case.
He relates that there are times when complainants refuse to divulge too many details because the abuser is their neighbour and may suspect they reported the case.
Above all though, Dr Quaza Nizamuddin wants the public to be more responsible pet owners.
“There are proactive measures in place. But it’s not all about taking action against offenders. We want to promote a better mindset and attitude towards animals,” he says.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Selangor chairman Christine Chin suggests that the DVS work with local councils to highlight responsible ownership to the public under the new Act.
“This is one of the most pressing issues to be addressed, in view of the high number of cruelty cases involving pets,” she says.
Chin speaks of how some dog owners in Malaysia tie up their pets for the entire day – an action that can make the dogs aggressive and mentally unstable.
“In Germany, dog owners are not allowed to leash their dog for over four hours. The same should be applied here,” she says.
Pointing out that the problem of stray dogs and cats is also caused by humans, she hopes the new Act should swiftly address the duties of pet owners and cruelty offences, which includes abandoning pets.
“Once the public knows they can be punished for being uncaring towards their pets, they will buck up,” says Chin, who is also a member of the consultative committee that assists the Animal Welfare Board.
Apart from pets, she laments that livestock animals are also subject to animal cruelty.
“We hope the DVS will also set up guidelines for farms as well to further beef up animal welfare,” Chin proposes.