The new Animal Welfare Act clearly defines animal cruelty and imposes substantial penalties.
I REMEMBER the first animal abuse case I covered. It was back in 2013, when I first joined The Star, and the accused was found guilty of the cruel act of chaining and padlocking a dog under the blazing sun.
The dog, named Ampang, suffered from an infected neck wound. The accused suffered a mere RM195 fine for the act.
It was not the only time animal lovers were outraged at the weak punishments handed out to animal abusers.
In 2005, a man was fined RM100 for neglecting his German Shepherd named Sheena. Sheena eventually had to be euthanised and a post-mortem revealed Sheena’s internal organs had shrunk due to prolonged starvation.
In 2011, a woman hawker was fined RM400 for stomping two kittens to death. She was charged on two counts of cruelty under the Animal Act and faced a RM200 fine for each offence.
In 2012, owners of a cat hotel left over 100 cats starving, dehydrated and covered in their own waste. A total of 13 cats died. The owners were charged with 30 counts of cruelty and neglect and given three months in prison.
Back then, the maximum fine for abuse under the Animal Act was RM200. How is a RM200 fine justice? How is it punishment?
Hopefully the days of paltry fines are over, now that the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) has come into force, effective July 1 this year.
Now, animal abusers face a fine of between RM20,000 and RM100,000, a maximum jail term of three years or both upon conviction.
Looking through the AWA, I am quite pleased with the extensive definition of what constitutes animal cruelty.
Not only does it cover physical cruelty like beating or torturing the animal, but it also defines abandonment, overcrowding, mutilation, neglect and failure to treat the animal from injury or sickness as cruelty.
The Act also defines cruel animal sports as animal cruelty, such as using the animal for fighting, baiting the animal or using the animal for shooting.
Another positive for the AWA is how it is now mandatory for businesses or individuals dealing with animals to obtain licences.
This means that animal shelters, breeders, pet boarding centres, pet shops, equestrian centres, farms and slaughterhouses will now require a licence under the AWA.
To obtain a licence, owners would have to ensure that the animals are free from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
An animal should also be able to exhibit its normal behaviour patterns and have a suitable environment, diet and housing.
It is heartening to know that businesses dealing with animals will be regulated and that the welfare of the animal will be taken into account.
My only complaint about the AWA is that it does not cover how local authorities deal with stray animals.
It penalises owners who abandon their animals, but I still feel that a better solution on how to manage strays should be formed.
Right now, catching and culling strays is still normal practice. Perhaps the Government can consider a more sustainable solution such as the Trap-Neuter-Return approach.
But overall, I am glad that the Government is taking steps to ensure the well-being of animals.
I hope that this new Act will encourage more responsible pet ownership among Malaysians and instil a kinder approach to animals.
And hopefully the harsher punishments under the AWA will make people think twice before mistreating animals.
I hope that the 400 animal welfare officers who have been appointed will do their part to ensure that the Act is enforced properly and the rights of animals looked after.
The AWA is definitely a step in the right direction, in terms of animal rights.
I am happy to finally see laws that can now properly punish those who commit offences against animals.
Online reporter Victoria Brown’s Behind The Cage tackles the pressing issues of animal rights and environmental awareness.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.