A SPOT of good news: the Animal Welfare Act came into force on Tuesday.
Those who abuse animals will face a fine of between RM20,000 and RM100,000, a maximum jail term of three years, or both.
Prior to this, the Animals Act set the maximum punishment at a fine of RM50,000, a year in jail or both.
This recent upgrade to the laws regarding animal abuse reminded me of when a mixed-breed dog named Furby was abused back in April. I do not condone or support what Terry Yee did to Furby, and I am not trying to defend him.
What I am commenting on is how Malaysians reacted to the video of the attack on Furby when it was still a hot issue.
Ultimately, it was this pressure that led to his apology video and news of his suppliers severing ties with his company due to the outpouring of outrage over his reprehensible act, bashing up the dog with a helmet and his fists.
Malaysian netizens have behaved in a way that’s both heart-warming and chillingly disturbing.
It’s been really heart-warming to see how Malaysians have come together to rally for justice for a dog that most of them have never met and in all likelihood will never meet. It’s reassuring that our moral compass is still active.
I have also seen the darker side of how Malaysians rally to call for justice to be done.
Back when the Justice for Furby Facebook group was still active on a daily or semi-daily basis, an adolescent boy mocked their efforts by saying that human beings are superior to animals.
The group responded, and their response worried me because they took a rather hateful way of dealing with him.
Instead of responding with patience to educate the boy as to why his approach was wrong, they lashed out at him with angry insults – and not only that, they went to the extent of digging through his Facebook account to publicly identify what school he attended and used such information to threaten him.
The greater cause of stimulating a society that does not turn a blind eye to animal abuse or cruelty could have very well gained an ally if they reached out with a measure of patience to educate this teenager, instead of reacting with anger and hate because he challenged their cause.
I won’t deny that people are reacting this way because they feel the current systems of justice will let Furby down – and I don’t blame them for feeling disillusioned or frustrated.
The laws on the books at the time did not provide an adequate sentence in either deterring or rehabilitating those who would treat animals with cruelty, and there are some who would argue that the current laws still fail to do that.
Indeed, I believe that justice must not only be done, it must be clearly and plainly be seen to be done.
I also feel that justice delayed is justice denied. However, are we going about this the right way?
We are not because many of us are fair-weather activists. I have seen people go quiet when hot-button issues go cold, and the fight for justice for all animals – not just Furby – is no exception.
People will pound their keys on their keyboards and rant and rage on social media when an animal is abused, only to go quiet until another Terry Yee bubbles up on our Facebook timelines.
The cycle then repeats itself, with no meaningful change, which clearly shows that if you want to fight for change, you have to have a strategy and be willing to stick to it for the long haul. If you want real change, you have to be willing to be part of the struggle even when it’s no longer trendy to do so.
Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better project manager Melinda Joy Gomez shared a similar opinion: “Now that we have an Act, it’s time to stop being a keyboard warrior.
“Everybody needs to play a positive role and take it upon yourself to report the abuse to the relevant authorities as there is a hotline now. The public has to do more than just rant on social media,” she said.
She also touched on the Furby case and how Malaysians behaved on social media and in the real world.
“Many people just get into the heat of the moment, but they don’t push for real change. All the people who gathered and sent e-mails and those on social media should have pushed the authorities to prosecute Yee.
“The group should have pressured the Veterinary Services Department and gone to Putrajaya instead of demonstrating at the housing estate’s guardhouse,” added Gomez.
She also had some parting advice for people who want to speak up against animal cruelty when incidents go viral.
“Pressure the people that you should pressure and don’t go overboard. Let the authorities do their work and let the law take its course,” she said.
I don’t know about you, but going through the right channels sounds a lot better than the cry of an angry mob, as mob rule is no rule at all – even when it’s based on a righteous cause.
> Senior writer Tan Yi Liang’s In Your Face aims to prove that people have more positive power in their hands than they realise, and to challenge them. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.