Legco pushes for animal rights

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 November, 2010, 12:00am

They may have contrasting views when it comes to human affairs, but lawmakers have formed a united front to fight for the rights of animals.

Following Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's first attempt to include animal affairs in his policy address last month, a lawmaker is set to move the first motion debate demanding that the government formulate a consolidated animal-friendly policy, in the Legislative Council on Wednesday.

The government should review its Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance to keep up with international standards, states the motion, proposed by Gary Chan Hak-kan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

To cut the number of newborn dogs, stray dogs should be caught, sterilised and released, it says. Last year, 10,320 dogs and cats were put down by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

An 'animal police' team should be set up to investigate animal cruelty and abandonment, and a hotline should be dedicated to reporting cruelty, the motion says.

Miriam Lau Kin-yee of the Liberal Party, Fred Li Wah-ming of the Democratic Party, Alan Leong Kah-kit of the Civic Party, and three other lawmakers proposed amendments to the motion. Chan said he was surprised by the enthusiasm. 'We will hopefully pass a cross-party motion to urge the government to carry out animal-friendly policies,' he said.

He believed political parties' united concern over animal rights reflected heightened citywide awareness on the issue in recent years. 'In the past year, hundreds of people turned out in each of three marches mobilised via the internet,' he said. 'News reports on torture of animals, such as cases of people removing teeth of cats, chopping off limbs of pets and throwing cats from a height have drawn public attention.'

In a recent meeting he had with police, a commander of the force pledged to set up a working group to handle cases in districts where reports of torture of animals had been received, Chan said. But the government appeared to be reluctant to implement his proposal of a 'trap-neuter-return' policy on dogs in view of the risk of the spread of rabies.

The action by Chan is a U-turn for his party in terms of animal rights. DAB-lawmaker Ip Kwok-him put up a banner 'Successfully demanded - Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department catches five stray dogs' a few years ago. He argued that he did not know that the caught dogs would be put down.

Animal welfare groups welcomed the proposal, which they regarded as a first step in improving the lives of pets. Nevertheless, some demands, such as sterilisation of stray dogs, had been made for years without any progress, they said. 'Many puppies are born every spring and they are surrendered to our charity,' Noel Fan Wan-ching, chairman of the Society for Abandoned Animals, said.

'Trap-neuter-release is the most important policy of all, and we've been pushing for it for 10 years.'

Sandy Macalister, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, supports most of the proposals, but objects to the establishment of an animal-police team. The organisation had been running a similar team, which patrols pet shops and responds to animal cruelty complaints, he said.

The problem of cruelty arose from loopholes in the law, not enforcement, he said. 'We have the animal knowledge and 90 years of experience. For the police to take on the animal side, that doesn't work.'

Sally Anderson, founder of Dog Rescue, said some demands in the motion, such as for improvement of hygiene in animal management centres, had already been implemented by the government over the years. 'The main thing that needs to be done is to reduce the number of dogs,' she said. She has campaigned for compulsory sterilisation of dogs and a ban on hobby-breeding.

Key proposals

Amend animal cruelty laws

Establish an ?animal police? team to investigate cases of cruelty

Ask the Department of Justice to pay close attention to sentencing for cases of animal cruelty

Review regulations on animal sales and breeding

Allow lawmakers and animal groups to inspect government kennels

Implement a trap-neuter-release programme

Provide a subsidy to encourage sterilisation of pets

Build more pet parks

Require traders to label endangered species