Look after your Pets, or else - new law mulled
Pet owners could be forced to provide adequate exercise, health care and living conditions for their animals under changes being considered to the animal protection law.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department told the Sunday Morning Post it was looking at introducing a 'duty of care' provision in the law as part of ongoing reviews of animal protection rules.
Duty of care provisions introduced elsewhere require owners and carers to ensure a reasonable quality of life for their pets.
If similar rules were introduced in Hong Kong, owners and those responsible for animals could be forced to make sure that all of their pets' basic needs, including exercise, food, and health care, were met. Non-compliance could be met with warnings and prosecution.
A department spokeswoman said the duty of care concept was raised in consultations with welfare organisations and it was something they were moving towards.
'We would like to incorporate the concept of duty of care into our legislation. We consider this is the way forward,' she said.
The idea is welcomed by the Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), which has long supported a duty of care provision to help bring the city's animal protection laws up to date.
SPCA executive director Sandy Macalister said that under the existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, authorities such as the police, the department and SPCA officers, could offer advice about an animal's care and living conditions but they did not have the power to force owners to make improvements.
This meant they could only step in to help an animal or prosecute an owner after those conditions had taken a toll on the animal's health and suffering was proven.
Macalister said SPCA officers came across cases of animals in potential danger almost on a daily basis, but they had little power to help because there was no provision for duty of care.
'The biggest incidence of cruelty we see is the neglect of animals. Most often it is not malicious cruelty,' he said. 'What we discover most is animals being kept in a way that is totally unacceptable: dogs confined on rooftops, unexercised, stacked up in cages and flats, left on top roofs, tied up continually, sometimes without water.
'Unless there is provable cruelty, provable suffering, there is nothing we can do and these animals still have to endure bad welfare.
'On the bigger scale, there is illegal breeding and the hoarding of dogs where people think they are being kind to the animals and trying to save them.'
Macalister said it was not necessarily the case that people were being cruel. 'Some people just can't cope. They may not have realised how much it takes to care for an animal and just take the easiest way out.'
Hong Kong's Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance was introduced in 1935 and based on Britain's Protection of Animals Act 1911.
At that time little was known about animal welfare, but Britain updated its law in 2006 to include duty of care provisions.
However, there has been no such change to the law in Hong Kong, apart from an amendment in 2006 raising penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty from six months' imprisonment and a maximum fine of HK$5,000, to two years in jail and a HK$200,000 fine.
'The law we have in Hong Kong is actually a good law and it has done a good job,' Macalister said.
'The penalties we have now are actually quite high when compared to other countries.
'But, what is missing is an [animal] welfare act and a provision for duty of care.'
The department said it was reviewing measures and practices and exploring new approaches to improve animal welfare, including looking at duty of care, first in relation to the pet trade.
The number of animals rescued or collected by SPCA officers in the 2010-2011 reporting year