Four men spent their first night in jail last night for killing dogs to eat, the first in the city to be jailed for the offence. The High Court judge who sent them to jail also warned the public that anyone else committing the offence risked going to jail.
The men, who drowned two dogs and chopped them up for a hot pot, began their 14-day terms after Mr Justice Louis Tong Po-sun cut the original sentences from 30 days on appeal.
Counsel for Lau Lap-kei, 49, Wong Yung-hung, 43, Liu Wai-hong, 41, and Wong Chun-hung, 49, had argued a jail sentence was excessive because no one had received more than a suspended sentence for such an offence.
But Mr Justice Tong said a lenient penalty could no longer address the public disgust at such acts. He also rejected any suggestion that the Chinese tradition of eating dogs as a tonic could be an excuse.
Under the Dogs and Cats Regulation, slaughtering the animals for food is an offence punishable by a fine of up to HK$5,000 and up to six months' jail.
During the appeal, lawyer Ching Wan-fung said it was unfair to jail the men as such a sentence was inconsistent with penalties in previous cases.
But in his judgment, Mr Justice Tong said: 'As a modern and civilised society, the vast majority of Hongkongers, whether they keep dogs or not, would no longer tolerate the behaviour of killing dogs for food, nor would they believe such an act is a trivial matter.
'Lenient penalties such as fines can no longer reflect the degree of public disgust against such acts, their impact on public hygiene, and the pain it inflicts upon the dogs.'
He added that 'a bad tradition should be denied and shunned'.
The four defendants pleaded guilty before Tuen Mun magistrate Kwok Wai-kin on December 1 last year to one count of slaughtering dogs or cats for food.
The prosecution had said that at about noon on November 12 last year, the four defendants drowned two dogs, both owned by Lau, and butchered them.
Police arrived at Lau's home in a Yuen Long village after receiving complaints from neighbours. They found a dog's severed head and its body next to a pot, while the defendants were cleaning blood on the floor.
The four had been on bail pending the appeal against their sentence. Mr Justice Tong stressed that his ruling did not mean imprisonment would become the only option for such an offence, but he proposed seven elements to be considered in lower courts that could justify a jail term.
These included the killing of more than one dog or cat, or torture before the killing.
Carmen Chan Wai-man, executive officer of animal rights group Happy Animal, welcomed the judgment but said the act of killing was cruel enough to warrant jail. 'I hear that in some remote villages in the New Territories, secret killings of dogs and cats still go on. A jail penalty is necessary to deter these people from such barbaric acts.'
Matter of degree
Factors that justify a jail term:
The killing of more than one cat or dog
Torture of animal before killing
Involvement of commercial interests
Animal eaten was obtained illegally
More than one participant
Killing and disposal cause pollution or public hygiene problem
Defendant has committed similar offences