For many people, especially pet lovers, cruelty to animals is as traumatising as violence committed against human beings. They feel the situation is more disturbing because such abuse cases are often not properly followed up by law enforcement agencies, which are perceived as thinking that animal lives are less valuable.
But animal lovers have some good news at last. In the wake of a series of high-profile abuse cases involving cats and dogs, the police have realised the need to beef up training in handling such matters. Although officials denied being ineffective in combating animal abuses, the decision to initiate an Animal Watch Scheme amounts to an admission of inadequacies in the past. Belated as it is, the move is a sensible step. The programme aims to brush up officers' investigative procedures and techniques. They will be trained to ascertain if an animal has been injured by a person, another animal or by accident. A veterinary forensic expert from Britain will be flown in to pass on these skills at a week-long workshop in February.
There were 687 reports of cruelty to animals between 2007 and 2010, but in only 70 of them was there deemed to be enough evidence for prosecution. Most cases involved stray cats and dogs found in secluded locations. It is unclear if the low rate is attributed to a lack of expertise in investigation.
Doubts also remain whether the penalties are a suitable deterrent. A dog farm owner was fined HK$7,000 and jailed for two weeks for negligence of care in April last year - way below the maximum fine of HK$200,000 and three years' imprisonment.
Better investigation is just the first step to tackle the problem. Animal abuse cases ought to be treated with the same urgency and priority as other serious crimes. Animals do have feelings. The need for justice to be served is as equally important.