A magistrate yesterday jailed for eight months a man who doused a dog in paint thinner and set it alight, saying it was the worst case of animal cruelty he had seen in 20 years on the bench.
Computer technician Mok Chung-ting, 30, earlier pleaded guilty to one count of cruelty to an animal at Tuen Mun Court for setting fire to the six-year-old mongrel, named Siu Wong. The pet dog had to be put down.
"The defendant was extremely cruel and cold-hearted to the animal," said Acting Principal Magistrate Li Wai-chi. He said he had to give a deterrent sentence.
Cruelty to animals carries a maximum sentence of three years' imprisonment and a fine of up to HK$200,000.
The harshest previous sentence reported for animal cruelty was six months' jail. Senior public prosecutor Franco Kuan Bak-on said that Mok's sentence was the heaviest of any reported case of animal cruelty.
The dog's owner told the media after the ruling that Siu Wong had been a good dog and that it was still difficult to think about the incident. "There must be a sentence. As for whether it's light or heavy, that's up to the judge," the owner said. "If you had seen it, you would be frightened, too; you would also be scared." The incident occurred on September 1 last year. Siu Wong had been a family pet kept in a backyard in Kei Lun Wai, Tuen Mun. Water was thrown on the burning dog, but the damage had been done. It suffered burns to its face, head and body, and its chances for survival were judged to be slim. The dog was euthanised after a vet said it was suffering an inhumane level of pain.
Siu Wong was being kept 140 metres from Mok's flat, on the 15th floor of a block in Siu Hong Court. Mok earlier said the dog had disturbed him with its barking. Despite two reports to the police, the barking did not stop. The night before the burning, he told the court, the noise had prevented him from sleeping.
"A dog barking is very normal," the magistrate said. "In the New Territories, you'll hear dogs bark, birds chirping. Not being able to sleep does not mean you can harm them. " He later added: "Animals, like humans, have a right to life … What's more, this is man's best friend." The degree of suffering the canine endured was "hard to put into words", he said.