The courts occasionally impose penalties that arouse public debate as to whether they fit the crime. Judges and magistrates are usually in the best position, however, to weigh deterrence against rehabilitation and the community interest. Such debate is nonetheless a healthy sounding board for current community opinion. A case in point is the jailing of two men yesterday for three and four months for animal cruelty. A magistrate heard that the pair was among a group that went looking for stray cats in Siu Sai Wan and that they beat one to death with a pole. Jail is a harsh penalty. The offence in this case was neither a crime against the person nor against property. Nonetheless, it was a callous breach of the law protecting the welfare of animals. As such, it was an affront to the sensibilities of a civilised society. The magistrate rightly described the case as serious and disturbing, and observed the absence of any hint of sympathy from the pair. Sadly, animal cruelty remains an issue. Despite this city's love affair with dogs, thousands are put to death in pounds each month because they have been abandoned. Many are strays that have been adopted to guard construction sites and then left to fend for themselves. Just as many are pets that fall victim to the city's fast-paced lifestyle. Their owners find them either too difficult to care for or too expensive, and put them on the streets. Animal rights groups try to find homes for them, but there is only so much they can do. Life can indeed be difficult for pet owners, particularly those with dogs and who live in high-rises. With a few exceptions, they are denied even controlled access to public parks for exercise. There are few parks and restaurants in Hong Kong with provisions for dogs and other pets. However, just as a society is judged by the way it cares for its elderly, sick, disadvantaged and underprivileged, the depth of its compassion can be measured by its respect for all living things. The killing of the cat was a bad case of cruelty to animals. While the sentences may seem harsh, the magistrate was right to send a clear message that the law will not tolerate gratuitous violence to animals.