Full force of Hong Kong law needed in animal cruelty cases
Judges should be ready to impose maximum punishment on those responsible for carrying out horrific acts and a special police unit would be welcomed
Animal cruelty has traditionally taken a back seat when it comes to law enforcement and punishment in courts. But Hong Kong may have reached a turning point. Mainstream media have taken to reporting such cruelty as legitimate news, and animal rights groups have become better organised and more vocal.
A spate of such cases has activists up in arms. It is unclear whether the killings of a Japanese spitz and two turtles at the same high-rise residential building in Cheung Sha Wan are related. It is especially heartbreaking that the male dog was previously saved by marine police after being found almost drowned in Victoria Harbour. The police officer who rescued the animal subsequently published a heart-rending message on Facebook upon hearing about the dog’s death.
Animal rights activists are organising a mass protest at the end of this month in Central and calling for tougher penalties and the setting up of a special investigative unit by police. They may already be pushing at an open door, but much more needs to be done.
Whether responding to social changes or pressure, judges in recent years have been more willing to impose deterrent sentences on those found guilty of cruelty to animals, including jail time. But rarely has punishment been imposed to the full extent of the law.
Meanwhile, despite significant improvement, police must be better trained to treat such cases as seriously as other crimes, even if some incidents may not have been widely reported.
There is merit in setting up a special police unit targeting animal cruelty. Such officers may be better trained and equipped to handle cases of this nature. They would also be more motivated than those old-fashioned investigators committed to going after traditional criminals.
It may not be necessary to strengthen the law. Existing penalties for animal cruelty, including poisoning, already carry a maximum jail term of three years and a fine of HK$200,000. But judges rarely go all the way, even with those willing to impose custodial sentences.
In cases that prove to be particularly horrific, they must be ready to impose the maximum punishment allowed.