Singapore will impose stiffer penalties for animal abuse, Law Minister K.Shanmugam said yesterday, following a recent spate of high-profile cases including the poisoning of stray dogs and attacks on cats. Speaking at the opening of an Asian conference on animal welfare, Shanmugam, who is also foreign minister, said Singapore wanted to send a "strong deterrent message" through changes in legislation. Citing statistics on animal abuse in Singapore, he pointed out a "worrying growth" in the number of cases reported. Within the last five years, the number of animal welfare and cruelty cases handled by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) has surged by more than 65 per cent, according to Shanmugam, who is known for his love of animals. Suspected cases of serial animal abuse have also been reported in local media, including stray dogs killed or poisoned and cats being slashed or beaten to death last year. People convicted of cruelty to animals are currently subject to a fine of up to S$10,000 (HK$61,200), a jail term of up to a year, or both. Shanmugam did not mention details of the planned legislation in his speech, but Louis Ng, chief executive of campaign group Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said a bill would be introduced in parliament this year to increase the maximum fine to S$50,000 for repeat offenders. The AVA began implementing new pet-shop licensing conditions this month to tackle impulse buying. There will be no sale of pets to individuals under 16 year old. Animal-cruelty cases have become a major public issue recently in Singapore. Hundreds of pets are being abandoned each month after the novelty wears off, or when they grow too big to care for.