More than a year after the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC) submitted its recommendations to the Government, Members of Parliament (MPs) yesterday tabled a Bill to amend the law governing animal welfare, that included a proposal for stiffer penalties for those convicted of animal cruelty.
If the proposed changes to the Animals and Birds Act are passed, first-time offenders under the tiered penalty structure could be fined up to S$15,000 or jailed for up to 18 months, or both. Those in animal-related businesses face heftier punishments for animal cruelty under the proposed amendments: Up to S$40,000 in fines or jail not exceeding two years, or both, for a convicted first offender.
Under the current legislation, anyone convicted of animal cruelty could be fined up to S$10,000 or jailed for up to 12 months, or both.
In a statement released yesterday, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the AWLRC and MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, noted that the process of translating the committee’s recommendations to legislation has been a long one. “It is important to balance the varied interests of the community and prioritise having a harmonious living environment for animals and animal lovers, on the one hand, and those who may not be comfortable with animals, on the other,” he added.
Tabling the Bill on behalf of Mr Yeo was MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC, Mr Alex Yam. Besides a strengthening of current regulations, Mr Yam, who also chairs the Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration Committee, which had arisen from the AWLRC recommendations, said it was hoped that the proposed changes would emphasise that animal welfare was a shared responsibility among all stakeholders.
“Ensuring and strengthening animal welfare should not be seen solely as the responsibility of the Government but the responsibility of everyone who plays a part in an animal’s life cycle,” he said.
The AWLRC, which was formed in 2012 to look into how animals could be protected, had submitted 24 recommendations to the Government in March last year. Besides harsher penalties, the proposed amendments would also require staff who work with animals in related industries to hold qualifications or be trained in animal care and handling.
In addition, the proposed amendments will also adopt codes to set the standard for animal welfare and spell out the duty of care that animal owners need to abide by. This includes taking reasonable steps to ensure that the animal is provided for and has adequate food, water and shelter. In cases where an animal has gone missing, its owner must have made a reasonable effort in looking for it, among other things.
The Government would also be empowered to issue directives to owners and persons-in-charge to improve the care of an animal.
In April, a businessman was fined S$10,000 — the maximum for animal cruelty — for failing to seek timely treatment for his pet. It was the first time the maximum fine had been imposed by the courts for animal abuse.
A 33-year-old man was also fined S$41,000 in March for illegal possession of 32 wild or endangered animals — the biggest seizure of illegal wildlife from a home in 11 years. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) then filed a Notice of Appeal against the sentence for Ong Ming Shiang.
In response to TODAY’s queries, an AVA spokesperson said it had reviewed the court’s sentence, in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and decided not to pursue an appeal.
She added: “The fine ... is the highest ever imposed on a private individual in possession of illegal wildlife. (It) constitutes sufficient deterrence and was appropriate in the circumstances of that case.”
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals executive director Corinne Fong called the proposed changes a good step, given that the previous amendment to the Act was made back in 2002. “I hope that with these new changes, the AVA will have more bite, more teeth to prosecute,” she added.
Cat Welfare Society vice-president Veron Lau said the proposed amendments were a huge step forward. But she added that more could be done in specifying the conditions needed for owners to be convicted, other than quantifiable distress observed in animals, for example. An act of abandonment that does not lead to death or extreme suffering would not hold up in court, she said.