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NParks reviewing penalties for animal cruelty and abuse as calls by MP and welfare groups get louder

SINGAPORE — Following several cases of animal cruelty and abuse that have come before the courts in recent months, the National Parks Board (NParks) told TODAY that it is reviewing the penalties to ensure that they “remain effective in deterring” such acts.

NParks reviewing penalties for animal cruelty and abuse as calls by MP and welfare groups get louder

Several cats were found with slash wounds in the Ang Mo Kio area in April.

  • MP Louis Ng will ask Parliament if animal abusers can be banned from owning pets for a longer period
  • Animal welfare groups have called for tougher sanctions against such offenders as well
  • Cat Welfare Society’s president cited the examples of two recent cases involving a dog and several cats
  • The National Parks Board said it is reviewing the legal penalties to ensure they remain effective

 

SINGAPORE — Following several cases of animal cruelty and abuse that have come before the courts in recent months, the National Parks Board (NParks) told TODAY that it is reviewing the penalties to ensure that they “remain effective in deterring” such acts.

Some animal welfare organisations have been calling for tougher sanctions, including a longer maximum disqualification order of up to a lifetime for convicted offenders, barring them from owning pets.

The ban, which came into force under the Animals and Birds Act in 2015, disqualifies a person from owning any animal or class of animals for up to 12 months.

Member of Parliament (MP) Louis Ng told TODAY that he has filed a parliamentary question on this topic for the sitting next week, after he was approached by the Cat Welfare Society.

Mr Ng is asking National Development Minister Desmond Lee if the Government will consider increasing the maximum length of the disqualification order and whether it will consult stakeholders and the general public.

The Ministry of National Development oversees NParks.

Mr Ng, who founded the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), an animal conservation and wildlife rescue group, said that a longer maximum ban will serve to protect animals from abuse.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Ms Jessica Kwok, group director of community animal management at NParks, said that the agency’s review will take into account feedback from relevant stakeholders and the public.

The current disqualification order “serves as an added deterrent against acts of animal cruelty and to safeguard animal welfare”, she added.

Aside from this, the authorities will also relook the jail term or fine that offenders can receive.

Right now, those found guilty of animal cruelty can be jailed for up to 18 months or fined up to S$15,000, or punished with both. Repeat offenders can face a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to S$30,000, or both.

Separately, those who flout a disqualification order can be jailed for up to six months or fined up to S$5,000, or both.

CALLS FOR LONGER BAN

Earlier this month in a blog post, Ms Thenuga Vijakumar, the president of the Cat Welfare Society, had called the present maximum ban “blatantly insufficient” and “lacking as even a practical deterrent to any animal abuser”.

She referred to the cases of Leow Wei Liang who was jailed 12 weeks in July for slashing seven community cats in Ang Mo Kio, as well as Clement Chia who was jailed eight months in October for torturing his pet poodle.

Chia was also banned from owning any animals for a year.

The Cat Welfare Society proposed a two-pronged approach:

  • Increasing the ban to a minimum of five years and a maximum of a lifetime

  • Granting more powers to the authorities to regularly conduct mental health checks with convicted offenders who have been released

Ms Thenuga added that five years of follow-up checks would offer enough time and data to “establish a pattern of behaviour or make meaningful observations as to the mental state of the freed individual and their ability to own a pet”.

Other groups such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) agreed that the law should allow for a ban on owning pets to extend for a lifetime.

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, its executive director, said that SPCA asked back in 2011 for a prohibition order to be included in the laws. However, he noted that a few offenders have already been given the maximum period since the disqualification order came into force.

“(This suggests) that 12 months is too low. There was horrific cruelty in some of the cases,” Dr Gill added.

Back in 2017, he had written a forum letter to The Straits Times calling for the possibility of lifetime bans after the case of Yeo Poh Kwee, who had abused his pet dogs to death and abandoned them. Yeo was given the stiffest sentence meted out then for animal cruelty — 20 months’ jail — and a 12-month ban on owning animals. 

Dr Gill further proposed that the duration of the order may vary with the circumstances of each case, with the possibility to review it after a specified time period has lapsed.

He told TODAY that in 2019 and this year, SPCA and Acres had written joint appeals to NParks for the law to be changed.

This was regarding serious cruelty cases where they felt that the offenders should have been given much longer bans.

The two groups had also written to NParks and the Attorney-General’s Chambers to appeal against the sentence handed down to Charlotte Liew, the owner of the infamous Platinium Dogs Club.

She was jailed for two weeks and fined S$35,700 for various offences against animals, though not strictly for cruelty or abuse, as well as banned from running any animal-related businesses for the maximum period of a year.

Dr Gill said that the sentence was “perplexing… considering the entirety and seriousness of her offences”, and left many in the animal welfare community “confused and distressed”.

Ms Christine Bernadette from Causes for Animals (Singapore), an animal welfare charity, said that if an offender is allowed to own a pet again, it should be with third-party supervision.

However, she recognised that people may still find their way around such rules and laws, such as by getting a pet under someone else’s name.

Ms Bernadette added: “The current laws governing offences are simply too light, which has given way to rising offences and increased brutality in the treatment of animals.”

Related topics

animal abuse animal cruelty pet Dog cats

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