There are numerous acts that affect animals that caring individuals may feel are cruel or inhumane, but do not violate the existing anti-cruelty laws, as the level of animal welfare mandated by law is low. Present laws are not sufficient to prevent animal cruelty i.e. the law cannot protect animals at risk of abuse and suffering. Authorities cannot step in to help a neglected animal until it has actually been harmed by the neglect.
Animal cruelty is a serious offence. The presence of anti-cruelty legislation enables prosecutions to be made.
In Hong Kong, under The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, Cap. 169 and its regulations under Cap. 169A, animal cruelty is broadly defined as the action or inaction of a person (or persons) that causes unnecessary suffering to an animal (or animals).
Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance Cap. 169, carries a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment and a $200,000 fine.
Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations, Cap. 169A, carries a maximum penalty of Level Five fine of $50,000.
In an in-depth review of animal laws by the SPCA and Hong Kong University, the authors found that many laws are out of date and fail to impose a "duty of care" on animal keepers. Sentencing practices have up untill recently, been perceived to be lenient.
Duty of care is a legal obligation imposed on an individual requiring that they adhere to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts. By defining by law the duty of care of an animal handler, any person who does not take reasonable steps to ensure that the animal's needs are met commits an offence, even if the animal has not yet suffered unnecessarily.
For every complaint of cruelty, the Inspectors use the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, a set of internationally recognised guidelines, to evaluate the level of animal welfare, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance Cap 169 and Regulations Cap. 169A to decide if an offence under the laws of Hong Kong has been committed.
Through a system of advice and warnings, situations where animal welfare is poor but may not break any laws can be remedied immediately.
Fighting cruelty is not just about prosecution and punishment of uninformed pet owners who do not yet know how to care for their cats and dogs properly. Animal cruelty needs to be addressed holistically through education, law reforms, as well as stricter enforcement and sentencing.
The SPCA Inspectorate takes a long term view of these issues and continues to work closely with law enforcement and the community to achieve these goals.
For more information on our investigations, please visit our Investigating Cruelty page.