SPCA: animals need more than just dogcatchers

Animal rights group wants law-enforcement powers

Effort to set up designated "animal police" in the city to tackle animal cruelty would go for naught, says a spokesman for the Hong Kong branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

That position puts the organisation at odds with a coalition of other animal-welfare groups that began calling for an official animal protection squad after a photo of a bleeding stray cat in Sau Mau Ping racked up thousands of comments on Facebook last year.

Thousands of animal-rights activists marched to the Central Government Offices in January to urge the creation of animal cops to crack down on pet abuse.

Civic Party lawmaker Ms Claudia Mo Man-ching, who joined the January rally, said:
"The police arrested the five abusers immediately on the next day after receiving the report [of the Sau Mau Ping cat abuse incident]. It proves only the police is capable enough to protect animals from cruelty."

Yet, the SPCA of Hong Kong sees animal cops as "unnecessary" since their staff
performs a similar function.

Ms Rebecca Ngan, public relations and communication manager of the SPCA, said her group had 20 full-time members responsible for taking rescue calls and investigating reports of animal cruelty.

"The police are experienced in dealing with criminals, not animals," she
said. "They rely on us to provide them with professional knowledge and
veterinary reports on the animal victim in the event of a prosecution."

Creating animal police to handle animal cruelty incidents would be a waste of time and money, Ms Ngan added, since 80 percent of the allegations stemmed from pet owners' carelessness, not intentional cruelty.

At present, the SPCA investigative team is working on an "Animal Watch Scheme", introduced by the Police, with the support of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

The scheme intends to fight animal cruelty through education, publicity, intelligence gathering and investigation. However, many animal activists were disappointed.

Ms Cheung Yuen-man of the Alliance for Hong Kong Animal Police deemed the scheme "fruitless" when she found that only 100 out of 994 animal abuse incidents between 2006 and 2012 resulted in legal proceedings.

"The three bodies [the SPCA, AFCD and FEHD] are powerless," the spokesman for the coalition of 14 animal concern groups said. "It [the scheme] is ineffective and inefficient."

The campaign on animal protection leaves a lot to be desired. According to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Ordinance, the SPCA of Hong Kong does not function as a prosecuting body. It has no right to access CCTV, to do house search and to arrest suspects.

The SPCA's spokesman said the ordinance hampered the organisation's efforts to help secure animal welfare.

"Hong Kong is lagging behind with anti-cruelty legislation. Animal welfare has failed to keep pace with the city's developments since the ordinance was implemented in 1935," Ms Ngan said.

She wishes the government could revise the ordinance to authorise the SPCA with power to halt cruelty to animals.

The detection of animal cruelty has to be carried out with no delay because we can only have environmental evidence—since our "victims" cannot speak, she said.

The idea of "animal police" originated from an American reality television series "Animal Cops." The award-winning episodes, premiered in 2002, filmed how volunteering animal police saved pets that faced abuses.

The series have since inspired the Dutch authorities to create, in 2011, a 500-member animal police squad that investigates animal abuse. Similar bodies have been set up in the United Kingdom and Sweden.

 

Reported by Katheleen Wong

Edited by Helen Yu

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