Despite cruelty cases, animal rights law out of agenda

Friday, January 14, 2011
Issue 1211, Page 2
Word count: 1169
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung & Vítor Quintã

A video of a man beating a dog released by the Society for the Protection of Animals (Anima) last weekend brought back to the spotlight the delay in the revision of animal rights protection laws.

“Last week we were called by a person who saw a drunken man beating up a dog with a metal bar,” Anima executive council member Fátima Galvão told Macau Daily Times. In the short video, the man hits the animal several times before his chain breaks and the dog runs away.

“As he saw that there was somebody filming, he also tried to assault our shelter coordinator. The only reason he didn’t do that was because in the meantime the police got there. Before he was arrested he also assaulted one of the [police] officers,” Galvão said.

Another video shows the man pinned to the ground by several officers trying to handcuff him. “However, he was quickly freed and on Saturday we were called up again because he was threatening to kill the dog,” the Anima member said.

“Lok Chai’s [the dog’s name] owners, who run a noodle factory, are afraid of the man. They said he has already killed their previous dog,” she explained. “For sanitary reasons, they can’t have it inside the factory but it’s well feed and vaccinated. Now it seems they can’t have a dog at all just because they have a violent neighbour.” Galvão said.

No penalties

The videos released by Anima on social networking site Facebook prompted dozens of comments, with a significant number of them calling for the man to be arrested. However, the existing legislation, which includes no individual law on animal rights, doesn’t allow it.

Lok Chai’s abuser would face a fine of MOP 10 for animal cruelty in public spaces, according to Macau’s Municipal Code, approved in 1954. “That’s no punishment,” Anima founder Albano Martins told MDTimes. “Animals are completely dependent on the whims of people.”

Macau Association for the Protection of Abandoned Animals (AAPAM) co-founder Yoko Choi Wing Chi also criticised the code, which she believes only offers protection to people rather than the animals.

“The code only punishes owners who don’t put muzzles on their dogs, don’t clean up their faeces on the streets or whose dogs made noise that disturbed the neighbours. It’s not to protect the animals,” she pointed out.

Even for slaughtering dogs and cats or selling their meat the maximum fine would be MOP 200. In 1996, the regulation on public health and economy infractions also set a maximum three-year jail sentence for illegally slaughtering animals for public consumption.

However, that hasn’t stopped some people, Martins says. “Recently we were called to an apartment complex where one dog was killed and two others were being kept, to be eaten later. In another case, a dog raised in a construction site disappeared and we fear it was eaten as well.”

Hidden cruelty

Non-governmental association AAPAM organised Macau’s first-ever animal rights protest in March 2008, prompted by a case that saw 11 local teenagers detained for burning a cat. Over 500 people joined the demonstration, which delivered a petition with 13,000-plus signatures to the Government, asking for more protection for animals.

However, Yoko Choi said they are yet to receive a response from the Government. With no adequate law in place, the association is “unable to do much” when it receives reports of animal cruelty and has been facing a lot of limitations, she stressed.

Choi recalled that one time AAPAM tried to save a kitten that got stranded inside a construction site, but the security guard insisted that there was no cat and shouted at them to leave, threatening to call the police. “Actually we have to call the police…without their presence we can’t enter private property,” she said.

Since 2010, AAPAM has already collected evidence, including photos, of about 10 cases of animal cruelty in Macau. Choi said the association is trying to identify as many as possible, as an important tool to show Government officials that this issue does exist in the territory.

“We’ve seen cases where a dog’s genitals were cut off; and a golden retriever that had only gone missing for one night was found with plastic tapes binding its mouth and an eye brow cut off. After it arrived at the veterinarian it even excreted three small glass bottles,” she recalled.

Choi also complained that police usually offer little help to the animal associations and often look the other way. “A foreign woman filmed a group of youngsters using an air gun to shoot a dog on the top floor of a building. She took the tape to the police station but the police just sent her away. She was outraged and eventually left Macau with her pets,” she said.

At the moment AAPAM has no plans to hold another animal protest, but Choi did not rule out the possibility in the future.

Shelved law

Over three years after a draft bill on Animal Ownership was presented, the proposal seems to have been shelved, Albano Martins said. “The proposal written down by IACM [Civic and Municipal Affairs Bureau] wasn’t ideal, it didn’t include all of our proposals, but it was still an upgrade,” he said.

The draft would make it illegal to organise blood sport events, to sell cats or dogs younger than three months and to abandon animals, setting a maximum fine of MOP 100,000. It also established the duties of animal owners, from pet license to the sterilisation of dogs raised on construction sites.

Last month, Executive Council spokesperson Leong Heng Teng said the revision of animal protection laws was included in the Government’s agenda. More news, he added, will be announced at a convenient time.

That time will not be this year, a spokesperson for the newly created Legal Reform and International Law Office confirmed to MDTimes. “It’s not one of the 15 projects included in MSAR’s 2011 Legislative Plan,” she stressed.

“I believe the Government is yet to understand how urgent this issue is. Many of these problems are linked to public health and I guess people won’t care until something serious happens, like a cholera outbreak,” Martins said.

“What we would like is for the authorities to help us protect animals,” said Fátima Galvão. However, the Anima member shows little faith in the Government and gives one more reason why. “It’s shameful to spend MOP 90 million on two pandas, when they have a bear at the Flora Garden for over 20 years in miserable conditions,” she said.

A Panda Habitat theme park is set to open this month in Seac Pai Van, Coloane, with a couple of giant pandas offered by the Central Government. On the other hand, a bear has been living in Flora Garden since 1984.

“I think it’s long past time a law comes out. Furthermore, this is a simple law; it already exists in other parts of the world. Even many provinces of mainland China already have modern laws on this [issue],” Martins said.

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