LCQ2: Prevention of cruelty to animals

     Following is a question by the Hon Miriam Lau and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (June 15):


     In early May this year, serious incidents involving cruelty to and brutal killing of cats occurred one after another in just a few days, including a female kitten, which was only two months old, suspected to be shot as a live target with an air gun and eight copper-plated metal pellets were found in its body; an adult spotted cat, which was suspected to be poisoned, stuck in a plastic bag before being thrown from the upper floor of a tenement building and died tragically; and a four-month-old stray cat, which was brutally tortured to death, with its spine broken from beating and died tragically with five knife stabs to its abdomen.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a)  of the number of reported cases of cruelty to animals received by the authorities in each of the past five years, with a breakdown by the district in which the incident occurred, the kind of animals involved, the type of incidents and the casualties;  

(b)  among the reported cases in (a), of the number of cases in which the authorities were not able to institute prosecution and the reasons for not being able to do so, broken down by the type of cases; whether any new initiative is in place to enhance the successful rate of prosecution; if so, of the details; whether the authorities will consider afresh establishing an "animal police" and offering rewards, so as to increase detection rates; if no new initiative is in place, the reasons for that; and

(c)  of the progress of the authorities' work in promoting the prevention of cruelty to animals, and whether they will consider increasing the existing penalty for cruelty to animals; if they will, of the details; if not, the reason for that?



     Over the years, the Government has adopted a multi-pronged strategy comprising education, publicity and law enforcement to raise public awareness of animal rights.  The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap. 169) (the Ordinance) was specifically enacted to combat cruelty to animals.  Officers from various government departments, including senior veterinary officers, health officers, health inspectors, police officers and authorised officers from Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), may enforce the Ordinance as appropriate.

     To further enhance cooperation in handling animal cruelty cases among the departments and organisations concerned, AFCD, in conjunction with the Police, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong), set up a special working group earlier this year to review the work on handling animal cruelty cases.  The focus of the working group is on the enhancement of mutual support, the development of guidelines for respective departments to enhance efficiency, and the provision of professional advice by relevant departments and organisations, with a view to ensuring that the welfare of the animals involved in the cruelty cases is adequately protected.  The working group will also study the level of penalty imposed by the courts for convicted cases.  If the penalty is considered to be too lenient, it will make recommendation to the Department of Justice as necessary.

     With the significant increase in the maximum penalty under the Ordinance which was initiated by the Administration and endorsed by the Legislative Council in 2006, bringing the fine of $5,000 to $200,000 and imprisonment for six months to three years, the maximum penalty now provides sufficient deterrence.  My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) & (b)  In the years between 2007 and 2010, the AFCD and the Police received 190, 187, 157 and 153 reports of suspected cruelty to animals respectively.  These reports mainly involved dogs and cats.  In fact, upon investigation, it was found that most of the reported cases did not involve cruelty to animals.  Over the past five years, there were 70 cases which had been proven to involve animal cruelty and for which there was sufficient evidence for instituting prosecutions.  Among these cases, there were 14 in 2006, 18 in each of 2007 and 2008, nine in 2009 and 11 in 2010.  The vast majority of prosecutions were successful.  In the past five years, there were only seven cases in which the persons involved had not been convicted.

     As the nature of animal cruelty cases is distinctive in that most of the animals involved are stray cats and dogs found in secluded locations (such as rear lanes), law enforcement officers inevitably encounter greater difficulty in collecting and adducing evidence.  That said, they are making their best endeavours to bring to justice those who committed cruelty to animals.

     The Crime Investigation Teams of various police districts have adequate manpower, experience and professional investigatory skills to handle cases of animal cruelty.  If there is an increasing trend of animal cruelty cases in a certain district, the Police will consider deploying dedicated teams to investigate the cases in a more comprehensive and focused way in order to ensure an early detection of the crimes.  By allowing greater flexibility in the deployment of resources to efficiently handle animal cruelty cases, such an arrangement will be more effective than setting up "animal police" teams.  Besides, the Police will consider offering rewards having regard to the nature and needs of individual cases, so as to encourage the public to provide clues for the detection of the cases.

     The public is now aware of the various effective channels to report cases of animal abuse, including calling the Police or reporting to the AFCD via the 1823 Call Centre.  We will continue to strengthen publicity and education so as to enhance public awareness of animal abuse cases.  We will also encourage the public to report such cases and adduce evidence as and when appropriate.

(c)  Enforcement aside, promotion and education are also important in enhancing public awareness of care for animals.  To this end, AFCD produces television and radio Announcements in the Public Interest and posters to be put up on public transport carriers.  Moreover, the department also prepares promotional leaflets, posters and souvenirs for distribution to the public.  Activities are organised to promote care for animals and prevention of animal abuse, raise public awareness of animal welfare and bring home the message of respecting life and caring for animals.  Last year, the AFCD organised and co-organised with other organisations more than ten roving exhibitions, promotions in shopping malls and large-scale outdoor publicity activities promoting the message of care for animals.

     As I have just pointed out, the maximum penalty under the Ordinance was significantly increased in 2006.  We also notice that the sentences handed down by the court carry a substantial deterrent effect.  For instance, in March 2010, a man convicted of abusing a dog was sentenced to two months' imprisonment.  In April 2010, a fine of $7,000 and two weeks' imprisonment were imposed on the owner of a dog farm for negligence of care of dogs.

     We consider that, apart from penalties with substantial deterrent effect and appropriate sentencing, the most effective way to reduce the number of animal cruelty cases is to enhance public awareness of respect for life and care for animals.  We will therefore continue to enhance the promotional and educational activities in this respect.  The timely reporting of any suspected case of cruelty to animals and provision of evidence will also be conducive to successful prosecution and reduction of such cases.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:03