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LCQ18: Prevention of cruelty to animals

     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Helena Wong and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (March 20):


     The Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), in collaboration with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong), veterinary associations and animal concern groups, introduced the Animal Watch Scheme in 2011 to fight against cruelty to animals through a four-pronged approach of education, publicity, intelligence gathering and investigation, including referring such cases to the professional crime investigation teams under HKPF for investigation. Meanwhile, HKPF indicated earlier that it had forwarded the requests of animal welfare concern groups and individuals for the establishment of "animal police" to the Food and Health Bureau (FHB), which is responsible for overall animal welfare matters. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the number of reports received by the authorities in each of the past five years on suspected cases of cruelty to animals; the number of animals which were injured or killed and abusers in such cases; a breakdown on the number of reports by the type of harm done to the animals, the number of abusers and District Council district;

(b) of the detection rates of such cases, the number of persons arrested as well as the number of persons convicted and the respective maximum and minimum penalties imposed on them by the court, in each of the past five years;

(c) of the respective resources deployed by the authorities since 2011 (broken down by month) to fight against cruelty to animals in respect of education, publicity, intelligence gathering and investigation;

(d) whether it has assessed the effectiveness of the Animal Watch Scheme on the whole and in respect of the aforesaid four aspects; if it has, of the assessment criteria, as well as details of publicity and education activities, the amount of intelligence gathered and the number of cases investigated since the introduction of the Scheme; if not, the reasons for that;

(e) of the number of cases of cruelty to animals handled by the crime investigation teams each month since 2011; whether the team members have received professional training relevant to animal rights and welfare; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that, and how it ensures that the team members have adequate professional knowledge in handling cases of cruelty to animals; and

(f) whether HKPF, FHB and the Security Bureau had conducted inter-departmental meetings on the establishment of "animal police" in the past five years; if they had, of the details (including the dates, time, venues and conclusions, etc.) of such meetings each year; whether they have considered providing the crime investigation team members in various police districts or individual police districts or other members of HKPF with relevant professional knowledge and training, and designating such members of HKPF to handle animal-related cases specifically; if they have, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, cruelty to animals includes the act of cruelly beating, kicking, ill-treating, torturing, infuriating or terrifying animals, or causing unnecessary suffering to them. Other forms of cruelty to animals include carrying animals or holding them in captivity in an improper way. Officers from various government departments, including senior veterinary officers, health officers, health inspectors, police officers and authorised officers from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), may take enforcement actions under the Ordinance depending on the circumstances. In 2006, with the support of the Legislative Council, we raised the maximum penalty under the Ordinance by a significant margin.  From a fine of $5,000 and imprisonment for six months, the maximum penalty has been brought up to a fine of $200,000 and imprisonment for three years, offering a good measure of deterrence.

     For the purpose of enhancing co-operation among the departments and organisations concerned, AFCD, in conjunction with the Hong Kong Police Force (the Police), the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (HKSPCA), set up in 2011 an inter-departmental special working group (working group) to examine our work on handling animal cruelty cases. The Police introduced the "Animal Watch Scheme" (the Scheme) in 2011 to step up co-operation among stakeholders for joint efforts to combat crimes of cruelty to animals. The Scheme aims to strengthen the Police's efforts in the investigation of animal cruelty cases. By enhancing
co-operation with different organisations and promoting wider public involvement, it enables animal cruelty cases to be prevented and detected more effectively.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) and (b) In the past five years, the Administration has received the following number of reports on suspected cruelty to animals: 187 in 2008; 157 in 2009; 153 in 2010; 129 in 2011 and 77 in 2012 (up to September).

     The distinctive nature of animal cruelty cases is such that most of the animals involved are stray cats and dogs found in secluded locations (such as rear lanes). That being the case, law enforcement officers invariably encounter greater difficulties in collecting and adducing evidence. That, however, does not deter them from making their best endeavours to bring to justice those who committed cruelty to animals. As it turned out, the investigations done by the departments concerned showed that most of the reported cases did not involve cruelty to animals.  From 2008 to September 2012, there were 68 cases involving cruelty to animals in which there was sufficient evidence for instituting prosecutions. The vast majority of the prosecutions were successful. There were only six cases in which the persons involved had not been convicted.  Details are shown in Annex.

(c) and (d) Further details about the work done by the Administration in combating animal cruelty cases since 2011, the resources spent on education, publicity, intelligence gathering and investigation as well as the overall effectiveness of our efforts are given below.

     In pursuing efforts to safeguard and promote animal welfare, we have taken public education as the most important part of our work. In this regard, AFCD has established a dedicated team to devise, implement and fortify public education and publicity programme for promoting care for animals and pressing home the related messages. Since April 2011, AFCD has allocated over $18 million to public education and publicity for promoting animal welfare. The primary tasks include disseminating messages advocating "responsible pet ownership" and protection of animals. The relevant activities include producing announcements in the public interest on TV and radio; placing advertisements on such platforms as cinemas, public transport, bus stops, magazines and websites; organising promotional events jointly with different animal welfare organisations in shopping arcades and outdoor venues; the conduct of village and community campaigns, as well as holding talks in schools and housing estates. Breakdown of statistics by month is not available.

     The Animal Watch Scheme introduced by the Police is also supported by two professional veterinary associations (i.e. the Hong Kong Veterinary Association and China (Hong Kong) Veterinary Association). They help us disseminate, amongst their members (i.e. practising veterinarians), the Government's messages on combating cruelty to animals. With a view to strengthening the intelligence network, they also help encourage their members to report suspected acts of cruelty to animals or the suspected culprits. At the same time, the Police and the AFCD welcome wider participation on the part of the public and animal concern groups in combating cruelty to animals. Should any member of the public come across a case of animal cruelty, he/she may call the Police or report to the AFCD via the 1823 Call Centre. Upon receipt of the report, the relevant department will take appropriate and prompt action to follow up.

     On the investigation front, in order to help front-line officers better understand the multi-agency approach in handling animal cruelty cases thereby enhancing their professional standards in on-site investigation and management, the Police has organised criminal investigation courses for them and invited AFCD, HKSPCA and officers with relevant expertise to share their experience. They also conduct seminars to help Police officers grasp the prevailing trend of animal cruelty cases.

     The numbers of stray animals found in response to complaints and animals delivered to AFCD by the public in the past two years have decreased by 26% and 11% respectively. The number of suspected cases of cruelty to animals has also been declining. This shows that the Scheme has been effective. The Scheme has been in place for less than two years. The Police, AFCD and HKSPCA will maintain close liaison to ensure its effective operation.

(e) and (f) From 2011 to September 2012, a total of 106 suspected cases of cruelty to animals were handled by the crime investigation teams of the Police.  

     At present, all members of the crime investigation teams have received professional crime investigation training and are capable of handling cases of cruelty to animals. In fact, the Police has provided the crime investigation teams in various police districts with adequate manpower, exposure and professional investigation skills to follow up such cases. Depending on the distribution of cases and the prevailing trend, the Police will consider designating dedicated teams to investigate the cases so that the detection work can be conducted in a more comprehensive and targeted manner.

     In handling animal cruelty cases, members of the working group referred to in the preamble of this reply render mutual support to each other. The Police and AFCD carry out detection of animal cruelty cases and, in the process, would exchange information with HKSPCA from time to time. AFCD provides the expert veterinary advice necessary for taking forward the investigation and judicial proceedings. FEHD assists in handling environmental hygiene issues and animal carcasses. As for HKSPCA, it provides medical services to the animals involved and runs a 24-hour hotline for public enquiries about animal cruelty cases. It also assists law enforcement agents as necessary. In discharging its duties on animal management and welfare, AFCD is responsible for publicity, education, intelligence gathering, as well as the inspection of the sale outlets for pets.

     The efforts made by the working group have brought concrete results, as borne out by successful prosecutions including the following. In April 2011, AFCD cracked down a case of internet-based illegal animal trading activities in Kwun Tong. It rescued 43 puppies at the scene. They were in poor health and had to be sent to HKSPCA for treatment. The defendant was eventually fined and sentenced to 160 hours of community service. In March 2012, the Police and HKSPCA uncovered an animal cruelty case in Kowloon City. The defendant was sentenced to four months' imprisonment. In July 2012, they uncovered another case in Hung Hom and the defendant was sentenced to two months' imprisonment. The successful prosecution of the defendants in these cases is due largely to the close communication, collaboration and joint action of all members of the working group.  

     The Animal Watch Scheme has further strengthened co-operation among stakeholders, laying the ground for concerted efforts to combat crimes of cruelty to animals. By allowing flexible deployment of Police resources, the arrangements are effective in combating animal cruelty cases.

Ends/Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:24


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