LCQ15: Combating acts of cruelty to animals

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Hak-kan and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (November 9):
     The Government has implemented the Animal Watch Scheme since 2011 to step up co-operation among the relevant Government departments and organisations in the joint combat against cruelty to animals.  However, an animal protection organisation has pointed out that incidents of animal abuse still occur from time to time.  In the past three months, there were already more than 30 stray cats suspected to have been abused to death in To Kwa Wan.  The organisation is disappointed that after a long time, the Police have not arrested nor instituted prosecutions against the abusers involved in such cases.  The organisation has further pointed out that the relevant departments and organisations always passed the buck among themselves when dealing with cases of animal abuse.  For example, the Police will open a case file and initiate criminal investigation only if a staff member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has concluded on the spot that the animal's cause of death is suspicious.  However, SPCA is often unable to determine the animal's cause of death without first conducting a post-mortem examination, and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) will conduct a post-mortem examination only after the Police have opened a case file.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) given that extremely serious cases of animal abuse occur frequently in To Kwa Wan, whether the authorities will consider setting up a crime investigation team in Kowloon City Police District to deal with such kind of cases;
(2) given that the cause of death of an animal whose carcass has no visible injury may be found to be suspicious upon post-mortem examination, how the Police and SPCA handle the animal carcasses seized by them; whether the authorities will consider handing over such animal carcasses to animal welfare organisations for them to arrange post-mortem examination; if they will not, of the reasons for that;
(3) of the respective current roles and duties of the relevant government departments and organisations (including the Police, AFCD, SPCA and veterinary associations) under the Animal Watch Scheme; whether the authorities have formulated guidelines and codes of practice on issues relating to the operation of the scheme; if they have, of the details, and whether they will review the effectiveness of the scheme; if they will, of the details;
(4) given that the Tai Lung Veterinary Laboratory (TLVL), Sheung Shui, under AFCD is currently the only laboratory providing official post-mortem examination services, of (i) the number of laboratory rooms in TLVL, (ii) the time TLVL normally takes for conducting a post-mortem examination, and (iii) the maximum daily number of animal post-mortem examination TLVL can conduct;
(5) of the respective numbers of suspected cases of cruelty to animals in the past five years in respect of which the Police received reports, opened case files for criminal investigation and instituted prosecutions; and
(6) given that quite a number of members of the public have relayed to me that the existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance  (Cap. 169) is more lenient than the relevant legislation in other jurisdictions, and is not effective in deterring animal abusers from inflicting cruelty to animals, when the authorities will commence work on reviewing and amending the legislation?
     The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap. 169) (Ordinance) aims at combating acts of cruelty to animals.  To enhance co-operation among various Government departments and organisations concerned in this respect, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), in conjunction with the Hong Kong Police Force (Police), the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Hong Kong) (SPCA), set up an inter-departmental special working group in 2011 for forging closer co-operation and mutual support in handling animal cruelty cases.  In the same year, the Police, together with AFCD, SPCA and veterinary associations, introduced the Animal Watch Scheme (Scheme) to strengthen efforts in tackling such cases.
     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:
(1) According to the Police's record, its Hung Hom Division and SPCA received a total of 10 reports of cat deaths in the district from August to early October 2016.  Investigation showed that nine of the cases did not involve any criminal element, and the deaths were mostly caused by animal bites.  All of the said cases were classified as "animal carcass found" cases.
     The remaining case is being followed up by the crime investigation team of the Kowloon City District.  The animal carcass involved was examined by AFCD's designated veterinary laboratory, and the death was preliminarily assessed to be caused by dog bites.  Upon receipt of a detailed examination report from the veterinary laboratory, the Police will decide whether further investigation is needed.  In view that the above cases may be connected with stray cats and dogs in the district, AFCD will take appropriate follow-up actions including inspections, capture and removal of stray dogs and cats in the district.
     The Police will investigate all animal cruelty cases in a professional manner.  To better enforce the Ordinance, the crime investigation teams in different police districts will be responsible for handling suspected animal cruelty cases.  Depending on its manpower resources, nature of the cases, and any increase in the number of cases, individual police districts will assign dedicated teams to take follow-up investigation as necessary.
(2) If the cause of death of an animal is found suspicious by the Police, the carcass concerned will be sent to AFCD's designated veterinary laboratory for examination.  If the cause of death of the animal is determined on the spot to be not suspicious, the Police will inform FEHD to remove the carcass.
(3) The Police launched the Scheme in October 2011 in collaboration with AFCD, SPCA and veterinary associations.  The Scheme adopts a holistic approach by promoting wider public participation, strengthening the existing co-operation between agencies, and enhancing the professionalism of officers in the investigation and prosecution of such cases.  Under the Scheme, relevant departments and organisations undertake their respective duties, with the Police and AFCD responsible for the investigation of animal cruelty cases. Information is exchanged regularly with SPCA.  AFCD's dedicated team for animal management and welfare supports and complements the work of other departments and organisations in the areas of education, intelligence gathering, publicity and investigation, and provides expert advice on animal cruelty cases.  Where necessary, AFCD conducts post-mortem examination to find out the cause of animal deaths.  SPCA provides medical service to maltreated animals and runs a 24-hour hotline to gather information on animal abuse cases from the public so as to assist the work of the law enforcement officers.
     The Police reviewed the effectiveness of the Scheme in early 2016.  All stakeholders consider that the Scheme has been operating well and is effective in combating animal cruelty.  The Police will further review the Scheme whenever appropriate based on actual needs.
(4) There are 19 laboratory rooms in AFCD's Tai Lung Veterinary Laboratory located in Sheung Shui.  The laboratory conducts various kinds of tests and laboratory examinations, including post-mortem examination, bacteriological examination, serological testing and molecular biological testing.  Since the time required for post-mortem examination is subject to animal types and case categories, as well as the number and types of tests required, the number of post-mortem examination carried out by AFCD varies daily.
(5) At present, the Police and AFCD can take enforcement actions under the Ordinance depending on the circumstances.  The numbers of animal cruelty reports received by the Police and prosecutions initiated by the relevant departments under the Ordinance in the past five years are set out in Annex.  The Police does not keep statistics on cases filed for criminal investigation for the past five years.
(6) Under the Ordinance, any person who cruelly beats, kicks, ill-treats, over-rides, over-drives, overloads, tortures, infuriates or terrifies any animal, or by wantonly or unreasonably doing or omitting to do any act, causes any unnecessary suffering to any animal commits an offence.  The Government updated and substantially increased the penalty levels in 2006 to strengthen deterrence.  The current maximum penalty under the Ordinance is a fine of $200,000 and imprisonment for three years.  The definition of acts of cruelty to animals under the Ordinance is comparable to that adopted in some overseas jurisdictions (e.g. Singapore), and the maximum penalty under the Ordinance is heavier than that of our neighbouring regions (e.g. Singapore and Japan).  The Government is of the view that the current penalty level can provide sufficient deterrence against acts of animal cruelty and has no plan to amend the penalty level stipulated in the Ordinance for the time being.
     The Government considers that public education on responsible pet ownership is more important for safeguarding and promoting animal welfare.  To this end, AFCD has established a dedicated team to disseminate the messages of animal care and responsible pet ownership.  In the past year, AFCD conducted a series of educational and publicity activities, including broadcasting publicity messages in the media and holding talks in schools and local communities.  Our efforts on this front will continue.

Ends/Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:02