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LCQ12: Animal welfare and management
     Following is a question by the Hon Claudia Mo and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Professor Sophia Chan, in the Legislative Council today (December 13):


     Regarding the protection of animal rights and welfare, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) as the Chief Executive has pledged on her official webpage of social media earlier on that she and her colleagues concerned will show more care about animal rights in future, how the Chief Executive and the relevant policy bureaux will honour the pledge;

(2) whether the Government will allocate additional resources to the relevant policy bureaux and government departments in next year's Budget for enhanced efforts to protect animal rights and welfare; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) given that I have repeatedly suggested in the past the transfer of the policy area of protecting animal rights and welfare from the Food and Health Bureau to the Environment Bureau (ENB), so that ENB will take up the responsibility of drawing up all relevant policies on protecting animal rights and welfare, with a view to safeguarding biological diversity, as well as stepping up environmental conservation and sustainable development, whether discussions or studies in this regard have been undertaken within the Government; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(4) of the number of measures on the protection of animal rights and welfare implemented by the authorities at present, and the details of such measures and the annual public expenditure involved;

(5) whether the authorities will examine expanding the scale of their current co-operation with community groups, in order to step up the efforts to protect animal rights and welfare; whether the authorities will invite and subsidise community groups to conduct studies and tests so as to make use of folk wisdom and adopt a bottom-up approach to put forward suggestions on protecting animal rights and welfare; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(6) whether the authorities will consider specifying animal abandonment as an act of animal cruelty and raising the relevant penalties under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap 169), with a view to curbing such acts; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(7) given that in the reply to a question raised by a Member of this Council on the 22nd of last month, the authorities indicated that the review of covering cats and dogs in section 56 of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374) was expected to be completed within next year, whether the authorities will expeditiously make public the proposed provisions, and when the relevant bill is expected to be introduced into this Council;

(8) whether the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department will consider allowing members of the public to adopt animals directly from its four animal management centres; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(9) given that under the existing Temporary Permission Rule, public rental housing (PRH) tenants may, upon obtaining the approval from the Housing Department (HD), continue to keep small dogs (i.e. of less than 20kg in weight) which have already been kept in PRH units before August 1, 2003, whether HD will consider relaxing such requirement to allow other tenants to keep dogs; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     Having consulted the relevant bureaux, my reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(1), (2) and (4) The Government attaches great importance to animal welfare, and has been adopting a multi-pronged approach towards animal welfare and management, which includes:

(i) Strengthening public education: Public education is of utmost importance in safeguarding and promoting animal welfare. To this end, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has established a dedicated team to devise and implement enhanced public education and publicity programmes to promote responsible pet ownership and proper care for animals, advise against abandonment and needless surrendering of pets, and emphasise the need for dog licensing and rabies vaccination, as well as the benefits of neutering;

(ii) Handling and preventing acts of animal cruelty: AFCD, in conjunction with the Hong Kong Police Force (the Police), other relevant government departments and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), have set up an inter-departmental special working group since 2011. The working group is committed to forging close co-operation and mutual support in handling animal cruelty cases, and improving the handling of reports or complaints on animal cruelty;

(iii) Proper control on animal trading: To further enhance animal health and welfare, the Government amended the Public Health (Animals and Birds) (Animal Traders) Regulations (Cap 139B) last year to better regulate animal trading, as well as dog breeding and trading activities.  AFCD has been implementing the new licensing regime under the amended Regulations and taking enforcement actions against pet owners and traders in contravention of the relevant legislation;

(iv) Proper management of stray animals: The Government's policy objective is to ensure that animals and people co-exist in a harmonious way in Hong Kong. While safeguarding animal welfare, we also take appropriate measures to properly deal with the possible nuisance and public health problems caused by animals, especially the stray ones, with a view to safeguarding public hygiene and safety in Hong Kong. In this regard, AFCD has been assisting the animal welfare organisations (AWOs) concerned in implementing the trap-neuter-return trial scheme for stray dogs, as well as implementing a long term strategy for the management of stray cattle in collaboration with relevant AWOs and local communities, which includes trapping, neutering, returning or relocating stray cattle;

(v) Preventing and monitoring rabies: As rabies is a fatal disease that may be transmitted to humans from pets, AFCD has been implementing a comprehensive anti-rabies programme, with rabies vaccination for dogs being one of the key measures. Under the Rabies Regulations (Cap 421A), the Animal Management Centres (AMCs) of AFCD also provide dog keepers with licensing and microchipping services for dogs in order to monitor the population and health of dogs;

(vi) Fostering close partnership with AWOs: AFCD has been working in close collaboration with various AWOs, as well as providing them with technical and financial support for enhancing services on promoting animal welfare. Such collaborations include providing animal re-homing services; free neutering services for animals re-homed through the relevant AWOs; carrying out activities, seminars and exhibitions etc. relating to animal welfare and management; inviting representatives of AWOs to join the Animal Welfare Advisory Group of AFCD to offer views on animal welfare issues, such as management of stray animals, public education and drafting of guidelines, etc.; and

(vii) Implementing other relevant measures to enhance the promotion of animal welfare: AFCD commissioned a study in October this year to test the safety of pet food sold in the Hong Kong market, with a view to gaining better knowledge of the pet food available in the market and subsequently assessing whether the safety of pet food is a concern. The study is expected to be completed in three years.

     To further enhance the protection of animal welfare, the Government has a new initiative in the Policy Agenda announced in October this year to study the existing legislation related to animal welfare and explore introducing a concept of positive duty of care on animal keepers into the legislation. In addition, AFCD will compile codes of practice on keeping different animals, such as dogs, cats, reptiles and small mammals, etc., to enhance public's knowledge on animal keeping for the sake of safeguarding animal welfare. In the meantime, AFCD and the Police will join hands with SPCA and other AWOs concerned to investigate into and initiate prosecution against suspected animal cruelty cases.

     In 2017-18, AFCD has earmarked about $55 million for the said work, whilst the Budget for the next financial year is under preparation. 

(3) In Hong Kong, matters related to animal welfare, conservation and biodiversity, etc. are governed by different ordinances. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap 169) is the primary legislation for safeguarding animal welfare, which mainly relates to prohibiting and punishing acts of cruelty to animals, and imposing a duty of animal owners or keepers. On the other hand, the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance (Cap 586) gives effect to the implementation of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Hong Kong, which aims to ensure that, by means of effective inter-governmental efforts among the contracting parties, international trade would not affect the sustainable use of wild fauna and flora or render them becoming endangered or extinct. Animal welfare and the maintenance of biodiversity and conservation entail different considerations, and are under the purviews of the Food and Health Bureau and the Environment Bureau respectively. Currently, there is no plan to change the above policy division.

(5) AFCD has been collaborating with AWOs for years to enhance animal welfare and promote better animal management. Recognising that most AWOs are non-profit making with limited resources, the Government has been providing subvention to AWOs in supporting their work.  Since the inception of the subvention scheme in 2011, a total of 56 applications from 17 AWOs have been received by AFCD. AFCD welcomes and accepts suggestions from AWOs as appropriate. AFCD will continue to strengthen the collaboration with AWOs, and closely monitor the implementation of the subvention scheme. 

(6) The Government last amended in 2006 the penalty level provided in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (the Ordinance) to substantially increase the maximum fine for offences against the prohibited acts under the Ordinance from $5,000 to $200,000 and the maximum imprisonment from six months to three years. The Government has made reference to the legislation related to animal cruelty in other countries/places and confirmed that the maximum penalty set out in the Ordinance is heavier than that in most of those places. Among the convicted cases under the Ordinance, depending on their circumstances and severity, the heaviest sentence handed down by the court is imprisonment for 16 months. In a recent convicted case, the offender was sentenced to imprisonment for 12 months. Separately, according to the existing Rabies Ordinance (Cap 421), a keeper of any animal who, without reasonable excuse, abandons that animal commits an offence and is liable to a maximum fine of $10,000 and maximum imprisonment for six months. When studying the existing legislation related to animal welfare, the Government will also review aspects of abandoned animals. 

(7) The Government expects to complete the review on the suggestion to cover cats and dogs in section 56 of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374) within 2018. The Government will, upon conclusion of the review, consider amending the relevant legislation and consult the Legislative Council in due course. 

(8) Animal re-homing service involves the assessment of the suitability of a prospective adopter and the living environment for animal adoption, and the following up on whether the adopter has taken proper care of the animal. It is therefore more appropriate for non-profit-making AWOs which are armed with the relevant experience and adopter network to provide such service. At present, AFCD partners with a total of 19 AWOs in arranging re-homing for animals abandoned or surrendered. They are distributed in different districts of Hong Kong which provide people interested in adopting animals with a convenient way to do so. The four Animal Management Centres (AMCs) of AFCD are responsible for rabies control, animal quarantine and related law enforcement. The existing accommodation and supporting facilities of the AMCs have not catered for providing animal re-homing service.

(9) Dog keeping may affect environmental hygiene and create nuisance to tenants in densely populated public rental housing (PRH) estates. Therefore, dog keeping is prohibited in PRH estates under the Hong Kong Housing Authority (HA) except for (a) permitted dogs under the Temporary Permission Rule (note 1) and (b) service dogs (note 2). HA's 2016 Public Housing Recurrent Survey collected opinions of about 5 000 public housing households on dog keeping in PRH estates. Findings of the survey revealed that the majority of the interviewees disagreed about relaxing the arrangements of dog keeping. Therefore, HA has no plan to relax the arrangement to allow normal tenants to keep dogs, so as to maintain a quiet and clean living environment in PRH estates.

Note 1: The Subsidised Housing Committee of the Hong Kong Housing Authority endorsed the implementation of the one-off Temporary Permission Rule in 2003, allowing tenants to continue keeping small dogs which were already kept in PRH units before August 1, 2003 until the dogs’ natural death.

Note 2: Service dogs include guide dogs for visually impaired tenants and companion dogs for tenants who have strong special needs for mental support.
Ends/Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Issued at HKT 17:55
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