Saturday, 23 June 2012

Animal Welfare Bill


"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress 
can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated."


Last Tuesday, I had the privilege to attend a forum organised by the DVS on the proposed Animal Welfare Bill (please participate in the survey).
So while I congratulate the DVS for organizing this very healthy development, I have to apologize if I'm being cynical (after all the things we have seen in the recent past)- my concern was if was simply a talk-shop organized as a public relations exercise. Nevertheless- I attended, hoping for the best possible outcome.

The event began with the explanation of the draft of proposed bill by Dr. Quaza, after which the Q & A session started.
Truth be told, much of the concerns were addressed by the proposed bill- including the issue of abandonment, strays management, proper guidelines on pet/animal ownership, euthanasia, surgical mutilation of animals, slaughter, health etc.

Councillor Anthony from MBPJ (and also President of Pet Positive) queried if the enforcement agencies would be subject prosecution should they themselves violate the laws on animal cruelty. The reply seemed a little ambiguous ("they are all with the government"- so how?) although they affirmed that enforcers are definitely bound by the same laws.
IMO, a reply saying that an "ombudsman" can be appointed to oversee operations- would have been more constructive. After all, many contracted "dog-catchers" aren't exactly the sharpest minds around, nor are many of the local pounds 5-star Dog Hotels.

One another point- The proposed bill suggests that the animal has the right to shelter, food etc- but we have situations wherein dogs are abandoned by owners (creating strays) because certain developments forbid dog ownership based on the misinterpration of Pt II (d) of the Third Schedule of the "Strata Titles Act" (STA), which states that 

Strangely, this above law seems to be applied only to dogs (there seems to be no issue with other straying animals, even if they scratched your cars, stole food from your kitchen, carried diseases or even pissed/ poo-ed in your house). I do not understand how "health authorities" (or the DVS) do not see straying cats which are known vectors, as a nuisance or health menace- and so not have licencing laws or guidelines for them.

Many councils in urban areas these days have chosen to have a "lazy" interpretation of the above prohibition (by conveniently neglecting the second half of the sentence- in bold above), and denying licences to dogs  in these communities- even if they weren't a nuisance to the neighbours in any way.
Some "enforcers" have even dragged animals away from their owners into pounds, and subjected them to the cruel fate of spending time in the very dirty/unhealthy local pounds. This has led to abandonment of dogs- which in turn compounds the problem of strays (which this law incidentally wants to address), which in turn becomes a social/health problem.
Do enforcers have a right to take a dog away from its master- even if the master complies with all the guidelines? I think not.
How does this law address such violations?

This is in fact, also partly what Councillor Anthony has queried of the Animal Welfare Bill.

We do know that people have dogs which are part of their family, disabled have service dogs, and many have dogs just as watchdogs. Many dogs are single master animals and are attached to their master/family for life. Just as man has the right to own an animal- dogs (in this case) in turn become attached their owners as their master. 

Aren't these animals entitled to have their master (wherever they may live) if the master complies with the guidelines? To deprive these animals of their master based on a "lazy" interpretation of the law, in my POV amounts to cruelty.

Gandhi once said, 

"The more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is 
to protection by man from the cruelty of man."

Therefore, this proposed "Animal Welfare Bill" not only should one to cover the proper conduct of man in owning/handling animals- but should also be able to educate and help man understand the animals he owns.
If it fails to protect the animal's right to be owned by its master- the law fails in this very fundamental role to protect the animal from the shortcomings of glib-minded humans.
I certainly hope the DVS would look into this matter seriously.

Lastly- I would like to once again congratulate the DVS for an excellent job at organizing the very constructive forum, to get feedback from the public. 
More such public consultations should be held from all departments/ministries before tabling of Bills in Parliament.
It is only in such a manner can we be called a progressive and participatory democracy.

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