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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Animal abuse in Singapore: It's a dog's life for some

17 cases of animal abuse this year, nearly double last year's total
Kimberly Spykerman & Grace Chua Straits Times 4 Oct 10;

ANIMAL abuse in Singapore has hit a startling high, with the number of cases so far this year far surpassing last year's total.

The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) said there were 17 cases of animal abuse in the first eight months of this year, almost double the nine cases reported for the whole of last year. Most of these cases involved dogs, cats and rabbits.

In 2007 and 2008, there were seven and 11 cases respectively.

The AVA attributed the large number of cases to growing awareness of abuse and credible witnesses coming forward more frequently. Both help provide the AVA with more teeth to pursue animal abusers.

Said AVA spokesman Goh Shih Yong: 'If there is sufficient evidence or witness accounts to show that cruelty was committed, AVA will not hesitate to take action.'

It added that in less serious cases, such as the ones that result from ignorance, offenders will be offered a composition fine up to a maximum of $1,000. But more serious abusers can expect AVA to prosecute them in court and push for a deterrent sentence.

Penalties for animal cruelty have been tightened over the years.

In 2002, Singapore passed laws which raised maximum fines and jail terms for animal cruelty offences from $500 and six months to $10,000 and 12 months respectively.

Animal activists, however, say that punishments meted out so far are more like 'slaps on the wrist'.

The president of Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), Mr Ricky Yeo, said that although there are tougher penalties for animal abuse, the full extent of the law has yet to be felt.

In 2007, a man was fined $3,500 for flinging his dog to the ground in a fit of rage following a quarrel with his girlfriend. The dog ended up with a fractured leg.

Mr Yeo also brought up recent cases in the news of a groomer and a dog breeder, who were jailed two and six weeks respectively for animal cruelty even though the maximum jail term is one year. 'There's still not enough emphasis on animal welfare,' he said.

A lack of empathy for animals may be one of the reasons there is still little information being shared about an incident earlier this year involving a pomeranian that was brutally bashed against a wall until it died. Singapore animal groups and vets said it was one of the worst cases of abuse seen here. The assailant has yet to be nabbed.

For their part, animal welfare groups like the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) have set out guidelines for the public to report cases of animal abuse.

CWS vice-president Veron Lau explained that while the society was receiving complaints about abuse from the public, the lack of proper documentation makes it nearly impossible to prosecute an abuser.

So it put up guidelines on its website, encouraging those who witness animal abuse to document the goings-on, take photos if possible, prepare a statement for the authorities and be willing to testify.

'If people feel so strongly about abuse, they should do something constructive and find out how to do something about it,' Ms Lau said.

As for those who abuse animals, the law may not be the only thing to worry about.

In an October 2005 paper that appeared in the United States-published Journal of Community Health, a team of researchers conducting a study over seven years in 11 metropolitan areas determined that pet abuse was one of five factors that predicted who would begin other abusive behaviours.

National University of Singapore cognitive psychologist John Elliott, who studies child abuse and neglect, said that while not all animal abusers go on to other crimes, such abusers may be wired differently: 'To contemplate abuse of another living thing, you need a certain sort of indifference to suffering, a sort of psychopathology.'


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