Animal rights in Singapore: A millennial step back?

A video clip recently posted on Yahoo! News has caught my attention. In the 2 minutes 42 seconds video clip, Terry Yee, a Singaporean attacking a dog who rushed at him while he was cycling and caused him to fall. He was also seen punching, kicking and repeatedly hitting the dog with a motorcycle helmet.

Since the video clip was circulated, Terry Yee came under intense public criticism after his personal information was exposed. He has also publicly admitted to being the person shown in the video.

It is worthy to note that this video is not the first of its kind. There are many other cases of pets being ill-treated and/or abused by their owners and stray dogs and cats being cruelly mutilated and left to die in the open.

This video sparked my interest in a discussion of the existing animal rights and welfare in Singapore.

Having a dog for the past 15 years opened my eyes to the social issues surrounding the rights of animals to be protected by the law. Simply said, even though the existing legislation does provide some form of protection for animals, it leaves room for improvement.

For example, section 42 of the Animals and Birds Act (Cap. 7) entails a certain degree of criminality for cruelty to animals where any person found guilty of an offence under this section shall be punishable with a fine of $15,000 to $100,000 and imprisonment for a term of 18 months to 3 years.

As far as criminal sanctions are concerned, section 428 of the Penal Code (Cap. 224) carries a punishment of imprisonment for a term which may extend to 5 years or a fine or both.

No doubt the legislation provides some form of rights and protections for animals, cases of offenders being prosecuted are rarely reported on the news. This then raises the question of enforceability of the legislation, how are they enforced and how frequent?

More often than not, the lack of eye witnesses and direct evidence impedes on any potential investigations which can be made to animal cruelty and welfare cases. Other difficulties the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (“AVA”) faces include carcasses of the animals being disposed in a bad condition, making any post mortem analysis futile and cases reported to AVA for follow-up are delayed.

The impediments for an investigation or prosecution of offenders are real and there appears to be little effort on the relevant authorities to educate or inform the general public of their responsibilities when it comes to improving animal welfare in Singapore.

For the sake of comparison, in Switzerland where no one is allowed to have a pet dog unless they take and finish a course on how to look after it properly. What is more interesting is that different animals get a different set of protection under the Swiss law. In fact, the protection afforded to animals in Switzerland is specific that even the amount of space and exercise animals must be given.

Some may argue that animal cruelty is subjective; Cruelty to one may not be the case for another. In this day and age, photographs and videos spreads across multiple social media platforms like a rapid fire, resulting in animal abuse cases being ‘normalised’ in our culture vis a vis complicating any efforts to educate the general public on animal rights.

In spite of this, with the existing presence of millennials in the internet world, we can seek to put across the importance of animal rights and welfare by sharing the positive societal culture of animal treatment as well as the negative consequences of ill-treatment.

Using the internet as a powerful social medium as it is, we can now endeavour to give animals a voice of justice; to report and discuss the numerous incidents of unreported animal abuse in Singapore and around the world. In time to come, we hope to be progressing towards a society which understands the importance of rights and protection of helpless animals.

Being an adult in this fast-paced (internet) world myself, it heartens me to know that there are like-minded people who cares about our four-legged friends as much as I do; I find it unusually comforting to hear more and more people standing up for animal rights and welfare.

Progress, I would like to call it.

Written by Tracy Wang, Associate, Golden Law LLC