Three Kidnapped Dogs
Recently, I heard from my employer (“M”) who runs a dog shelter that two of her dogs, a Golden Retriever named “Cindy” and a Japanese Spitz named “Hachie”, were stolen from her. A police report was made around 24 May but there has been little progress to date.
I was shocked. I could see that this incident has greatly affected my employer on a personal level. Often times owners of pets develop a strong emotional bond between them and these animals turn from “property” to family. Lacking the resources to keep them is painful enough. But losing both of them in such a manner? It must be unbearable.
Furthermore, this lack of progress has a potential impact on our impression of the Home Team. If they cannot effectively resolve matters such as this, then how can they handle larger issues? If they have a lack of resources to allocate to “small” matters such as this, then how can the average citizen seek help from them? If they are held back by too much red tape, is this something that needs to be changed?
In any case, this incident sparked my thoughts on what other recourses are citizens availed to when there are crimes and misdemeanours committed against us?
Summary of Incident
First, a brief summary of the “dognapping” incident would be appropriate to illustrate the points that I wish to highlight below. On 20 May 2017, a Chinese woman (“LWL”) and a Chinese man (“CC”) came to M’s shelter with the intent of adopting Cindy and Hachie. M refused to allow her dogs to get adopted by them which was further reflected in her refusal to let them complete the Adoption Paperwork as well as withholding the vaccination certificates of the two dogs. However, M allowed them to bring the dogs for a two-week home stay.
On 21 May 2017, “LWL” and “CC” started rushing M to complete the adoption paperwork for the two dogs. M refused and this heightened her suspicions about “LWL” and “CC”. On 24 May 2017, M requested for the immediate return of both dogs. “LWL” and “CC” ignored all messages and calls and even switched off their mobile phones. Things turned ugly after that.
Furthermore, another Japanese Spitz, “Michiko”, was adopted on 8 April 2017 by “LWL”. She had signed the adoption decree for this and violated the clause therein stating that “you cannot adopt a dog on behalf of someone or give it away.”
Back to my original query, what alternative recourse do citizens have when crimes are committed against them? Apart from engaging the police for public prosecution, we can also pursue private prosecution and seek redress via a Magistrate’s Complaint. After submitting the required documents and paying the fee of $20.00, if the Magistrate is satisfied that the application is in order, he may issue notice or summons or even direct the police to conduct an investigation.
However, one of the biggest potential problems with a Magistrate’s Complaint in this scenario would be the difficulty in ascertaining the addresses of “LWL” and “CC”. While the Magistrate may direct the police to ascertain their particulars or the Court will ascertain the address through available official records to effect service, it is unclear if “LWL” and “CC”’s names and identification given were legitimate to begin with. If the address cannot be determined, I understand there is a way to “compel” the police to produce the home address of the perpetrators. Without the home address, I believe the complaint would have to be sent to their work places.
If “LWL” and “CC”’s identification cards were fake/forged/“manufactured”, that is also a criminal offence under s 13(2)(b) of the National Registration Act which can attract a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment of up to 10 years or both.
Assuming that the Magistrate’s Complaint is successful, what are the possible criminal issues that would arise? In a layman’s eyes, this would be a case of theft. However, under s 378 of the Penal Code, the keywords “out of the possession of any person without that person’s consent” is a crucial element. Since the dogs were not in M’s possession, therefore, it cannot be considered theft. Instead, the appropriate charge would be criminal breach of trust under s 405. In our particular scenario, “LWL” and “CC” were entrusted with the dogs from 20/5/17 to 23/5/17. However, because they violated M’s trust, they had in effect, converted the dogs to their own use after 24/5/17 in violation of the home stay contract that was agreed upon. I would argue that this is a case of criminal misappropriation.
If these claims are successful, “LWL” and “CC” will be subject to criminal penalties as per a normal public prosecution.
However, if M wishes to obtain relief in the form of damages, a Magistrate’s Complaint would not avail her that remedy. M will have to press civil charges in conjunction with a Magistrate’s Complaint or simply civil charges on its own. The pros and cons of both a Magistrate’s Complaint, public prosecution, and a civil claim are listed out in the web-link provided in reference 4 below.
Under a civil suit, the most likely issue that would arise is that tort of conversion. The Court of Appeal has generally defined an act of conversion as one that “occurs when there is unauthorised dealing with the claimant’s chattel so as to question or deny his title to it.” It was further explained in Thomas Teddy and another v Kuiper International Pte Ltd at  that the only intention required is “the intention to act inconsistently with the owner’s rights.” Usually, this is proved by showing that “the owner made a specific and unconditional demand for the return of the goods and the person in possession of the goods unconditionally refused to do so.”
In this case, the Whatsapp conversations that took place between M and “LWL” as well as M and “CC” showed a specific and unconditional demand for the return of Cindy and Hachie on 24 May 2017. While neither “LWL” nor “CC” has expressly said that they will not return the dogs, both of their acts of ignoring M’s messages and calls coupled with the fact that it has been three weeks since M’s demanded the dogs’ immediate return, it is likely that it would be viewed as an unconditional refusal to accede to M’s demand.
An additional claim could be added on for Michiko as “LWL” has breached the contract.
Currently, I am a layman with several more months before graduating from law school. As of now, these are just personal conjectures and my thoughts on the matter. But from what I observe, I can see that M is extremely vexed and disappointed. She feels that “LWL” and “CC” are thriving at her expense and that there is no justice served. She feels that the rules and regulations Singapore has come up with are useless if the effort made by the police is so minimal. Every day she hopes to see the three dogs again and see “LWL” as well as “CC” being brought to task. Regardless of what the charge by the police is, I hope that we can get more information out from both parties and let justice be served.
Dennis Lim, Intern (June 2017)
 Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) S 378 states: “Whoever, intending to take dishonestly any movable property out of the possession of any person without that person’s consent, moves that property in order to such taking, is said to commit theft.”
Penal Code (Cap 224, 1985 Rev Ed) S 405 states: “Whoever, being in any manner entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, dishonestly misappropriates or converts to his own use that property, or dishonestly uses or disposes of that property in violation of any direction of law prescribing the mode in which such trust is to be discharged, or of any legal contract, express or implied, which he has made touching the discharge of such trust, or wilfully suffers any other person to do so, commits ‘criminal breach of trust’.”
 Tat Seng Machine Movers Pte Ltd v Orix Leasing Singapore Ltd  4 SLR(R) 1101 at  – .
 Thomas Teddy and another v Kuiper International Pte Ltd  SGHC 7 at .