Malaysia: Another animal bill on the way

Stricter law will inform people how to care for animals
Tan Choe Choe New Straits Times 1 Jan 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: THERE is already an Animal Act 1953 and there will be an Animal Welfare Act soon -- two laws instead of just one to look into the proper handling, care and welfare of animals in Malaysia.

Although the former is regarded as almost obsolete and is awaiting amendments and the latter has yet to be tabled, has Malaysia come to a stage where there is a need for so many laws to tell us how to care for animals?

In the past 31 years that he has been in the Veterinary Services Department (DVS), Datuk Dr Mohammad Azmie Zakaria said he had seen how Malaysians had become "more and more detached" in their dealings with animals.

He described how people he met during the earlier years of his service in the industry, used to cry if their animals were harmed or injured -- even if they were just cattle used to till the land.

"They cared for them because the relationship between the animal and their livelihood and their family was so close," the director of biosecurity and the sanitary and phyto-sanitary division told the New Sunday Times in an interview recently.

Dr Azmie said that rampant commercialism today had changed all that.

"You own it, but you probably don't touch it. You see it as a business and somebody else cares for it. So you don't feel for the animal. We want to bring back the element of seeing that animal as part of your family."

Azmie said this was also true in the case of pets. With affluence, more and more people would want to own pets because they were cute or because they were expensive and a status symbol. "Pets become toys. People forget that owning a pet comes with responsibility -- that you have to not just care for it and give it shelter, but also to provide for its emotional well-being."

There was a need to re-educate our society, he said.

"Animals are living, breathing beings -- like you and I -- and they can experience pain, joy and sadness, too.

"We have to have laws to restructure, to re-align our society back to the kind of thinking that we have lost."

Azmie said it was no longer sufficient to only look at the issue of cruelty to animals.

"That is very real but very basic. When we talk about animal welfare, we are talking about beyond that, about improving our people, our attitude, our world views and civic consciousness to another level."

As such, the department, under the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry, is drafting the Animal Welfare Bill -- which it hopes will become law by the end of this year -- for this purpose.

DVS director-general Datuk Dr Abd Aziz Jamaluddin had last September revealed that once the Animal Welfare Act became law, it would punish those who were cruel to animals with a fine of up to RM100,000 and a jail term of not more than six months. It covers all types of animals, including fish and insects owned by individuals or businesses.

The term "animal cruelty" will also being redefined in the act -- for example, whether intentional or accidental. Failure to feed an animal is tantamount to cruelty.

The act was originally scheduled to be tabled in Parliament early next year.

"We have the draft act ready but we are still soliciting feedback from relevant stakeholders now."

While it is clear that this act will take some time to become law, Azmie said the ministry was gravely concerned about the issue of animal welfare in the country now -- from the cases of abuse that have been cropping up, not the least of which was the recent issue of pet cats allegedly being left to starve in an animal hotel at Damansara Damai, Selangor.

As such, as an interim measure, the Malaysia Animal Welfare Advisory Committee has been set up to address any issues related to animal welfare now.

Through this platform, animal welfare activists and animal lovers can raise and bring to the attention of relevant authorities any matters pertaining to animal welfare.

"One of the priorities outlined by this advisory committee now is the issue of management of strays," said Azmie.