IV. Animal cruelty

Section 3(1)(a) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap. 169) prohibits and punishes cruelty to all animals including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish or any other vertebrate or invertebrate animals whether they are living in the wild or are tame. The crime carries a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment or a fine of $200,000. Prosecutions are undertaken by the police and the AFCD. Members of the public who suspect they have witnessed animal cruelty may contact the police, AFCD or the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to report the matter.

Usually, for a prosecution for cruelty to succeed under section 3(1)(a), unnecessary suffering must have already been caused to an animal. Suffering need not, however, have been prolonged or to have had serious consequences for an offence to have occurred. It is also not necessary to prove the offender intended cruelty to the animal. It is enough that a normal and reasonable person would have realized the risk that the animal might suffer as a result of his actions and would have adjusted his behaviour accordingly. It is also an offence for the owner of an animal to permit another person to treat his animal cruelly by failing to exercise reasonable care to protect the animal.

It is important to note that while causing an animal to suffer is a criminal offence, failing to provide an animal with the best welfare is not a crime. In such cases a crime will only have occurred if it can be shown that the animal is likely to suffer in the future if its situation is not remedied. For example, whilst it is poor practice not to exercise a fit dog for at least an hour per day, a keeper is unlikely to be prosecuted for cruelty if he fails to do so.

Section 3(1)(g) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance provides that any person who brings into Hong Kong or drives, carries, transports, removes, or has or keeps or knowingly suffers to be had or kept under his control or on his premises, any animal in any way which may cause it needless or avoidable suffering, is guilty of cruelty. This would include overcrowding animals in a confined space, or keeping a dog in a crate for a prolonged time without giving it a chance to exercise. The possibility of harm may therefore allow for a conviction.

Where an animal has been abandoned it is unnecessary to show it has actually suffered before bringing a prosecution under section 22(1) of the Rabies Ordinance. Simply abandoning the animal is a crime.

Under section 3(1)(e) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, fighting or baiting animals (or being involved with premises where this occurs) is also a criminal offence and the animals do not need to have suffered before there is criminal liability. The offence carries a maximum of $200,000 fine or three years imprisonment.

On conviction for animal cruelty, the court may make an order that the person convicted may no longer keep the animal which was treated cruelly, if there is any risk it may be so treated again. The animals will be transferred to the AFCD for euthanasia or re-homing (where suitable).

Dog or cat eating

It is a serious offence to slaughter a dog or cat for food, to use such animals for food or to sell their flesh for food (reg 22 of the Dogs and Cats Regulations). The penalty is a fine of $5,000 or six months imprisonment (reg 23).