Thousands of people braved the scorching heat of Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon to march in support of animal rights as they called for harsher punishments for animal abusers.
Some protesters brought their pets, while others carried placards with slogans that said “stop animal abuse”, and “10 years in jail”, as they walked in 32.6 degrees Celsius temperatures from Chater Garden, in Central, to the government’s headquarters in Admiralty.
Organisers claimed some 6,000 people took part, while the police estimated the turnout at 900.
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu, who helped organise the event, said the turnout was unexpectedly big.
“That gives us a boost,” he said. “Now we can show the international community that we are ready and we will take action to protect animals.”
Another organiser, Mark Mak Chi-ho, executive chairman of the animal welfare group, the Non-Profit-making Veterinary Services Society, also said: “Animal abusers should be jailed for 10 years. They are taking lives.”
One participant, Lily Chung, who took her mongrel on the march, said: “It is about respecting life. The government should no longer keep dragging its feet. It is time for action.”
Public concern about animal abuse rose recently after a horrendous cruelty case at an animal shelter in Ta Kwu Ling, where a quarter of some 150 dogs and cats were found to have been starved to death.
Sunday’s march coincided with an ongoing three-month public consultation to amend the laws to enhance animal welfare.
The proposed law spells out the duty of care for pet owners, keepers and breeders, as well as workers handling live animals in places such as wet markets. These include walking dogs regularly, vaccinating pets, and taking sick animals to the vet under a code of practice.
Authorities will also be given extra powers to intervene in suspected abuse cases, including those of inspection and supervision. The proposed law plans to increase penalties such as the jail terms to up to 10 years.
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, enacted in 1935 and updated in 2006, is the key legislation regarding animal protection in Hong Kong.
The maximum penalty is presently three years’ imprisonment and a fine of HK$200,000 for acts of animal cruelty. From 2016 to 2018, the government received an average of about 300 suspected animal cruelty cases a year, and there were a total of 47 successful prosecution cases. The heaviest sentence handed down by the court since 2006 was 16 months in prison.
In her policy address last year the city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor promised to amend the law to protect animal welfare.
In Hong Kong, more than one-tenth of families keep pets. According to a research by the Legislative Council Secretariat in 2017, the number of dogs and cats kept by households increased by 40 per cent from 297,100 to 415,100 between 2005 and 2010.