The Hong Kong government has proposed strengthening animal protection laws, upping the maximum penalty to 10 years behind bars or a HK$2 million fine.

Authorities said in a consultation paper that pet owners and keepers need to ensure the welfare of their pets, and that the laws should recognise a “duty of care” owed to pets.

The plan also suggested giving more power to government officials, so they can issue an “improvement notice” to pet keepers and enter premises to seize abused animals. Those who have been convicted of cruelty may even be banned from keeping animals – either for a specified duration, or indefinitely.

“We hope to take a proactive stance to increase the maximum penalty against animal abusers, and improve the effectiveness of law enforcement,” said Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan. “For years we’ve believed that this is something we should do.”

Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

On Friday, Chan told reporters the proposal was based on overseas examples, as well as her discussions with animal rights groups and lawmakers. The public consultation exercise will last until late July.

The current Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance includes a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment or a fine of HK$200,000.

Chan’s proposal asks that animals are given clean water and a balanced diet, as well as a safe and clean environment. Owners would also be responsible for vaccinating their pets and giving them medical care.

It also suggests that officials could issue “improvement notices,” listing specific actions to be completed within a time limit. Pet owners could face a range of penalties if they do not comply.

Roy Kwong. File Photo:

Thomas Sit, assistant director (inspection and quarantine) of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), said he did not expect a spike in the number of people falling foul of the law after the amendment.

The proposal was met with approval from Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong, who said the opportunity was “hard to come by.”

Kwong estimated that the proposal, if passed, could be in force by 2021 at the earliest, and the government should also review its policy on animal euthanasia in the meantime.

Earlier this month, the AFCD said it was reviewing its policy after a public outcry over the euthanisation of a stowaway dog from Thailand. Critics said that the department failed to follow its own policy of a waiting period, which resulted in killing a dog with an owner overseas.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.