The Hong Kong government is proposing tougher penalties for animal cruelty and introducing a duty of care on people responsible for animals.
Authorities are also considering making it mandatory for all cats sold by animal traders to be microchipped.
In a written reply issued on Wednesday to a question from lawmaker Elizabeth Quat in the Legislative Council, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan said the government will put forward a plan to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance to further safeguard animal welfare.
“Proposed amendments include introducing a positive ‘duty of care’ on persons responsible for animals to provide for their welfare needs; enhancing the provisions for prevention of animal cruelty, including the increase in the penalties and the introduction of an indictable offence; and enhancing enforcement powers to prevent animal cruelty and protect animals from suffering (including physical and mental suffering),” said Chan.
A duty of care refers to a moral or legal obligation to ensure the safety or well-being of others.
Currently, under the ordinance, offenders who are convicted face a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine of HK$200,000 (US$25,487).
Chan said the government is also proposing to amend the ordinance to specify that the release of an animal leading to unnecessary suffering of that animal is an act of cruelty and suggesting an increase in the penalties concerned.
So-called mercy releases of captured animals, such as birds and fish, is a religious ritual practiced by some Buddhists and Taoists that is meant to create good karma and bring good fortune.
But animal rights advocates and conservationists have warned that such acts harm the animals and threaten to upset the ecological balance.
Chan said the government will brief the Legislative Council panel on food safety and environmental hygiene on the proposed amendments next month and expects to introduce the amendment bill to the council in the second half of this year.
The health minister also said that the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department is currently proactively considering a requirement for all cats sold by licensed animal traders to be microchipped, through revising the Code of Standards for Licensed Animal Traders.
She said this was “to facilitate identification of owners and assist owners to find their cats that have gone astray.”
Chan added that the department will consult the trade on such a requirement within this year.
Animal lovers and rights advocates have long called for tougher penalties for animal cruelty with the relevant ordinance last revised in 2006.
The city has seen several high-profile animal abuse cases in recent years, which led to a public outcry.
In 2020, two men confessed to hurling dozens of pets — including chinchillas, rabbits and cats — out of their apartment window, but they escaped prosecution with authorities citing insufficient evidence.