Be attentive to the language of love | Sunday Observer
Stand up for the rights of animals

Be attentive to the language of love

5 March, 2023

How can anyone with a conscience knowingly kill innocent animals? This was the question that was asked again and again on social and mainstream media after a shocking incident in which a motorist almost deliberately ran over two stray pups that had run out to the middle of the road in Mathurata.

The driver did not get away scot free as the incident was captured on a CCTV camera installed at a nearby house and the Police, with the help of animal rights organisations, were able to trace the driver after noting the number plate. The driver was arrested and released on bail, after expressing remorse for her callous disregard for life.

Yes, hundreds of cats, dogs and other animals are run over by vehicles every day across the country, but this incident was particularly shocking as the motorist could very well have stopped the car in time and saved the lives of the two puppies. In many other cases, the motorists do not have sufficient time to brake as the animals suddenly jump in front of the vehicle.

Gruesome acts

Regardless of the type of incident, animal cruelty laws are rather lax in this country. During the recent past, we heard of many incidents such as beating dogs to death and setting them on fire, but we do not know whether any action was taken against the perpetrators. Such persons must be sent to jail in addition to forcing them to pay at least Rs.500,000 to an animal charity.

We must all ensure an end to cruelty against both cats and dogs that happens on a daily basis. Many puppies and kittens are abandoned on the roads (animal abandonment is a punishable offence in many countries and should be so here too) and left to die. The two puppies in the above-mentioned incident suffered this fate.

There are a few Good Samaritan organisations that give the abandoned animals a new lease of life. If you still do not have a cat or a dog, adopt one right away from one of these organisations. It is much better than buying a “posh” kitten or puppy from professional breeders.

But quite apart from cats and dogs (still the only two meat-eating animal species that humankind has domesticated), thousands of other animals are subject to the most horrendous forms of cruelty here and around the world. The methods of slaughter of cattle, goats and chickens here are rather primitive, whereas in other countries much more humane methods are used to minimise the animals’ suffering. Nevertheless, animal rights organisations say that there is no such thing called “humane slaughter” as a forcefully induced death by whatever means is highly painful.

There was a proposal to ban cattle slaughter in Sri Lanka, but little is known about what ultimately became of this. Paradoxically, just a few months after this proposal was brought, one of Asia’s largest meat packing factories was opened in Sri Lanka.

Commendable efforts

High-profile organisations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) publicise the most glaring instances of animal cruelty via social and mainstream media, which has sometimes led to the successful prosecution of wrongdoers including well-known meat products companies. It has also been proved that most other animals whose flesh we eat, including fish, are sentient (able to feel pain). Our hearts melt for a stricken kitten or puppy, but not for a fish breathing its last on a fishing boat. But every life is equally important.

Thus there is a growing movement that calls everyone to become vegetarian or vegan so that this unnecessary pain can be minimised or ended. Besides, that will be good for the planet – Greenhouse Emissions from animal farming for meat consumption are a major cause of Global Warming. In any case, in about 10 years, meat will be passé as artificial and lab-grown meat will have matched natural meat in colour, taste and texture. Artificial meat from companies such as Beyond Meat is already a close match for the real article and the prices too are almost equal.

But cruelty against voiceless animals will not cease even if animal slaughter for meat is stopped, because there will always be those who literally get a kick out of harming animals. Most other countries have strict punishments against this type of completely irrational behaviour.

Strict laws

Most countries have strict laws against animal cruelty. If you go to Google News and type in “animal cruelty”, hundreds of news items will pop out detailing tough punishments meted out to those who abuse animals abroad. In fact, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, a society can be gauged by how it treats animals. If there are harsh punishments for animal cruelty in whatever form, the perpetrators would be less inclined to engage in such acts.

Here in Sri Lanka, the laws against animal cruelty should be updated without any further delay. While new laws have been proposed, the existing legislation is more than a century old and some animal abusers have got away by paying a fine of just Rs.100. This is by far the lowest even in South Asia. On the other hand, neighbouring India has very tough laws and deterrents against animal abuse and cruelty.

Animal Welfare Bill

The first draft of a new animal welfare law was prepared by the National Law Commission in 2006. The draft Animal Welfare Bill for the consideration of the Law Commission was initially prepared by Animal Rights Activist and lawyer Senaka Weeraratne more than two decades ago.

Way back in 1999, he prepared a paper titled “The Requirement for New Animal Welfare Legislation in Sri Lanka” which identified the deficiencies in the existing Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, No.13 of 1907, and called for the enactment of modern legislation on animal welfare in Sri Lanka. The research paper was read at the ‘7th Sri Lanka Studies Conference’ held in Canberra, Australia the same year.

Under these proposals, a suspect convicted of killing an animal in a cruel manner (regardless of purpose or intent) can face a fine of at least Rs.125,000 rupees and/or a four-year term in prison. While the existing law recognises only a few acts as offences, the proposed Animal Welfare Bill creates many offences, such as abandoning an animal, willfully depriving an animal of food or water, castrating/ sterilising an animal unless by a veterinary surgeon, confining a bird by a ring, chain, string, cord or wire attached to its legs and sport hunting/any other recreational sport involving injury to or destruction of the life of any animal.

The Animal Welfare Bill has a special Chapter on the transport of animals which sets out conditions. Some of these conditions are that injury to animals should be avoided during loading and unloading, that the animal is provided with adequate space, air, hygienic conditions, and reasonable comfort during transportation, that the vehicle used has facilities for the easy observance and inspection of the animals, that a ramp is available to load and unload the animals in a humane manner and that the floor of the vehicle is free from holes or cracks likely to cause injury to the animals.”

Moreover, under these proposed laws, any person can file action against an animal abuser, which is now the sole purview of the Police. Another proposal is to set up an Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.

The new legislation came tantalisingly close to passage in the House, but now seems to be in limbo partly as a result of the political developments of the last couple of years. The Government and the Opposition must come together to ensure the passage of this Bill in the House without delay.

There are those who say that if you do not love animals, you are not even human. We have a special bond with cats and dogs, but this should be extended to all other animals. In the meantime, if you still have not experienced the joy of giving shelter to an abandoned animal in your household, now is the time.

It will give you a new sense of joy and purpose. Better still, bring a puppy and a kitten and raise them together. Add a human baby to the mix if you can – children raised with canines and felines have better immunity and a better understanding of what it means to share life with others. They will be the best of friends and will add zest and life to your years.