Are we becoming a heartless people?

The fine for animal cruelty costs less than your breakfast 

By Chenelle Fernando

We’re certain by now that a majority are aware of the recent development – one of a myriad of such developments – of a dog subject to a life-threatening situation by its owner.

Although the incident took place in Kuliyapitiya, it raised many an eyebrows right around the country, both on and off social media, in just a matter of days. In answering whether this particular situation is an isolated incident, Shhh – The Talkshow Creator/Host and animal welfare activist Shanuki De Alwis responded in the negative as she denoted that countless such incidents spring to light every day. “With this particular dog, luckily people saw what we are capable of as humans because there is no proper implementation of law in the country,” she averred.

For years, we have witnessed how countless individuals have stood up on their (animals) behalf to bring revolutionary change that has not proven futile. What most people fail to comprehend is the simple fact that our ecosystem comprises both humans and animals, and animals, if we may highlight, render immense ecosystem-related services to this shared environment. Also taking into account the sheer lack of state personnel for acknowledgment, it’s safe to declare the matter to have gushed to its tipping point where it’s not merely just every pet owner’s or animal rights activist’s problem, but all of ours.

In this regard, De Alwis indicated: “As humans, we are desensitising more and more every day. If you look at the kind of cruelties we are seeing, it is getting worse.”

Today, it may be cats, dogs, elephants, and leopards that are beaten up, shot, or maimed when their existence does not prove to be convenient to us. As De Alwis noted, in light of such incidents, there is no guarantee that humans would not do the same to their own kind. “If we don’t stop people from playing god and acting out with violence whenever they feel like it, what’s to stop them from doing that to children? What’s to stop them from doing that to other human beings? Where do you draw the line?” she asked rhetorically.

Animal Welfare Bill

The recent turn of events – and the occurrence of similar ghastly events from time to time – has proven that our country is in dire need of upgraded legislature to oversee the welfare of animals. It is with no serious doubt we reveal that the payment of a thoughtless sum of Rs. 100 is all it takes to punish a person for striking a dog’s head in half.

Environmental activist Jeana De Zoysa shared that there exists no state governing bodies to oversee animal welfare. “We currently don’t have an Animal Welfare Bill in Sri Lanka; we have drafted and redrafted (the Bill) since 2006, but it has not been passed in Parliament and has been bounced around for over a decade,” she noted, adding that the Bill would cover the welfare of all animals including that of wild, community, and livestock.

Sharing thoughts on the Bill, De Alwis stated that while the Bill has been identified and debated on, it has not been implemented by law. The underlying reasons are attributed to the existence of profit-seeking stakeholders, religious factors, and economic tensions; differing opinions of those profiting out of cruelty and captivity has prevented the Bill from being implemented. “They debate on it based on the profits gained, rather than looking at what is humane or responsible. They have talked as well, but at the end of the day, they tend to stop at other big problems such as the economy.”

Further, the Bill can be differentiated from the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance which seeks to oversee the welfare of wild animals. Despite being already found on paper and being fairly robust, the legislation is criticised for its lack of enforcement. De Alwis noted that Sumith Pilapitiya, the former Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, displayed a thorough utilisation of the Ordinance for the prevention of crimes including the abduction and killing of wild animals.

The recent strive towards the implementation of the Bill has resulted from the vast quantity of cases of animal abuse being reported daily. One of the recent incidents of nearly 30 such dogs being cared for by students of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura attests to this. De Alwis noted that the dogs were both vaccinated and neutered.

Meanwhile, De Zoysa expressed that the passing of the Bill would necessitate the need for the groundwork to be done prior to monitoring the implementation of animal welfare. With that, she shared that United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) MP Namal Rajapaksa has tweeted about the Bill – evidence that the campaign is being heard.

An online campaign gearing for the implementation of the Bill also rose to the occasion through the execution of a peaceful demonstration last Wednesday (26 February) at Viharamahadevi Park.

What are the issues?

Considering humanity’s prowess to succeed in nearly anything, when arriving at the subject of animal cruelty, it only makes sense to question where exactly we went wrong and why.

A primary issue observed by De Alwis is with the existence of a majority that opts not to prioritise animal welfare anymore. A dehumanised society, prioritising economy and infrastructure as opposed to compassion and ethics, is often seen to resort to cruelty and negativity for the purpose of obtaining quick fixes. “Even if you look at how the world is coping, you can see that people are becoming less and less compassionate and more selfish,” she added.

On the one hand, the inadequacy of domestic sanctions to punish and hold those responsible accountable is also viewed as a running concern; having to take matters into their own hands as they enjoy immunity is an assertion that it is no longer their issue.

On the other hand, we as a nation have done very little in terms of educating our children with regard to the importance of animal welfare. In terms of any general cause, let alone animal welfare, it is only a handful of people who seek to gather for the propagation of the cause. Perhaps the endurance of a war through which we overcame so much bloodshed and anger has made us blunt towards animal cruelty – so much to a point that it may no longer affects us. This could be the indigestible reality. “It can’t be up to a handful of people or welfare groups who are passionate about it,” stressed De Alwis.

Additionally, incompetent officials being stationed at vital departments such as the Department of Wildlife Conservation is also an underlying concern. Despite the cluster of a passionate few, a majority are seen to endorse politically corrupt aims, according to activists. “There are a few people who are genuinely passionate because they are there for the right reasons. Otherwise, what you have are people who don’t want to stand up and do the right thing. And when they do the right thing, they are kind of transferred out,” indicated De Alwis.

What can we do?

On our conquest to gather more practical solutions responsible individuals could resort to, here is what we found that you could do:

. If you feel like advancing some extra effort towards the cause, support your local animal welfare organisation – they are also normal people doing normal jobs

. If you see an animal in need (injured or in hunger), the simple act of helping it would make all the difference in the world
. Teach your children to be more responsible and compassionate

. Support a movement/demonstration organised by pocket groups and organisations. Join in, speak up, and get involved – a little goes a long way

. If you have money, donate to a local charity. If you don’t, spend a little time volunteering, donate food, and offer shelter
. Share that post – it only takes two seconds, but that ripple effect it creates does wonders

Potential solutions

Vaccinating stray dogs is viewed as a two-way solution for both dogs and communities. On the one hand, vaccinated stray dogs develop an immunity shield; on the other hand, they prevent feral and unvaccinated animals from entering the community, thus favouring the majority of mankind. “Yearning to do the right thing is to be ethical about practices.

Achieving a stray-free environment does not mean to kill them,” De Alwis highlighted.

Another constructive method to prevent the overpopulation of stray animals would be to neuter or spay household pets.

Part of this issue stems from the notion that a vast majority of kittens and puppies are dumped into streets by pet owners who are incapable of accommodating inbred pets. With a majority of stray animals already being spayed, pet owners must take it up to themselves to neuter their pets.

We must not breed our pets at home if we are unable to raise puppies. Be a responsible pet owner.


Photo: pixabay.com