Pet abduction should be criminal offence
Published on: Sunday, January 15, 2023
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Ultimately, the issue depends on the future of jurisprudence in recognising the legal status of animals, especially pets. - Pix by Best Life
THE bizarre incident in Kuching in September last year of a cat being stolen and threatened with drowning raised the question on the legal status of pets.

According to a Facebook post by the Malaysia Animal Association, the owner, after realising that the emotional support cat named Snow was missing, appealed to the public for help through social media.

Among the responses that the owner received was a demand sent via WhatsApp for a ransom of RM6,000 otherwise the cat would be thrown into a river. 

The sender claimed to have the cat and included photos and videos of it with the ransom demand.

The owner lodged a police report and also requested help from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission, but it appeared that the authorities did not view the matter seriously.

Following the incident, the Malaysia Animal Association urged the authorities to treat animal abduction cases as a serious crime that must be eradicated.

Currently, there is no provision in the Animal Welfare Act 2015 addressing the abduction or kidnapping of pets. We therefore have to look at other countries for precedents.

In 2021, it was reported that the United Kingdom was working on an effort to criminalise pet abduction in light of an increase in pet thefts during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It is to be noted that the new law specifies only the taking of dogs without lawful authority as a crime, but amendments could be done so that it applies to one or more other species of animal.

The issue of the worth of animals has been a matter of discussion through the ages. Greek philosopher Aristotle opined that humans could behave rationally compared to animals who lacked such rational attributes and are so unable to direct their actions. 

As such, animals should be treated as instruments for human beings.

The campaign by the animal rights movement founded in the UK in the early 1970s prompted a rethink in the way animals were viewed. 

In his book Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals (1975), Australian moral philosopher Peter Singer, who approaches issues from a utilitarian perspective, argued that intelligent humans cannot claim a superior position compared to animals. 

However, Singer allows animals to be exploited, for example in animal testing, saying it could be justifiable if an experiment on a small number of animals could cure a disease that affects tens of thousands.

Nowadays, the focus of animal rights campaigners is centred on the approach of Tom Regan, an American philosopher who, in his book The Case for Animal Rights (1983), argued that at least some kinds of non-human animals have moral rights because they are the “subjects-of-a-life”, and that these rights adhere to them whether or not they are recognised.

Overall, it can be said that animals are intermediate of two status that could define them, namely as a person or a property. 

This is because animals, especially pets, hold an emotional value to a person.

In the case mentioned earlier, for instance, if the owner were to get a new cat to replace the missing Snow, the emotional value of the new cat would not be the same. Therefore, replacing Snow will not be the same as replacing a broken television or table.

But this does not change the fact that in most countries, an animal is a property in the eyes of the law.

Ultimately, the issue depends on the future of jurisprudence in recognising the legal status of animals, especially pets.

Sarah Idris Izham (third-year law undergraduate) and Dr Nabeel Mahdi Althabhawi, Faculty of Law, National University of Malaysia

- The views expressed here are the views of the writer Sarah Idris Izham and Dr Nabeel Mahdi Althabhawi, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Daily Express.

- If you have something to share, write to us at: [email protected]


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