Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Animal abuse raises many key questions about us as a society

Laura El Kitiri says we need to look at how we treat pets and punish those who are cruel to them
Stephen Lock  /  The National
Stephen Lock / The National

The most recent case of animal cruelty in the UAE – of a man feeding a live cat to his dogs – raises serious questions about the way animals are treated in our society.

Our law is fairly clear on abuse of animals in principle. If and when animal atrocities can be linked and proven to an individual, the legal punishment is up to a Dh200,000 fine and a year in prison. This is tougher than in most other countries.

In addition to the issue of punishment, this case also raises some important questions.

We could ask ourselves, for instance, whether people who carry out atrocities against animals should be allowed to own animals in future. Many countries prohibit people convicted of abuse to keep animals, for limited period of times or forever.

On the other hand, early action and prevention could help treat the problem of animal cruelty at a much broader level. Intervention here would be critical, for instance, where dogs are found to be chained, beaten or trained for illicit dog fights or other animals are found to be kept in poor conditions. Some countries have criminalised animal abuse under the law to allow police to investigate alleged cases of animal abuse similar to other criminal cases.

Enforcing such laws would obviously depend on a parallel requirement that might in itself add further protection to animals living in the UAE – the duty of registering pets. It would also be a strong argument for the re-regulation of animal trade in the UAE, in particular the pet trade, which has been left untouched by recent, overdue legal changes that sanction the ownership and trade of wild animals as pets in the UAE.

This includes a reconsideration of the way animals such as cats, dogs, birds and rabbits are currently sold at animal markets and in pet shops, under conditions many of us would consider grossly inhumane, and to whoever is willing to pay the money. This form of commoditising animal life is, of course, unhelpful for raising the public’s awareness of the plight many of these animals go through, as merchandise produced in puppy mills, sold to be later chained up or given as a toy to children.

What are we to do if we want to intervene in what is presumably a much larger problem of daily neglect and abuse of animals than is caught on camera? Imagine that we can confiscate animals from abusive pet owners, hoarders and other locations of abuse – animal markets, backdoor breeders and pet shops come to mind – but what would we actually do with them? The UAE has few animal shelters, and no registered animal-focused charity or protection agency that could advocate legal change and implement policies such as the compulsory removal of animals from abusive situations.

Animal abuse is not a petty crime, and it shouldn’t be treated as such. This implies the need to design effective channels for the reporting of animal abuse and transparency in the way such cases are followed up legally to the public.

The current “trend” for sharing videos of animal abuse on social media, which in turn leads to uproar in at least parts of the public, is in this context no less than a symptom of a public that seems unsure of how to respond to animal atrocities.

Capacity building inside police and legal institutions to transparently deal with cases such as this may help reinforce the message that savagery against animals is not an accepted way of behaviour in this society.

Our stance as a society against animal abuse may also justify a much larger, broader social debate around animals and the way we want to see them treated. Animal ethics raises many important questions about us as a society, for how we treat animals tells us about us, our values and morals. We also need to ask ourselves, however, in what other ways and under what circumstances we accept animals to be treated, for instance as exhibition objects in zoos, displayed for our entertainment; or for sale on animal markets and pet shops, from whatever breeding background, to whoever pays money. Or whether we think pest control round-ups of stray animals are ethically somewhat less problematic than the killing of a cat by dogs.

The UAE needs this debate, as much as it aims to create sustainable living spaces for a growing number of people. Using the enormous natural and human assets the UAE has should be more than enough to ensure the few ones who do not act according to our values, those who abuse animals and disrespect nature, do not define who we are.

Laura El Katiri is a consultant in Abu Dhabi specialising in economic, energy and environmental policy

On Twitter: @lauraelkatiri

Updated: March 21, 2017 04:00 AM

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