Qatar may impose tougher penalties on those who abuse animals next year, following the passage of a GCC-wide law that protects animal rights, officials have said.
The legislation was approved by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries some two years ago, and was officially adopted by its first signatory country Kuwait earlier this month.
According to a veterinarian who works for Qatar’s Ministry of Environment, the law marks a renewed effort by Arab countries to protect animals.
Speaking to Doha News, he added:
“The law deals with many aspects – including abuse – for a variety of different animals. It (encompasses) farm animals, animals for slaughter, stray animals and domestic animals.
We’ve been pushing for the law to come to Qatar ever since it was passed, but these things take time. What this law would do, would be to standardize animal welfare rights across the region, and align them with other international conventions on animal rights around the world.”
In addition to broadening the scope of what would be termed animal abuse, the law, which was first reported on by Northwestern University in Qatar journalism student Jueun Choi, also calls for the stricter punishment of violators.
Animal abuse is a crime in Qatar that is already punishable through fines and jail time, but there is no penalty for abandonment, and enforcement remains lax.
Speaking to Choi, Dr. Kwao Koney, a veterinary surgeon at the Dr. Faris Al-Timimi Vet Clinic in Katara Cultural Village, said:
“Yes, there are laws governing the protection of animals, (but in terms of) people going to jail for (violating them)? Personally, I have never witnessed it. Maybe you find a cat that’s been abused at your doorstep; you can’t accuse your neighbor of it, and so many people get away with doing it.”
Caitlin Farinelli, rescue and transportation coordinator at the feline-centered Cat Assistance Team, agreed that enforcement is difficult.
She told Choi that the police require video evidence of abuse prior to prosecuting perpetrators, and added, “How can you capture someone not feeding a cat for six months? It’s not really something that I can capture, and it’s not something that the police will investigate.”
Animals as goods
When asked, most rescue groups in Qatar said they weren’t aware of the new legislation, but any effort to further animal rights in the country would be a welcome move.
Kelly Allen, a board member at the Qatar Animal Welfare Society (QAWS), told Doha News this week that the proposed legislation would bring some clarity to existing laws regarding pet abuse here:
“We often get calls regarding animals kept in unsatisfactory conditions – tied up on the roofs of villas, left outside in 50C heat in the summer, abandoned on compounds, abused and tortured, etc.
…Strict legislation and even stricter enforcement will make a huge difference to the welfare of animals in Qatar and will go a long way to reducing the amount of animal cruelty and neglect which occurs. At the moment, we have absolutely no legal standing to do anything regarding animal abusers though we have had great support from the local police regarding other issues including stolen dogs.”
A major change, she added, would be to ensure that animals, especially stolen ones, were treated legally as living creatures, rather than as goods.
Under the current law, stolen animals are included under general theft laws, and do not warrant any extra care or protection, or incur penalties.
In the past years, Qatar has seemingly stepped up its efforts to govern animal welfare abuses and issues in the country.
Last year, the government set up a new department at the Office of the Public Prosecution to deal specifically with environmental and municipal violations, including those governing public hygiene, food safety, smoking bans, animal welfare and water and energy conservation.
Since 2010, the government has also been in the process of constructing a large, permanent, 120-kennel shelter in Umm Salal, though the structure’s tentative opening date has yet to be determined.
Residents have also routinely spoken out against the treatment of animals at places like Souq Waqif, with thousands signing a petition last year urging for better conditions.
Under the current law, as outlined in the country’s Penal Code (Articles 393, 394, and 395), animal cruelty is illegal. Killing cattle or working animals, for example, could result in convictions of up to three years imprisonment and fines of up to QR5,000.
However, the killing of a domestic animal warrants only a three-month prison sentence and a fine of QR2,000, while the torture and/or neglect of animals amounts to just two months in jail and a fine of QR1,000.