On Tuesday, the legislature approved amendments to the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法) that increased the tariff for existing crimes of animal abuse and banned sales and consumption of dog and cat meat.
The move was met with applause both in Taiwan and overseas, not just for bringing the nation more in line with international trends in animal protection, but for taking what many agree is a landmark step and a first in Asia.
The changes double the maximum sentence for cruelty and injury to animals from one year to two and the fine from NT$100,000 to NT$1 million (US$3,289 to US$32,895) to between NT$200,000 and NT$2 million. In addition — to prevent recidivism — repeat offenders can now be imprisoned for up to five years.
The amendments also allow for fines of NT$3,000 to NT$15,000 for the ignorant, lazy, dangerous and often cruel practice of walking pets on a leash attached to a vehicle.
Pet ownership has increased in Taiwan in the past few years. With this has come the need for better education about how to treat animals, what to expect from pet ownership, the importance of neutering and the problem of abandoning animals after the initial excitement of pet ownership has worn off.
Numerous animal abuse cases have made headlines over the past few years. In addition to a video released online in 2012 that called attention to dubious practices in slaughterhouses, there have been other disturbing incidents, including the killing of stray cats by a National Taiwan University student and of a stray dog by members of the Republic of China Marine Corps.
This week’s amendments were deemed necessary as existing punishments were thought to be insufficiently prohibitive. However, the aspect that has attracted the most international media attention and been hailed as a landmark change is the banning of dog and cat meat for human consumption.
Anyone found purchasing, eating or possessing dog or cat meat, or any products containing such meats, will now not only be subject to a fine of up to NT$250,000, but may also be publicly named and shamed, with the new law giving authorities the right to disclose names and pictures of violators.
People have held up Taiwan as an example of how to end what is increasingly regarded as a barbaric tradition with a long history in the region, comparing Taiwan favorably with other Asian countries, such as China, South Korea and the Philippines, where the consumption of dog and cat meat is still legal.
There are hopes that Taiwan’s example would make it easier for animal welfare activists to push for similar bans in other Asian nations.
Online commentators questioned the rationale of banning dog and cat meat when the meat of other animals is still allowed and asked whether there was an inherent contradiction based on a “cuteness index.”
One possible refutation might be that domesticated animals are capable of having relationships with humans that bring people joy. While this might seem like a subjective, sentimental argument, where the more rational approach is to argue that all life should be treated equally, it does show a more civilized approach to other sentient life.
What these new amendments represent is official recognition of a shared value in this society that we should respect animals and treat them humanely. This includes how animals are treated in slaughterhouses.