Immediately after the tragic euthanization of 154 smuggled cats put a spotlight on animal welfare in the nation, another harrowing case took place with the brutal torture of Tea Tea (茶茶), a tabby cat in New Taipei City.
Tea Tea died from his injuries on Aug. 28, 11 days after someone surnamed Lee (黎) allegedly tortured him in cold blood for 13 hours in a bid to force his ex-girlfriend, who lived with him, to return home following an argument.
Even more alarming is that the two reportedly adopted the cat together and Lee helped raise him. The incident has sparked outrage, with Internet users vowing to track Lee down.
Similar to the calls for harsher penalties for animal smugglers following the euthanization, there is a strong consensus that the penalties for animal abuse are not harsh enough to deter offenders.
Lee was arrested two days after the incident, and faces a jail term of up to two years and a fine of NT$200,000 to NT$2 million (US$7,217 to US$72,168), according to the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法).
However, critics say that the penalties are not harsh enough, as jail sentences are almost always commuted to fines — even notorious cat killer Chan Ho-yeung’s (陳皓揚) sentence was commutable.
Lawyer Lu Chiu-yuan (呂秋遠), who often comments on social issues and is representing Lee’s ex-girlfriend in court, vowed in a Facebook post that he would try hard to make Lee the first person in the nation to go to jail for animal abuse — meaning that nobody has served time for such crimes.
Lu added that the maximum jail term should be increased to seven years and should not be commutable to a fine.
Furthermore, he called for bolstering animal welfare education in schools and the establishment of a specialized police force to handle cases of animal abuse. The police force issue has been around for years, but there is still no solution in sight, so the discussion has turned to amending the law. A petition on the National Development Council’s platform calling for heavier penalties has collected nearly 45,000 signatures, and the government has until Oct. 27 to respond.
This is an important issue, as people who torture helpless animals who trust humans have serious problems that cannot be solved with a fine. There is no reason that the penalty for such crimes should be so low, and if the government cannot move forward with an animal police force or cannot improve how such cases are dealt with, it should at least raise the penalties, as no one is arguing against such a move.
Encouraging and providing tools for victims of domestic abuse to protect themselves is also important. According to the ex-girlfriend’s statements, she has suffered for a long time under Lee’s alleged threats and violent behavior, and had been too afraid to tell people about it.
Society should not blame targets of abuse for not speaking out, as it is not as easy as one thinks, and this case is another example showing that tolerating abuse can lead to further tragedy. It is heartbreaking that the ex-girlfriend told the press: “Should I have just gone back to be beaten, so that Tea Tea wouldn’t have died?”
Lu has since helped her apply for a restraining order, and she is to press charges against Lee, who has also threatened her and her family.
However, as Lu said, none of this guarantees jail time for Lee, even if he is convicted on all counts.
The justice system cannot keep failing to protect those who cannot, or are too afraid, to speak out.
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