By Kithmini Avirippola –
The Issue of animal welfare has been one that has been brought to attention over the last week due to the missing dogs of the University of Jayewardenepura. It is alleged that t he the dogs of the university were killed/dumped by a contracted company titled “Ultrakill”, under the instructions of the Vice Chancellor of the university. Much attention has been received to this incident due to the questionable legality of the actions that were allegedly taken by the two Parties mentioned. And it remains needed to be clarified whether the two parties have gotten rid of the dogs, had acted within authority in getting rid of the dogs.
It further questions whether the removal of dogs from public places is the suitable method to address concerns relating to communal dogs and stressed the need to raise awareness on the efficiency and effectiveness of existing legal frameworks on preventing cruelty to animals, and amendments to laws related to communal dogs.
Registration of Dogs Ordinance
“Registration of Dogs Ordinance” No 25 of 1901 as amended by No 20 of 1915, 03 of 1920, 21 0f 1921, 26 of 1938, 61 of 1939, 12 of 1945, 23 of 1946, 19 of 1947 and 60 of 1961 provides that authority to seize stray dogs vests upon the “proper authority”.
According to Section 2 of the Ordinance on interpretation, “proper authority” has been interpreted as, “….the Mayor and Chairman of the Municipal Council, Urban Council or Town Council of any town or any chairman of Village Councils which operates under the Village Ordinance or any government agent or any person duly authorized by him/her in writing”. Given this definition, the question that needs to be raised is on how the decision making power could have been vested in the Vice Chancellor if he was not authorised by the Mayor and the Chairman of the Municipal Council, Urban Council or Town Council.
As per Section 10(2) of the Ordinance, the final decision on what action should be taken to the dogs whose owners have not either paid the reasonable expenses incurred or has not claimed the dog within the given time period is further vested upon the “proper authority”. This asserts the illegal nature of the act committed by the Vice Chancellor as well as the Private pest control company because on one hand the ordinance is clear as to the procedure to be followed if dogs are seized where the authority to seize and detain the dogs vests upon the “proper authority” and on the other hand as it is stated in the Section 10 (1) of the Ordinance which explain the procedure to be followed, which states that “Every dog so seized shall be detained in some proper place and be there kept for such period not less than three days from the date of such seizure”. Furthermore it states that, “….as the proper Authority may think expedient where the owner or other person who had charge of the dog is known, the proper authority shall cause notice to be given to either of them of the seizure and detention of the dog”.
The power of the two parties to perform the removal of the dogs could be challenged if they are not brought within the definition of “proper authority”.Hence, if there required authority has not been vested in these two parties through due process, actions of both the Vice Chancellor and the pest control company would not be justifiable under the Registration of Dogs Ordinance of Sri Lanka.
Secondly, in demonstrating the illegal nature of the acts of both the parties, Rabies Ordinance No 7 of 1893 as amended by No 7 of 1906, 24 of 1921, 6 of 1929, 17 of 1930, 16 of 1934, 61 of 1939, 13 of 1941, 23 of 1946, 29 of 1947, 22 of 1955, 23 of 1956 can be taken into consideration. Similar to the Registration of Dogs Ordinance, Section 04 of the Rabies Ordinance of Sri Lanka clearly states that local authorities have the jurisdiction to seize any stray dog whereas the Section 4(a) states the procedure to be followed in case where dogs have been seized.
According to the Section 4(a), if the seized dogs are not identified as diseased or suspected, the respective local authority shall detain the dogs at a proper place for a period which they think expedient. Moreover, the Section 4(b) clearly states the procedure to be followed where the seized dogs are unclaimed or where the owner is in charge of the dog or in case of non-payment of the reasonable expenses incurred. In this instance, the local authority has the jurisdiction to decide whether to destroy or dispose the dogs in such manner that the local authority deem expedient.
Additionally, similar to the Dog Registration Ordinance, the Rabies Ordinance provides an interpretation to “local authorities” in the Section 2 of the Ordinance which denotes that, the Mayor of the Municipal Council, the Chairman of the Urban Council or Town Council, a government agent within the limits of the administrative district and outside the limits of a Municipality, Urban Council or Town Council, every police officer and every person duly authorized by the Mayor of the Municipal Council, Urban Council or Town Council fall within the definition of local authority.
Proposed Amendments to Laws on Rabies & Dog Registration
The Cabinet of Ministers on 22nd March 2017 approved the amendments proposed to the above mentioned laws by Minister of Provincial Councils and Local Government Hon. Faizer Mustapha. This includes instructing the Legal Draftsman to amend the above Ordinance to make provisions to increase the fine on owners of stray dogs to 25000/= and the imprisonment for 02 years for violations of the law. The cabinet decision dated 21st of April 2016 has also approved the need to proceed with drafting a new bill amalgamating both the Registration of Dogs Ordinance and the Rabies Ordinance to suit present day needs.
Although there have been allegations on removing dogs from all public places, the Hon. Minister Faizer Mustapha has stated that the government strategy on the current overpopulation issue of dogs in public places would be a humane mechanism where no animal will be killed. It has been also pointed out that the Animal Welfare Bill which awaits enactment recognizes the abandoning of animals as an offence which is the main cause for the increase of street dog population with a fine of 20,000/= or a jail term of up to one year or both.
In addition, there has been a welfare committee set up to address issues related to the proposed amalgamation of laws. This was initiated under the guidance of Minister Faizer Mustapha, when he met with Animal Welfare Activists to converse about the stray dog overpopulation issue and the need to take long term and short term solutions to overcome the position.
Despite the ongoing process of addressing the dog overpopulation in Sri Lanka in a humane manner, the incident which took place in J’pura University provides a negative portrayal on how to address the issue of communal dogs. This incident also shows the immediate necessity of enacting the Animal Welfare Bill to prevent causing unnecessary harm to animals . A dog cannot be killed by any person other than the “proper authority” or the “local authority” under the existing law on the matter in Sri Lanka. If a dog is suspected of having rabies or have been attacking human or causing nuisance which has impacted on the public negatively, the proper procedure to be followed would be to inform the respective Authorities who have been granted the power to take actions without taking the law into one’s own hands.