JEDDAH: In part because of the reach and power of social media, awareness of issues surrounding animal abuse has never been higher in Saudi Arabia, and there have been calls for greater official efforts to protect animals.
Videos and photographs posted on social media have highlighted examples of abuse such as animals abandoned on the side of the road, and creatures that have been, starved, beaten or burned. There are also concerns about how animals are treated at facilities such as slaughterhouses.
In fact, there are already strict rules governing animal welfare and tough penalties for anyone found guilty of breaking them, including the possibility of imprisonment and hefty fines.
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture warns that the penalty for a first offense is a fine of up to SR50,000 ($13,000), and this amount is doubled if there is a second violation within a year.
If there is a third incident, the fine increases to SR200,000 and, if applicable, the facility dealing with the animals can be closed for 90 days. In the event of a fourth case of abuse a fine of SR400,000 can be imposed and the facility’s license can be permanently revoked. Prison terms are also a possibility.
Lawyer Waleed bin Nayef told Arab News that the punishments apply to anyone who causes suffering to animals, whether they expose them to danger, are unnecessarily cruel during slaughter or the preparation of sacrifices, cause them stress or suffering during races, or fail to take into consideration the age or health of animals they are working with.
Other offenses include forcing animals to act in ways that are unnatural to their nature, giving them illegal drugs or growth hormones, catching or transporting them in inhumane ways, failing to treat them when they are sick or injured, sexually abusing them, or disposing of them in an inhumane manner.
“The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has provided, through its website, a way to report any abuse or torture and these reports are dealt with seriously,” bin Nayef told Arab News. He added that a robust animal welfare system is enshrined in the aims of Saudi Vision 2030.
In cases where abuse is suspected, he said, whether it was caught on video, discovered by a surprise inspection or after investigating the death of an animal, the ministry decides whether to refer the suspect to the Criminal Court, which will investigate and decide on an appropriate punishment if required.
For a number of reasons investigations can be difficult. For example, it might be hard to trace the origin of videos or images showing abuse, and it is possible that they might have been faked. However, Saudi authorities have successfully used cybercrime units to identify and catch abusers.
Mohammed Al-Hatershi, director general of slaughterhouses in the General Administration of Makkah Region, told Arab News that while it is better to work to raise awareness of animal abuse issues in an attempt to prevent them happening in the first place, strict laws and tough penalties are also required because the authorities are responsible for ensuring animals are cared for.
“Shariah law is clear about animal care, as it says that we are responsible for our flock and facilities must take these rules seriously,” he added.
Social worker Mona Al-Thiyabi, told Arab News that animal abuse can be an indicator of low psychological stability in an individual, and can be linked to some mental disorders.
“It might also be an indicator of low stability in the family, as the presence of a person’s hostile behavior against an animal might originate from the family,” she said.
Psychological, verbal or physical violence in the home between spouses, for example, causes suffering and psychological pressure, which can cause a person to treat animals in the same way, she added.
“On the other hand, violence in all its forms against children might cause psychological repression in them, which may lead to the practice of hostile behavior against animals,” said Al-Thiyabi.
People who are cruel and violent toward animals sometimes progress to violence against humans, she added.
The Gus Hope shelter is a nonprofit organization that runs a shelter for cats and rescues strays.
“As a community, we need to be more responsible for animals,” its owner, Um Asma told Arab News. “Everyone needs to spay and neuter their pets and stop supporting pet stores that sell animals.”
“The laws are good but they need to be implemented more. Some animal stores treat animals like a product rather than a soul and they need to be stopped.”
The Kingdom’s Ehsan platform, the national charity website, also plays a part in animal welfare by highlighting the need for donations.
One of the campaigns on the platform, for example, states: “Many rescued animals suffer from their inability to continue living on their own, so they need care and attention and the provision of food and water. With your donation, you contribute to feeding them. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: In every wet liver there is a reward.”