• Activists push for Animal Rights Bill
  • Current laws outdated

Denying animal rights activists’ charges Vice Chancellor, University of Moratuwa, Prof. Ananda Jayawardene said that university authorities were not responsible for the deaths of the dogs and cats and they were sedated by the University security personnel as it was part of their job to maintain a dog-free environment in the university.

“University Medical Centre had records of students who were bitten by these stray dogs therefore considering the threat to the students and following the complaints received from them, the University authority decided to send the animals away,” said Jayawardene.
He further said that it is unfortunate that the security officers overdosed the animals when they attempted to sedate them. He expressed his regret over the fatal ‘accident’, but maintained that it is not they, meaning university authorities, who are responsible for the deaths. “We would take measures to prevent such incidents from recurring,” ensured Jayawardene.

Jayawardene informed that the university hired a private contractor to chase away stray dogs and cats. “But we never asked them to drug and kill the animals. It was their decision to sedate, remove and dump the animals,” he said.

However, Jayawardene refused to divulge the name of the security firm and provided us with a number of one Lakshman, a private contractor. When contacted, Lakshman who refused to give his full name admitted that he is not of a security company and said that it was given to a subcontractor where there is a veterinarian. Lakshman claimed that the subcontractor is not responding to telephone calls since the incident at the Moratuwa University.

Jayawardene has denied the charge that he pressured university students to remove the images and videos circulating in social media.

Animal rights activists went to a land in Pitipana, which belongs to the University, based on a tipoff by residents near the land, claiming that several cats and dogs have been dumped there.

Wibodha Ambeygoda, an animal lover who visited the site on Sunday (July 16), said that it was been a horrible experience she cannot put into words.

“We went there to feed them. When we asked the three-wheeler drivers near the NSBM Green University where the dogs are, we were shocked to hear that there were only carcasses left,” said Ambeygoda.

Ambeygoda said that according to the security guards of the said land, the carcasses of two dogs and 10 cats dumped at the site had been buried by the security guards.
However, Ambeygoda added that according to eye witnesses there had been vomit, excreta and blood on the ground. Moreover, there had been ropes around the necks of the cats.

Ambeygoda and her supporters were able to find two cats alive at the site. One was critical and was taken to the Pet Vet Clinic for treatment, but died soon afterwards while the other is cared for by an animal lover.

According to chairman, Animal Rights Protection Force, Amila Wijeratne this incident of killing raises a law enforcement issue.

“Under Sri Lankan law use of poison on animals is prohibited. But here without the intervention of a government entity, a private contractor has used a chemical to kill animals. How can we be certain that this will not happen to humans?” Wijeratne questioned.

Wijeratne said that reportedly Ketamine, an anesthetic, has been used on animals. “But the rescued cat had wounds and Ketamine does not inflict wounds. Besides, Ketamine cannot be used without the directive of a veterinary surgeon,” he explained.
Residents have reportedly seen five to six dogs with unusual behaviour roaming in the area.

“According to university students, there have been around 40 dogs in the university premises and now there are none. So even if you exclude the dogs which ran away and the two that had died, 30 of them are missing, which is quite puzzling,” he added.
“Though cats and dogs cannot express their feelings with words, it doesn’t mean that their lives don’t have value. They too have a right to live,” Wijeratne added.
Meanwhile, Vositha Wijenayake of Animal Welfare Coalition, called for a robust law in Sri Lanka on animal welfare, on cruelty towards animals which could prevent this sort of incidents from taking place, and would ensure effective remedies to cruelty towards animals.

“This stresses the need for the new Animal Welfare Bill to be enacted, so that acts of cruelty to animals could be curbed,” Wijenayake said.

Meanwhile, prominent environmental lawyer, Jagath Gunawardena, said that according to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance of 1907, any person who shall cruelly beat, ill treat, run over, abuse, torture or cause unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal shall be guilty of an offence. “Such persons can be arrested by the police without warrant if there is sufficient evidence,” Gunawardena added.

He pointed out that according the Ordinance, anyone who witnessed cruelty towards animals could make a complaint to the police in order to carry out further investigations.
According lawyer and animal rights activist, Lalani Perera the Rabies Ordinance and the Dog Registration Ordinance enacted over a century ago in 1893 and 1901 reflected the thinking of that era that animals are equivalent to personal properties. Accordingly, stray dogs captured by local authorities can be killed if no one claims ownership. This had led to hundreds of harmless, innocent dogs being mercilessly gassed.

“However, from 2007 with the ‘No Kill Policy’ declared by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, sterilization and vaccination became humane methods of dog population control and rabies eradication,” Perera pointed out.

According to the Catch-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release (CNVR), this is the sustainable method recommended by both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

“Today the laws in many countries recognise animals as sentient beings or ‘non-human persons’, with a right to life. Not only does Sri Lanka have a rich animal friendly cultural heritage, but the nation’s Constitution gives foremost place to Buddhism. Our policy-makers must move expeditiously towards amending outdated laws by reaching a level of enlightened thinking,” Perera added.

She added that a group of 14 activists through a petition to the Court of Appeal in 2010 had called for amendments to the existing Rabies and Dog Registration laws, so that the ‘No Kill Policy’ would receive statutory recognition and all provisions that allow the killing of dogs would be repealed.

“In fact, we have already presented a draft of proposals to Local Government Minister Faiszer Mustapha who had set up the Animal Welfare Advisory Committee to submit a draft law for this purpose. The Minister has given an assurance that he will not allow dogs to be killed,” Perera added.

Perera urged the government to give priority to the amendment of the Rabies and Dog Registration Law and also enact the long outstanding Animal Welfare Bill which will replace the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, by introducing a more meaningful and effective legal regime to deal with animal cruelty, including deterrent penalties, unlike the Rs.100 fine which the existing law provides.