animal welfare

Animal cruelty is a crime. What to do when someone harms your pet?

Jairo Bolledo

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Animal cruelty is a crime. What to do when someone harms your pet?
These are the things you should know and do when your pet is harmed like golden retriever Killua

Animal cruelty is a crime under Philippine law, and according to the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), there’s been a 95-98% conviction rate in cases they have handled.

The call for accountability over animal cruelty was sparked by an incident involving a golden retriever Killua, which was killed by a man in Camarines Sur, Bicol.

Killua’s owner, Vina Rachelle Arazas, said in a GMA News interview that not long after her dog went missing, they found Killua’s lifeless body inside a sack. A closed circuit television (CCTV) footage captured the moment when the alleged suspect, Anthony Solares, chased and hit Killua.

In these situations, what should the immediate response of pet owners be?

What the law says

Animal cruelty is punishable under Republic Act 8485 as amended by Republic Act 10631. Under the law, it is illegal to kill “any animal other than cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, and horses.” It is also illegal to torture or maltreat an animal, or subject dogs to dogfights or horses to horsefights. There are exceptions under the law such as killing in religious rites, or when an animal suffers from illness.

“We often get reports of cruelties against dogs and cats. We have a 95% to 97% batting average in terms of securing convictions if the cruelty is active,” PAWS executive director Anna Cabrera told Rappler.

“Active cruelty” is not cruelty by neglect. Under the law, it’s also illegal not to provide care to an animal such that it results in suffering or death.

“[Active cruelty] is when you see direct damage to the animal and if we have a witness. What is somewhat difficult are the neglect cases. So far, we don’t have any conviction in a neglect case,” said Cabrera.

A person found guilty of animal cruelty can be jailed and fined, depending on the circumstances:

  • If the animal dies: imprisonment of one year, six months, and one day, up to two years, and/or fine not more than P100,000
  • If the animal is severely injured and needs human intervention to sustain its life: imprisonment of one year and one day, up to one year and six months, and/or fine not exceeding P50,000
  • If the animal survives and is not incapacitated: imprisonment of six months to one year, and/or fine not more than P30,000

These are the instances provided under the law that allow killing:

  • When the killing is part of religious rituals of an established religion or sect, or during a ritual required by ethnic custom of indigenous cultural communities. But leaders are required have proper records of these rituals in cooperation with the Committee on Animal Welfare, a body composed of government bodies and NGOs.
  • When pet animals suffer form from incurable communicable disease, diagnosed by experts
  • When killing is necessary to put an end to the animal’s misery, as determined by a duly certified veterinarian
  • When the killing is done to prevent imminent danger to the life or limb of a person
  • When the killing is done for animal population control
  • When the animal is killed after it has been used for authorized research or experiments
  • “Any other ground analogous to the foregoing as determined and certified [by] licensed veterinarian”
What to do

If someone harms your pet, or you witnessed animal cruelty, preserve evidence immediately.

“At the scene, it is best to take a video or photos, specifically showing the location, and persons in the area. Here ask for names, addresses and contact numbers of those who witnessed the incident, if any. Check also if there is a CCTV in the vicinity,” Desiree Carlos, founder of nongovernment organization Save Animals of Love and Light – Save ALL, said in a message to Rappler.

Meanwhile, when the crime has already been committed like in Killua’s case, a regular filing of a criminal complaint with the prosecutor’s office could be done, said Cabrera. Complainants can also reach out to an NGO promoting animal welfare for assistance.

“We assist anyone who may have difficulty creating a complaint-affidavit, which is nothing more than the narrative of facts, what happened. The document could be in Filipino, English, or even Bisaya – whatever language the owner is comfortable with. There should be a clear narration of what happened in the alleged crime and who allegedly committed it,” Cabrera explained.

Another option for the owners is to directly file the complaint with a Municipal Trial Court or Municipal Circuit Trial Court that has jurisdiction over the crime, according to University of the Philippines College of Law lecturer Oliver Xavier Reyes, since the penalty for animal abuse is less than four years.

The judge will determine probable cause based on the complainant’s evidence, without requiring the respondent to reply to the allegations. If the judge finds probable cause, he/she can issue an arrest warrant against the alleged suspect.

Republic Act (RA) No. 7691 allows the MTC and MCTC to have jurisdiction over criminal offenses with less than six years penalty. In places, like in Metro Manila, where there is no MTC or MCTC, the complaint should be filed with the prosecutor’s office, Reyes added.

Cabrera told Rappler they are already in coordination with Killua’s owner as they plan to file a criminal complaint against Solares. PAWS will be a co-complainant, Cabrera said, adding that there are also volunteer lawyers in Camarines Sur who are working on the case.

What if the animal is rowdy?

“I think the accused said he did it as an act of self-defense, but that’s not self-defense. It was clear in the CCTV footage that he was running after the dog,” Cabrera told Rappler.

In a News5 interview, Solares justified his act by claiming that Killua had bitten people, including him.

“Based on my experience curing animals, the golden retriever’s temperament is very loving, and close to people. Actually, golden retrievers are used in the hospital for therapy. These dogs can be used, can be brought to sick patients as a form of therapy,” veterinarian Dr. Noel Manalo said in a Rappler interview.

There are proper ways to deal with pets that allegedly cause disturbance or harm people in the neighborhood, according to experts.

If a dog could cause potential harm to the neighborhood, the owner should contain his/her dog, Carlos said. But another important thing is to be more understanding, she said: “Be kind to your neighbor’s pet and your neighbor. Try to work things out with the owner first. Please ask the homeowners’ association to mediate a talk between you and the owner to determine a solution to the problem. There is always a solution.”

Cabrera, meanwhile, reiterated that not everyone is allowed to catch a dog. The community should seek help from their municipal or city veterinary office, the PAWS executive director said, because these officials and personnel are properly trained in catching pets and other animals.

Other animal control officers like personnel from the city or municipal pound can also help in catching animals. Barangay personnel are only allowed to take part in these situations if they were trained and deputized by the veterinary office, Cabrera added.

“But nobody has the right to take the law into his/her own hands. Because first things first, we don’t have expertise to catch the dog. You might end up with dog bites, also if you try to catch the dog or try to do your own animal control,” the PAWS executive director warned.

Senator Grace Poe, after Killua’s killing, filed Senate Bill No. 2458 or the “Revised Animal Welfare Act,” that will include mandatory animal welfare education in the curriculum of primary and secondary students. The bill also seeks to create a Barangay Animal Welfare Task Force that will allow local officials to quickly address animal welfare issues.

Cabrera agreed that like other laws, the animal welfare act “can be improved as time goes by.” She also said that it was the lack of cooperation from citizens – and not the law – that made them unable to go after animal abusers.

The PAWS executive director said there was a misconception that catching animal cruelty or abuse on camera, forwarding the clips to authorities, without directly cooperating, are enough to establish a criminal complaint against abusers. With their decades-long experience handling animal abuse cases, Cabrera reiterated that criminal complaints cannot prosper without the cooperation of a person who has personal knowledge about the incident.

Since criminal offenses require high-level evidence, reporting and posting on social media networks are not enough, people should cooperate in the case build up, Cabrera added.

“The sad thing is, not all animal cruelty issues that went viral led to the filing of a complaint. Because some people seemed to just want the issue become viral without taking steps to file a complaint. We cannot file complaints on the basis of [social media] tagging alone,” the PAWS executive director told Rappler.

“So we want everyone to step forward. Anyone with personal knowledge about animal cruelty, you can do your part. You can help us. We can help end the impunity of animal offenders… File cases against animal offenders because this is the only way that we can stop animal cruelty,” she added. –

Quotes were translated to English for brevity

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.