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The Straits Times
July 28, 2023
The 10-year-old boy who flung an old community cat off the 22nd floor of a Housing Board block in Boon Lay in December 2022 has completed a month-long guidance programme in June, and was issued a stern warning by the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS).
This was revealed on Friday at an online press conference held by the National Parks Board, which AVS is part of.
Chairing the conference, group director of AVS Jessica Kwok said once the investigation into the case was completed, the boy was assessed by a psychiatrist from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) who found that he did not understand the nature and consequences of his conduct.
The boy was caught on closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera flinging the cat off the 22nd level of Block 186 in Boon Lay on Dec 14, 2022, and the one-minute video started circulating on social media a day later.
It showed a black cat exiting a lift, followed by the young boy. Seconds later, he picked up the cat and looked around before throwing it over the railing. Its mangled carcass was later found at the void deck by its feeder, Ms Umi Solikati.
That same day, an online petition seeking justice for the cat was started by a Nadya Im on Change.org. It has garnered over 90,000 signatures.
While there was a police report made, the boy was not arrested or taken into custody.
Under Section 42 of the Animal and Birds Act of 1965, first-time offenders caught abusing an animal face a fine of up to $15,000, a jail term of up to 18 months, or both.
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Singapore is 10 and this means that nothing done by a child under the age of 10 can be considered an offence.
A child aged between 10 and 12 who does not have enough maturity to understand the nature and consequence of his or her conduct also cannot be held criminally responsible.
Ms Kwok said: “The psychiatrist from IMH ascertained that the boy did not have the maturity to understand the nature and consequences of what he did.”
After consulting with the Attorney-General’s Chambers and taking into account the boy’s age and the psychiatric assessment, he was placed on what AVS called its Diversionary Programme, which was found to be “the most appropriate course of action”.
The programme, comprising education and practice, centres on rehabilitation by getting the offender to understand animal welfare, how to care for animals, living with animals in the community, and why his actions were wrong.
Apart from learning about animal welfare and laws protecting animal health and welfare in Singapore, the boy also underwent practical sessions at a cat shelter where he had to properly care for cats such as feeding, handling, and grooming them.
The boy underwent the programme during the school break in June “so that his schoolwork was not interrupted”, Ms Kwok said, explaining why the findings took so long to be revealed. He was accompanied by his father throughout the programme.
“He completed the programme satisfactorily and is now able to understand why his actions were wrong... He wanted to convey his remorse and apology to the cat’s caregivers, and said that he would not do it again,” said Ms Kwok.
She added that he was also issued a stern warning and AVS will continue to work with his school and parents to monitor his progress.
When asked if this is going to be the stance AVS will take when it comes to dealing with underage children who abuse animals, Ms Kwok said while the agency takes all cases seriously and investigates them thoroughly, it still needs to look at each case in its totality.
“Beyond the age we also have to look at other factors, like working with psychiatrists to better understand their level of maturity. We want to work with the schools and families as well. For this particular case, we decided that the diversionary programme was the most appropriate,” she said.
Cat feeders and rescuers expressed their disappointment in how the investigations had turned out. Many were convinced that the boy knew what he was doing.
An independent cat rescuer who wanted to be known only as Wati, 50, told The Straits Times: “The video showed that boy looking furtively left and right because he wanted (the area) to be clear of witnesses. How can they say he did not have sufficient maturity to understand the nature and consequences of his action?
“Age has become less of a factor now. People are ‘maturing’ at a much younger age because of exposure, education, awareness.”
Echoing her sentiments, Boon Lay community cat feeder Chua Mui Mui, 75, said: “It has been proven that the 10-year-olds today have enough sense to know what they are doing is right or wrong. I don’t think the stern warning this time will have any deterrent effect. I believe that he is waiting for people’s memories to gradually fade before he does it again.”
As to the other cases of animal abuse in 2023 – of a youth caught on camera in April behaving inappropriately with a cat outside an HDB flat in Bukit Panjang and the two emaciated cats found locked in a cage with the skeletal remains of three others in a rental flat in Jalan Minyak – Ms Kwok said the former is being investigated by the police while AVS is still looking into the latter.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told The Straits Times in April that it had observed a “disproportionately high number” of cat abuse cases in 2023. It investigated 11 such cases from January to March.
In comparison, the society probed 16 cases for the whole of 2022 and 11 cases in 2021.