The law on cats, pigs and dogs by Prosper Batariwah

Today, I decided to take a stroll on paper. Going through the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), I was curious and intrigued about some of the offences that exist. I am Dagao (Dagaare, Dagaati, a tribal grouping in the Upper West Region). Our love for pork, dog meat ( I don’t know what it is called)  and pito ( a type of millet and sorghum beer) is known in many Ghanaian circles. Due to diverse reasons, I have never tasted dog meat. I cannot count the number of times I have been asked by my friends, especially my Guruni (Frafra) and Dagaaba friends, ‘Oh, why don’t you eat dog meat? It’s delicious!’

I came across section 303 of Act 29 which states the law on cruelty to animals. Section 303 basically proscribes actions which cause unnecessary suffering to animals. This can include positive acts as well as omissions. This offence can also be committed personally or by procuring another to perform the exercise of cruelty. Owners of premises who allow their premises to be used for operations which cause cruelty to animals are also criminally liable. We would expect that the definition of an animal under section 310 will provide us sufficient members of the genus. Sadly, section 310 provides that ‘an animal means a domestic or captive animal.’ Thus far, it appears the killing of animals even for food is prima facie an offence under this section. However, there is a saving exception to this offence of cruelty to animals. Under section 303(3) of Act 29, where the cruelty is as a result of the preparation or destruction of the food for human consumption or the end result of hunting, there is no cruelty to animals. Even with this exception, when it comes to destruction for food, the destruction of the animal must not be accompanied by unnecessary suffering.

It appears from a reading of this provision, that several questions arise. First, what is unnecessary suffering? Who determines whether an animal has suffered unnecessarily? Must it be the animal or the reasonable man? Can an animal be destroyed for food without causing unnecessary suffering?

People kill pigs and dogs by smashing the heads of these poor animals. For the killing of cats, it is another matter. There is a reason why there is a qualifier to ‘suffering’. This provision does not at all contemplate that the killing of animals for food will not involve suffering. The suffering must just not be unnecessary. It is suggested that what is unnecessary suffering would be a matter of degree. Perhaps, swift chopping of goat and fowl heads will suffice. Starving animals, putting them in sacks and smashing their heads with pestles may perhaps constitute cruelty to animals.

Nevertheless, this provision (section 303) is simply interesting to read and the questions raised are worth the amusement.