Malaysian pet owners and activists who found nearly 300 starving cats caged and soaked in excrement at pet care centers demanded sterner laws Tuesday against cruelty to animals.
The felines had been left with a company that was supposed to take care of them in Malaysia's central Selangor state while their owners returned to their hometowns for a week to celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr.
Many owners became worried when they were later unable to contact company representatives. Rescue volunteers broke into the company's two facilities Sunday and discovered the emaciated cats lying in their own feces and urine in cages stacked atop each other.
Activists estimated at least 12 cats were dead and dozens more were missing. Police have questioned the company owner and an employee, but no arrests have been made.
The case has energized activists to push for stronger prosecution against people who mistreat animals, said Christine Chin, who heads the Malaysian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"There is no deterrent in this country for animal cruelty, so the problem just spreads," Chin said.
More than 7,500 people have joined a Facebook group created Monday demanding government action against the company that abandoned the cats. The animals' owners were also considering suing it for breach of contract, Chin said.
Chin said her organization receives about 200 complaints of animal mistreatment each month, mostly involving dogs. However, it has recorded only about five prosecutions by authorities in the past decade.
Malaysian laws provide for a 200 ringgit ($66) fine and a jail term of up to six months for people convicted of cruelty to animals. However, only one offender is known to have been jailed _ for a day _ after he kept his dog chained so tightly that it suffered a bloodied neck wound, Chin said.
Government veterinarian resources are often focused on livestock and the prevention of disease outbreaks, with insufficient attention paid to animal cruelty, Chin added.
Abdul Aziz Jamaluddin, head of Malaysia's Veterinary Services Department, told reporters Monday there were already plans to introduce a new law next year to raise the animal cruelty fine to 100,000 ringgit ($34,000).
Chin said activists also want offenders to be forced to undergo psychiatric treatment and be banned from owning pets.