Some time in July, the Ministry of National Development launched the Pet Ownership and Stray Management Review.
It was a pleasant surprise for us all. This has been something that all animal welfare groups, animal activists and plain animal lovers have been hoping for but which has unfortunately failed to materialise in the past few decades.
Now that it has, it is time to speak up and speak loud for our furry friends, because this opportunity doesn't come easy.
We have only got two weeks till the end of October. That is roughly when the feedback portal will be closed to the public.
This isn't a blog post per se. In this entry, we present to you Gentle Paws' contribution to the Ministry's review. While we understand that the review covers all pets and stray animals, we only focus on the issue of stray dogs.
Our proposal to the Ministry probably doesn't contain anything that you haven't heard of before. What we have done is to try and tackle the most pertinent problem of overpopulation. We have put together recommendations and suggestions that have been raised in the past at one time or another for a holistic overview.
We hope to make Singapore a better place for our canine counterparts. If you agree with our views, please drop us an email at email@example.com with your name, email address and contact number. We hope to compile your names into a list and attach it to a copy of the proposal we are sending to the Ministry. Together, we believe we have a greater chance of being heard.
Help us help them! Thank you.
It's a rather long article. So take a deep breath, ready yourself... And here we go!
A Shelter's View: The Gentle Paws Proposal on Pet Ownership and Stray Management in Singapore
Introduction: First class nation, third class animals?
We are extremely grateful for the Pet Ownership and Stray Management Review launched by the Ministry of National Development. Being active in the dog shelter scene, we all know that where laws are concerned, there is only so much that animal groups and activists can do.
It is our view that laws should not be rigid, but flexible to suit an evolving society. And our society is indeed evolving. Our economy has become more sophisticated, our citizenry more educated and our population more diversified. But in the midst of our development, due to unchanging laws, the weak, the needy and the voiceless have been left behind.
Stray animals fall into this very group. For a small island city like Singapore, there are sure more strays crying out for help than there appears to be. As Singapore gradually turns half a century old in the next 3 years, it’s high time these creatures be given the respect that they deserve.
Below, we highlight the main problem of overpopulation and make some recommendations that we sincerely urge the committee overseeing this review to take into consideration.
The Problem - Overpopulation
There is a massive overpopulation of dogs in our country today. Based on an article in the TODAY paper dated 16 April 2011, AVA has to put down 95% of the 1,800 dogs it impounds annually by lethal injection. But is killing stray dogs the only way to solve the problem? There is also much to be said for the manner in which these stray dogs are captured. As we move toward a First World status, we ought to consider a kinder, more humane way to deal with the problem.
1) To eradicate unethical capturing of stray dogs
Ghandi famously said that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” This is so often quoted that it has become something of a cliché. But the quote remains ever popular because there is so much truth in its simplicity. Singapore has achieved much in the past half a century or so. But let’s not stop there. As we march toward the next half of the century, let us truly achieve greatness by treating our furry friends with dignity and respect. After all, Singapore is their home too.
The AVA currently employs independents as well as pest control companies to catch stray dogs and put them down. These parties receive a $250 commission for each dog captured. While AVA asserts that external dog catchers have to comply with AVA’s guidelines for capture, handling and transport of animals and the use of animal traps, one wonders why these guidelines are not made transparent and accessible to the public. The guidelines are certainly not found on the AVA website.
Because dog catchers have been seen to use cruel methods such as fishing lines and hooks, mattress spring coils and wire nooses at the end of poles that cut into the animal’s neck as it is dragged into the van, animal activists and welfare groups are keen to find out the criteria for the capture of stray dogs. Are the mild tempered, harmless and/or sterilised dogs put down uniformly with the more aggressive, dangerous and/or unsterilised ones? Or are dog catchers instructed to simply make a clean sweep of all and any dog that they come across in a specified area?
Both the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) have published feasible and humane guidelines on animal capture. One wonders why there remains no initiative on the part of the authorities to encourage or formalise any collaboration between pest control companies commissioned to catch stray dogs and animal welfare groups keen to lend a helping hand.
There are so many questions but because of a lack of transparency, they are simply not being answered.
In May this year, the National Parks Board called for tenders to cull 20 stray dogs from Ang Mo Kio Town Garden West and 15 from East Coast Park, Changi Beach Park or Pasir Ris Park. Culling of dogs seems to be the first solution that arises when in fact, it ought to be a method of last resort. Before the issue of culling even comes into the picture, one ought to consider whether it is possible to sterilise the strays and eventually rehabilitate them.
2) To provide support for the stray sterilisation program
One method to deal with the issue of overpopulation of dogs is to sterilise the existing ones, so as to contain the population. Animal welfare groups spend time and money conducting these sterilisation programs only to see the dogs they sterilised captured by the authorities. The cost of sterilisation for a dog ranges from $80 to $200, depending on gender and age. Yet, these efforts are so easily reversed by dog catchers who make a clean sweep of all stray dogs in their way, sterilised or not. It is a frustrating and disappointing process for these animal welfare groups. We urge the authorities to provide support for a program as meaningful as the stray dog sterilisation program.
3) To review and eradicate HDB’s blanket prohibition on mongrels
Mongrels are discriminated against under the HDB policy. It is illegal to keep a mongrel in a HDB flat, even if it is as small in size as a Chihuahua and it has a mild, docile temperament. HDB’s blanket ban on mongrels is rigid and discriminatory. With 80% of the population living in HDB flats, the blanket ban is depriving mongrels of many well-deserved homes. It is an obstacle in the quest to reduce the population of stray dogs, who are mostly mongrels. Besides, the blanket ban does not necessarily achieve what it sets out to do. People are forced to circumvent the rule by having their dog licensed under a friend’s private address or worse, not licensing at all. One owner we know went as far as to debark his dog to ward off trouble from interfering neighbours and authorities. On a broader note, what kind of message are we sending by giving such blatant preferential treatment to pure bred dogs? Mongrels are not an inferior breed and should not be treated as such.
The HDB policy on dogs should not be based on size. Many house pets are discarded because owners downgrade from a private residence to a public HDB flat. Even if their dog is a friendly, gentle and harmless cocker spaniel, they are unable to take it with them. HDB policy ought to be based on the general temperament of a particular breed of dog, instead of the size of the dog. Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and Cocker Spaniels are, despite their size, generally gentler and mellower dogs. They are also examples of breeds which are more popular in Singapore. There is no reason why they should be excluded under HDB’s blanket ban. Ironically, it is the small toy dogs which HDB allows that are noisier and barkier as compared to their larger counterparts.
As for mongrels, it is suggested that small to medium sized mongrels ought to be allowed in HDB flats, as long as they are properly licensed and micro-chipped. Even if it is unacceptable that medium sized mongrels be included under the HDB policy, it should never be a blanket ban. License should still be granted on a case-by-case basis based on the dog’s temperament. Clear guidelines ought to be drawn on the criteria used for assessment.
Perhaps the concern culminating in the HDB policy on dogs is that HDB living is a form of communal living. Some homeowners might have a fear of dogs. Others have religious reasons for avoiding dogs. But a blanket ban on medium to large sized dogs is simply not the answer to this situation. Condominium living is a type of communal living as well. In fact, the communal areas in condominiums are much narrower than HDB flats these days. Yet condominium owners, whether dog owners or not, manage to get on harmoniously.
The solution lies not in implementing a blanket ban but in reforming our laws to cultivate responsible pet ownership. All dogs that are house pets ought to be vaccinated and microchipped. They are to be leashed in all public areas. If the dogs are unruly and are a nuisance to the neighbours, the owner ought to be fined or made to go for a mandatory obedience training class with his pooch. Dog owners who do not clean up after their dog in parks and public places should be similarly punished. There is much scope to improve laws and regulations to promote responsible pet ownership.
This is not the first time that members of the public have called for the HDB rules to be reviewed. However, it appears that the authorities have yet to respond. It must be emphasised that rules ought not to be rigid. The current blanket ban only addresses short term problems. It is time for an overhaul of the current rules to attain a workable long term solution to reduce the overpopulation of dogs in our country.
5) To review licensing of breeders and implement a system to ensure that breeding is done ethically
Breeders contribute greatly to the overpopulation problem that currently exists. Yet it is so easy to become a breeder. All that appears to be required is simply to rent a space, get the dogs and pay for the dog licenses. While conditions for Pet Shop Licenses are carefully set out, the same is not done for breeders. Are breeders who sell the puppies bred equivalent to that of pet shops? More clarification seems to be needed. Dog licenses for breeders ought to be significantly higher than that of house pets or shelter dogs. The reality however is that the cost of licensing one breeder dog is less than half the amount needed for that of a pet dog. The AVA website states that dog licenses for a “dog farm” with less than 100 dogs costs just $650 per annum. This means that the license for each dog is a mere $6.50 per year which is less than the $14 pet owners pay for their pet dogs! This is unacceptable and we implore the authorities to look into the matter.
Breeding of dogs needs to be contained and controlled to ensure that it is done so ethically. The recent puppy mill scandals have shown that rogue breeders are a dime a dozen. Instead of clamping down on innocent stray dogs, we ought to shift our attention to errant dog breeders. It should be mandatory for breeders to undergo a course on responsible breeding of animals. The breeder should also be made to submit a proposal on the manner the farm is to operate, to be approved by the relevant authorities.
Conclusion: It’s their world too
If you feel the same way as we do, please drop us an email with your name, email address and contact number so that we can add you to our list of people in support of the above proposal. If you wish to obtain a copy of our article with all the proper citations and footnotes, please drop us an email as well. Please direct all your emails regarding the above to firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank you for your time.