~by: Cheong Yaoming~

This year’s Singapore Animal Welfare Symposium and Public Forum 2012 was held at Chong Pang Community Club with exhibits from returning animal welfare groups (AWGs) such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), as well as new entrants like Project FIN and Human Society Singapore.

The exhibits attracted over 300 visitors throughout the day and the public forum saw a dramatic turn out as well by members of the various animal rights interest groups as well as members of the public.

Hosted jointly by NUS People Ending Animal Cruelty & Exploitation (PEACE) and Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES), the first of three forums kicked off with the widely discussed and current issue about Humane Domestic Animal Management.

Mr Tan En, Vice Chairman of Chong Pang Youth Executive Committee pointed out that the momentum for animal rights is growing, but some trust issues have arisen in the past few months between organisations. Mr Tan urged all parties to set aside differences and focus on the uniting goal of wanting to give animals a voice.  Noting that the communication barrier is shrinking with social media, it was a good opportunity to foster more productive dialogue between the NGOs and the government authorities.

The Founder and President of Action for Singapore Dogs, Mr Ricky Yeo presented an alarming statistic – there are currently between 5,000 to 8,000 stray dogs in Singapore comprising of mongrels (90%), sick and old pedigrees abandoned by irresponsible owners (10%).  Mr Yeo and the other AWGs, strongly believe sterilisation to be the most effective long term solution in reducing the stray population. He also urged people who feed the strays to bring the animals in for sterilisation to avoid worsening the stray animal problem as over time those animals would become stronger and breed.

One inherent flaw with the current HDB regulation is that certain condominiums are smaller than HDB flats; bigger dogs which may not be suited for cramped places may be banned in HDB flats but are being kept in such condominiums. Mr Yeo advised HDB to seriously review and amend their policies.

Ms Veron Lau, Vice President of Cat Welfare Society (CWS) opened with another chilling statistic – 5000 cats had been either been surrendered and/or culled in 2010. Some positives changes have come about since then, such as AVA has contributing half of the sterilisation costs for cats and the number of cats sterilised has increased by 40% over the last 10 years.  Ms Lau believed that the heart of the stray animal issue was not about regulating the numbers but rather to regulating responsibility of pet owners by imposing penalties for irresponsible owners and encouragement for responsible owners. Another positive change CWS reported was that government agencies have shown more willingness to communicate, adopt suggestions and move from prescriptive regulations (“can do this, cannot do that”) to outcome based regulations.

Ms Selina Sebastian Education Executive and Ms Deirdre Moss, Animal Welfare Director of SPCA shared the plight of dogs from puppy mills. In April 2010, 75 breeding dogs were rescued from a breeding farm that was closing operations and were trying to recoup their losses by selling them. In October 2010, www.sgpuppies.com was launched to tackle the problem of puppy mills. It highlighted the poor living conditions of some of these establishments. The puppies sold mostly did not have the proper vaccinations and licences at the point of sales. Last year the number of cruelty cases reported increased by 116% compared to figures recorded 10 years ago. Pet neglect needs to be addressed not just pet cruelty through enhanced laws.

Last but not least, Ms Betty Tan, Vice-President of House Rabbit Singapore Society shared the organisation’s mission – to reduce unwanted rabbits being abandoned and to improve the living conditions of domesticated rabbits. Rabbits are the next most popular domesticated pets after dogs and cats. Last year, being the Year of the Rabbit, saw a spike of 800 rabbits being abandoned, a rate of more than 2 rabbits abandoned daily. The key reasons for rabbit abandonment are ignorance of rabbit’s lifestyle and an alarming lack of education about how to care for rabbits as well as impulse buying. Some proposed solutions to tackle this problem are making it illegal to sell rabbits over the Internet, only allowing rabbits that are at least 8 weeks (palm sized) old to be sold and implementing micro chipping of rabbits.

During the Q&A that followed, Ms Eunice Nah, a volunteer at the Agency for Animal Welfare Ltd (a non-profit animal welfare group), suggested that breeding farms should be subjected to the breeding stock standards per breed as detailed by the Singapore Kennel Club (SKC), which advocates a higher standard of care and living conditions for the breeding of various breeds of dogs than is currently practiced. This would not only ensure care but also the quality of stock according to international breed standard to prevent congenital diseases and disabilities in dogs. At the moment, most breeding kennels in Singapore do not subscribe to proper breeding standards. She felt that if breeding kennels’ stock cannot be registered by the SKC, they should not be allowed to breed as that would embarrass Singapore’s high quality achievement standards. Most vets in Singapore are affiliated with the SKC.

Eunice had brought along Sally, a 14 year-old miniature schnauzer, reportedly abandoned by a former pet owner to Kennel 7 about 8 years ago, was one of the many dogs rescued from a Pasir Ris breeding farm with poor sanitation and welfare standards such as overcrowding in sewage-filled pens, daily abuse and near-starvation. Sally was covered with countless ticks that caused fever and anaemia. . Despite the deplorable condition and inspections conducted by authorities, the farm was deemed suitable for operations.

 Most of the puppies produced by Sally were malnourished and in poor health condition, with tick fever, joint and teeth problems, anaemia, kidney failure, blindness, deformed lips and ears, as well as schnauzer bumps which properly bred schnauzers would not have. Eunice believes that if AVA had veterinarians conducting monthly checks instead of non-veterinary staff, it would facilitate early detection and reduce the abuse suffered by involuntary working animals like Sally who was still suffering from post-traumatic stress.

She was generally satisfied with the progress and recommendations to be implemented from the event held last year and welcomed further governmental reviews of animal welfare legislation as there was more that could be done. The Agency for Animal Welfare, in a proposed future collaboration, will be working in a pilot project to help mediate between neighbours in pet related disputes to promote greater harmony and understanding within the community. The Agency hopes to recruit, train and certify 30 to 50 volunteer Community Pet Welfare Mediators by the end of 2012 to help the various constituencies, regardless of political affiliation, with such problems that can be resolved through neutral intervention and education. Mr K. Shanmugum, Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs, MP for Nee Soon GRC, welcomed the proposal.

Dr Lou Ek Hee, Assistant Director of Animal Welfare Section of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) also responded to question from the NGOs and members of the public.  The AVA has a delicate task of balancing the preferences and needs of pet owners and neighbours who value their personal space and privacy. Dr Lou assured the audience that the AVA is seeking to improve shop standards by conducting random and unannounced surveillance inspections and implemented a compulsory structured training for shop owners in 2010.

When asked why home breeders are allowed, Dr Lou said AVA is looking into regulating breeders and would take into consideration the feedback of animal welfare groups and animal lovers.  Feasibility plans were underway for a national microchipping database.

The Annual Responsible Pet Ownership (RPO) Roadshow organised by AVA since 2004 aims to educate the public on being responsible pet owners. This year’s RPO Roadshow will be held 10-11 November.

AVA believes that public education on responsible pet ownership is key to reducing the problem of strays and improving animal welfare standards in Singapore. To this end, AVA actively promotes and organises campaigns on RPO. AVA’s RPO education programme seeks to equip existing and potential pet owners with the knowledge on the care and responsibility that comes with owning a pet.  

The grading system of pet shops, which were classified as shops that sell live pets, was implemented in 2006. Dr Lou revealed that 97 shops have a Grade A rating and 103 shops have a Grade B rating. This represented 83% of such shops with high operating standards while the remaining 17% – only 4 shops have a Grade C rating while remaining 36 shops were not graded, as they did not have animals in the shop. Finally the new character and citizenship programme announced by MOE will include modules about respect and care for animals.

The event was deemed a great success, not just based on the increased number of participants from last year but also the inroads made by AWGs and the government agencies opening more channels for discussion for positive outcomes. Previously HDB and MND did not attend last year’s event but this year there were representatives from MND present. Hopefully HDB will be more receptive to participate in next year’s event.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

ACRES Executive Director Louis Ng's speech at the symposium HERE.

ACRES letter to ST Forum HERE.

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