Picture from Spencer's Facebook post

Amid Friendly Dogs and Loss of Trust: Revisiting the Dog Abuse Incident

By Tiffany Gwee

There were many unanswered questions that surfaced amid the alleged dog abuse incident that happened in Pasir Ris last month that stirred a massive debate amongst Singaporeans.

The father of the punished full-time National Serviceman (NSF), Mr. Simon Spencer, talked about how a warrant officer was witnessed to have thrown a “truncheon at the dogs to chase them away” and also how a “lieutenant colonel personally brutally hit an innocent dog in the presence of the NS men”. In this case then, how is it that MINDEF had claimed that the dogs were already aggressive to begin with?

Dogs were not aggressive

TOC managed to speak with a reliable source (not to be named due to confidentiality reasons) and was told that the dogs are very different from how the Army portrays them to be. “The dogs are friendly towards us, sometimes they follow us when we patrol around the camp when on guard duty.”

The dogs have also been there for “approximately 7 months” before the incident happened and before that, they had shown no signs of aggression at all – contrary to the Army’s description of the dogs.

The Army wrote on its facebook fanpage that there were six such attacks in December alone – four involving injuries to personnel.

Two separate accounts

Regarding the video of the Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) throwing the “truncheon”, the source told us two separate accounts that he knew of. His camp mate who happened to witness the video that was caught on camera narrated the first of which to him. The camera captured the then-LTC of camp exiting his vehicle and how he “picked up an umbrella from his car” to “wave at the dogs” in a threatening way when they approached him. After that, he threw the umbrella towards the direction of the dogs. It is unclear if the umbrella hit the dogs or not.

The second version was told to him by an investigative officer in Pasir Ris Camp. He mentioned that it was indeed a “truncheon” that was used to “strike towards the dogs” when he exited the car. However, the view was obscured by the opening of his car door and therefore it was unclear as to whether the truncheon hit the dogs or not, similar to the first account.

Be it an umbrella or truncheon, both accounts told of the then-LTC exiting his vehicle to wave an instrument at the dogs. The footage was probably deleted after a month just like any regular CCTV footage following the regular Standard Operating Procedures.

The LTC himself according to the source confessed to the abuse when being asked and did not deny any involvement.

Not Upholding the Promise

The source told us that Samuer (the full-time NSF that was punished for shooting the video) was told by his superior that he was “not allowed to speak of this incident”. “Sam told me that his Commanding Officer promised him that he would not get charged for this incident and that they will deal with this in a less disciplinary way.” We also learnt that by right, Samuer could have the choice between getting fined $300 for the use of recording devices in the camp or being confined and monitored. Unfortunately, Samuer was not given a choice to choose and had to succumb to confinement. Samuer was given 21 days of Stoppage of Leave (SOL).

It seems like although Samuer’s Commanding Officer did not wish to punish the person who recorded and shared the video, he could not really do much to help since the higher authorities (MSD, MINDEF) had the utmost right and decided to go ahead with the charge.

Questioning the Core Value of Ethics

The source indicated disappointment in the way the higher authorities handled the situation. “One of our main core values in Army is ‘Ethics’,” he remarked, “but I witnessed none of it in this whole issue. Sam did the wrong thing but it was done on a good basis and what he did was ethical. I am disappointed in them not upholding one of the core values.”

He also talked about how the organisation he trusted in “failed to honour their words” and is “not as honourable as they may seem”. There was much “betrayal of trust” observed that caused the source to be even more disheartened about the situation.

Since soldiers who expose certain misdeeds committed by the higher authorities are punished regardless of motivation of contravening the regulations, there will no longer be any protection of ‘whistleblowers’ who wish to keep their identity a secret from the rest. This will deter many from speaking up against immoral practices or unethical behaviour in the future, completely contradictory to all the talk about upholding core values in the Army. This issue not only raised questions about animal treatment behind close doors but also sheds light on the erosion of trust between the soldiers and the higher authorities.

Camp back to normal

When asked about the situation in camp now, the source said that “no one cares about it anymore” and it is all back to normal. “Not many people actually bother to ask about it because many are scared of getting punished, but I feel like it is the right thing to do.”

The LTC involved in the saga had a ‘change of command’ with regards to his position as he was scheduled for retirement due to his age.

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