@CatWelfareSG documentary screening and discussion panel

Andy and I were privileged to attend the event Dogs Cats and Humans on Saturday, invited by the Cat Welfare Society folks. We learned a lot and we would like to share with you our thoughts and insights garnered from the event.

Dogs Cats and Humans documentary
One of the leading themes behind the topic is on euthanasia in shelters, both government and private. We believe in euthanasia in the human concept where it is no longer a viable option to prolong a person’s pain and suffering. But euthanasia in shelters is due to lack of space, where they prioritise who lives and who dies. Some of the methods employed are more humane – quick and painless, others are long drawn-out processes. The priorities as to who lives and who dies are set differently by each shelter. Many of the animals surrendered to these shelters shown in the documentary are borne out of unsterilised pets at home. As in a hospice or nursing home for humans, every surrendered pet that comes in, borne out of an unsterilised pet at home, is a competition for space in the shelter. Someone has to die or be adopted for that space.

Another topic that was brought up is the concept of ‘no-kill’ shelters. Currently very popular in the UK and US, these no-kill shelters do not practise euthanasia on surrendered pets. This is an extremely good concept. However, like Marxism is good on paper but fails terribly when practised by Communists, the no-kill concept is not viable in practice, and euthanasia can only be minimised but not eradicated. Why this is so – the insight on this was shared by SPCA advocate Jaipal Gill. Basically, if you have a no-kill shelter, and are full, you are simply forcing the animals needing rescue to other organisations, effectively pushing the burden of euthanasia on to others. Likewise, and this is our own insight, if you decide to let a cat become stray because you can no longer care for it, you may eventually be pushing the burden of euthanasia to animal control by AVA and pest control companies. Euthanasia for lack of space can only be minimised but not eradicated. When we eventually become a full-fledged cattery at Love Kuching, we aim to be ‘no-kill’ unless the vet makes the call to euthanise a rescue due to severe injury. And we believe still very much in euthanasia when a rescue has an illness that cannot be treated and is in obvious pain and suffering. Depending on resources available, euthanising these rescues may very well be a better way to channel resources to rescues that can be saved and eventually re-homed. This will apply for sick cats we care for like Helga. When funds no longer come in for her treatment, her special diet, or when she exhibits suffering and pain, we will definitely be putting her to sleep. We would also have sent Manja to the vet for euthanasia but her deterioration and death was firstly too quick for us to evaluate the decision as to when to euthanise her, and secondly it occurred in the middle of the night and therefore it was not possible for us to get a vet at the time to put her to sleep.

The last topic that was deeply covered in the documentary is the overall issue of animal welfare. A seasoned veteran veterinarian said to the filmmaker, that, “Animal welfare will only improve when the welfare of humans is on the uprise.” This much we agree with. In countries where there is economic stability, of course there are resources to advocate for animal welfare. In the UK, the pet shops do not sell cats and dogs at all, only grooming services and pet supplies. It was impossible to find one selling live pets, save for small animals. The concept of adoption is so prevalent it has become ingrained in pet owners potential and current. Considering that in Singapore we are in peacetime and not in an economic slump mirroring that of war – the example of the Japanese war during WW2 was used in the film – we ought to be much more change-making in the realm of animal welfare. Promoting adoption, fighting the ban of sale of cats and dogs in pet shops which are bred from farms in extremely inhumane conditions. We are still fighting for that paradigm shift in Singapore and we will not relent till the paradigm is ingrained in the hearts of Singaporean society.

What we glean from this is that the only long-term solution to the problem is in education. You, the public, needs to stop contributing to overcrowding shelters. Shelters will always have the overcrowding issue, because in economics, resources will always be scarce. The 3 things you need to change in, and in fact inspire others around you to do the same:

  1. Never buy a pet cat or dog or kitten or puppy from a pet shop. 
  2. Always neuter your pet and not even allow it to have one litter or to impregnate others.
  3. A pet is a lifetime companion – there is no excuse for pet abandonment.

These 3 facets of an important message cannot be propagated by shelters and organisations alone. It has to come from you, telling others and setting the example for those in your circle of influence to follow.

Discussion panel with SPCA, AVA, CWS, HRSS, Zeus (an independent rescue group like us)
(ASD Ricky Yeo was a no show, so there was no response on the dog advocacy front by the only registered charity for dog welfare. Obviously, it only means not much is being done on the dog welfare front.)

Many misconceptions were clarified both during the discussion panel and the networking session afterward. Firstly, AVA and SPCA are not the enemies. Regardless of how many times we at the community level have slammed them, they are not the enemies. Let me proceed to clarifiy some of the misconceptions about these organisations.

AVA started the Animal Welfare department to monitor, audit and check the breeding conditions of licensed pet shops and farms in Singapore for humane standards. However, this department is new. It only has 3 people. These 3 people cannot possibly be as stringent as say, MAS in auditing banks for their compliance to the law simply because there are only 3 of them.

AVA does not ban home breeders. This means that if you are a breed fancier, and you know jolly well not to buy a pedigree cat or dog from a pet shop or farm, you have to rely on home breeders. AVA does not regulate home breeders unless there is a cruelty issue apparent, with evidence to back up in order for them to raid and prosecute the abusive breeder.

If you are a breed fancier and not an animal lover, please do your own audit of the breeder you are purchasing a (usually at the time unborn) pedigree kitten or dog from. Ask for medical records of the parents. Ask how many litters are produced each year. Ask for sonograms of the pregnancy. Inspect the home of the breeder to make sure it is comfortable for the mother and father and subsequent leader. If you do not do this before you decide to purchase from a breeder, you are basically leaving the entire backyard breeding industry to police itself which means you are an enabler of animal cruelty. AVA cannot regulate the pedigree home breeders as ‘other countries do not do the same either’. Hence, if you want some sort of regulation body to certify your pedigree breeder you have to turn to Singapore Kennel Club or Feline Fanciers Society of Singapore to accredit home pedigree breeders.

As for penalising animal cruelty and mistreatment cases, there are many cases of abuse, neglect and abandonment reported, but often a lack of witnesses and material evidence sufficient to render the accused guilty. This can only mean one thing. You the public have to be the witness, to be the evidence gatherer, the vigilante investigator of suspected animal cruelty around you. AVA or the police cannot prosecute without witnesses to testify or material evidence to prove guilt.

SPCA does more than rescue dogs, cats and small animals like hamsters and rabbits. They also investigate cruelty to other species of animals such as birds and rats. When stray cats are brought to them with a treatable illness that is not contagious they will treat the animal, neuter it and return it to its territory. A lot the the work that SPCA does in preventing animal cruelty is subtle and they are only endeavouring harder every year on year to raise the bar on its mission to Prevent Cruelty to Animals.

SPCA does shelter kittens require bottle feeding that are 3-4 weeks of age and above (unless they have cat flu’ in which case they are euthanised to prevent an epidemic), seconding volunteers and staff to take home the kittens to bottle feed through the nights. Younger kittens of newborn to 2 weeks of age die easily so they will not be bottle fed and rehabilitated and are usually euthanised. So it is not true that SPCA does not at all have the resources to bottle feed kittens that need milk. While limited, they do have volunteers and staff that stay up through the night like we do to feed rescued kittens.

One of the issues that was brought home during the discussion is that the stray cats and dogs problem is a community problem – because we the community live with the strays in our neighbourhood. We can definitely vouch that Cat Welfare Society is promoting this mindset repeatedly, through encouraging independent rescue groups like us, through subsidising independent volunteers who conduct TNRM in their area. Until that night, we thought no one cared for neutering stray dogs much except for Project Just Kindness. But Zeus Communications who was also represented at the discussion panel also advocates sterilisation and return of stray dogs to help with the long term agenda of dog welfare. So while official dog welfare advocacy is missing in Singapore, there are independent groups that pick up the slack in sterilisation of stray dogs.

So, before you call us, the independent rescue groups, or the welfare organisations like SPCA and Cat Welfare, think how much you as part of the community can do first. It is your problem too. Let’s solve it together and advocate on all levels for better animal welfare in this country.

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