Most of us know to be kind to others. It’s been instilled in us from young, one way or another.
We have made progress – through ground-up movements and well-intentioned people supported by organisations like the Singapore Kindness Movement – towards a more inclusive society that welcomes all who live on our shores.
But I want to focus on just one part of that society here: Animals.
I know what some of you are thinking. Animals aren’t people. Some animals in our urban environment are even considered nuisances – rats, pigeons and crows for example.
Still, animals are living things and while most of us consider them with a kind of benign bochup-ness, there is a small group of people who don’t realise the impact of their cruel actions.
Over Christmas, many of us were appalled to hear about the group of teenagers who allegedly used a box of live frogs in a foosball game.
Netizens were up in arms over the lack of remorse by the teenagers, who seemed to be risking the lives of living and breathing creatures all for the sake of their entertainment.
Torturing animals to have fun. That doesn’t sound anything like the Christmas spirit to me.
One of the teenagers in the video was already under investigation for trespassing into the white rhinoceros enclosure at the Singapore Zoo. He had entered the enclosure and did a backflip before jumping back over the fence into the visitor-area. He proceeded to post the video on his TikTok account (which was subsequently taken down).
All for the sake of a video on social media, he put his own life at risk in an area with a critically endangered animal species. Really?
Other stories you might like
What’s more galling was how the teen responded to the backlash. He flippantly brushed off the criticisms and claimed that they bought the frogs as a joke. His explanation was that they had planned to feed the frogs to fishes so they were trying to dismember one on the foosball table.
He later claimed on his Instagram account that the group was not playing foosball with the frogs.
“There was no intention of animal cruelty on my part,” he wrote. “I understand it’s easy to assume this, especially because of my recent rhino incident, but people just assuming things does nothing but make themselves look dumb when the real story comes out.”
I’m all for giving people the benefit of the doubt. But this explanation is silly. And his arrogance in his answers isn’t doing himself any favours either.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case. A woman was recently fined for abandoning her four cats at a void deck in March last year.
She was afraid that the cats could spread Covid-19 to her family members. She was banned from owning pets for six months and fined $4,000.
I understand that she was acting out of a misguided sense of fear. She didn’t want herself or her loved ones to get infected. However, that’s still no reason to abandon the cats. She could have taken them to an animal shelter for adoption or given them to someone else to care for them.
Surely we can do better than this. There is no reason for us to be entertained at the expense of animals or to leave pets to fend for themselves.
To be fair to our society, the outcry over the frogs shows that at least for most of us, our hearts are in the right place.
Can we be ‘too kind’?
Yet, on the other hand, is there such a thing as showing too much kindness to animals?
Some would ask: Where do we draw the line on kindness towards animals? Isn’t killing animals for food a type of cruelty?
For example, Buddhism believes that all life is sacred so some practitioners of the faith become strict vegetarians. Similarly, veganism as a lifestyle tries to avoid all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it from food, clothing, or any other purpose.
Such beliefs are personal and up to the individual. There is no right or wrong here.
Personally, I believe that the animals that are used for food are for our nourishment. Meat is a good source of protein and has many nutrients essential to our survival. These animals are also killed in a humane and painless way (not on foosball tables, that’s for sure). The key point for me isn’t the killing, it is that there should be no needless cruelty to it.
Feeding strays vs feeding wild animals
Then what about feeding strays? Another argument I often hear against being kind to animals is that doing so disrupts our daily lives. This ranges from stray cats following passer-bys for food to wild animals attacking people.
“Don’t feed it, it’ll follow you home.” Haven’t we heard this from our elders often enough when we were growing up?
Yet, there is nothing wrong in showing empathy towards hungry strays by feeding them. In fact, done properly, it is a laudable effort. That said, feeding strays in Singapore needs to be done responsibly, with consideration to cleanliness and the feelings of the residents living in the area as well.
I believe that it is a step on the way to being an empathetic society that cares for every part of our community – including the animals.
But we need to recognise that our actions have an effect on the animals too. Their behaviour stems from their desire to find food.
So there is a thing as showing too much kindness to wild animals. Recently, a group of people were charged for feeding bread and dog food to wild boars.
They probably had good intentions but they might not have realised that feeding wild animals would condition them to associate humans with food. This will result in more interaction with humans, even those who aren’t actively feeding them.
This could also prompt them to venture out of the forests and into more developed areas, leading to an increase in the chances of unwanted encounters.
Recently, a woman was attacked by a wild boar at Sungei Api-Api park, just a few kilometres away from where the group of people were caught feeding them. She had been exercising with her husband when the boar charged at her out of the vegetation. It fled after, leaving her with a 10cm-long laceration on her left leg and facial injuries, according to Shin Min Daily News. She was also traumatised by the incident.
The woman was lucky that she wasn’t alone and that her husband was able to rush her to the hospital immediately.
Balance, as in nature
There should be moderation when it comes to extending kindness to animals. We should strike a proper balance.
We certainly should not hurt them just to have mindless fun, or feed them without considering the consequences. Hitting a live frog with a foosball is cruel and wrong, just like how feeding wild animals, while supposedly kind, is also a mistake.
Animals are living things, just like us. They have every right to be treated properly and kindly.
Being kind to animals includes avoiding them whenever necessary. This reduces the chances of harm befalling both sides.
It is true that we can’t be compared to animals – we should be held to a higher standard. We should make the right decisions and act appropriately. We have that power to make the right decisions – we, more than animals, should know better.