We are in the golden age of animal welfare in Singapore. So says Ms Laura Ann Meranda, Executive Director of Cat Welfare Society (CWS). She feels that initiatives from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) such as the Codes of Animal Welfare and dedicated enforcement teams are fostering better animal welfare in general.
So why, then, are there more cases of animal cruelty? The Yishun cat killer comes quickly to mind, and just last month, the owner of a poodle was jailed for causing its death. The AVA has reported, too, that the number of cases of animal cruelty has risen from 410 in 2011 to 840 in 2015.
According to Ms Meranda, this rise is not because of increased instances of cruelty but an awareness that has resulted in more cases being reported online to welfare groups on social media.
Said Ms Meranda: “Animal abuse is not more rampant now than it was before. There was lots of abuse that was happening before, but I think that there has been a change in the way people view animals.”
She adds that more people are reporting suspicious deaths of cats on CWS’ Facebook page and this has helped to increase the chances of perpetrators getting caught. The CWS, a charity that champions cat welfare, also works closely with the Town Councils and the AVA on mediating over 2,000 cases a year.
“Now, if there is a suspicious death of a cat, the Town Council takes this matter seriously. They are working with a network of caregivers and CWS to report the incident and will also notify the AVA. So this has been a major change compared to five years ago,” said Ms Meranda.
Mr Derrick Tan, founder of Voices For Animals (VFA), receives three to four reports of animal abuse per week on his registered society’s Facebook page, which has over 42,000 followers. VFA rehabilitates former breeding dogs and cats and provides pet therapy sessions for the elderly and people with special needs. In such cases, Mr Tan will refer them to the AVA, who have the authority and resources to investigate the matter further.
Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, Executive Director of Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said that animal abuse has no place in our society and it is always very distressing to hear of any such cases.
“It is difficult for us to rationalise animal abuse. From our experience, some of the offenders have mental health issues. In a few cases of severe neglect, the owners cited being too busy as a reason for not providing their pet the required care. Unfortunately, in every society, there are going to be some individuals who inflict harm on animals. It is then up to the rest of us to prevent this from happening,” he said.
On Oct 19, 45-year-old Yeo Poh Kwee was sentenced to 18 months jail for failing to provide veterinary treatment for his toy poodle, Brownie, after it sustained multiple injuries leading to its death. He was also sentenced to two-months imprisonment for abandoning another toy poodle, Yoyi, that wasn’t licensed.
Perhaps the most notorious instances of animal abuse seen recently took place in Yishun between September and December 2015. During that period, the AVA received reports that at least 19 cats were found dead or injured. On Dec 27, 2015, Lee Wai Leong, 41, was sentenced to 18 months’ probation for throwing a cat 13 storeys down. He was remanded at the Institute of Mental Health and though he was suspected of being involved in the deaths of the other cats, there was not enough evidence to link him to those.
Ms Meranda said: “The AVA has been prosecuting more animal abuse perpetrators now than before. This means the law is being enforced by them and it’s a good start.”
The AVA has reorganised its investigation and enforcement team into two units, to enable better enforcement of animal welfare cases. One unit will investigate alleged animal cruelty cases, while the other inspects that pet businesses comply with the code of conduct.
Apart from this, the AVA has released Codes of Animal Welfare for the pet industry and pet owners. These codes aim to provide guidance on the definition of the duty of care for animals, which includes minimum standards of animal housing, management and care of the pets that needs to be complied.
Mr Mohan Div, Co-Founder of the Animal Lovers League said the Codes of Animal Welfare are a necessary step in improving animal welfare in Singapore. He said: “With these codes, there is more bite in the law concerning animal abuse and welfare. With these codes, only qualified and authorised people can handle animals in the industry and fraternity.”
There are still challenges that the AVA faces on a regular basis. As stated on their website, these challenges include the lack of eyewitnesses who are willing to testify in court and provide verifiable evidence such as videos or photographs. Another challenge is that the carcasses may have been disposed off or are in a bad condition before it is reported to the AVA. Also, there are cases of animal abuse that have not been reported, which prevents any investigation at all from proceeding.
Dr Gill feels that the focus should be on better deterrence and detection of such acts. He said: “Deterrence can be achieved by community groups coming together to patrol neighbourhoods, performing outreach activities and raising awareness on animal cruelty. Detection relies on investigative skills and techniques. In this regard, a greater use of forensic science can help solve more cases.”
Mr Div says that more education is needed to correct the mindset of society to improve animal welfare. His animal shelter conducts educational drives and outreach programmes to promote animal kindness, including events and school talks. He also encourages children to visit his shelter at Pasir Ris Farmway.
Ms Meranda is adamant that everything boils down to enforcement. With inter-agency cooperation from the Town Councils and Government agencies, it will strengthen enforcement and greatly help prosecute perpetrators in animal abuse cases.
What to do if you witness animal abuse:
1. Contact AVA promptly via its 24-hour hotline to report animal cruelty cases. Call 1800-476-1600.
2. Take a picture or video of the suspect and take note of any distinguishing features of the person and clothing or accessories worn, including the vehicle number if available.
3. If the animal is dead, do not move the body. Take a picture of the animal and the surrounding area of the exact location including the street name, bus stop number or lamp post number.
Alternatively, you can log onto animal welfare groups’ Facebook pages to post about these incidents with verifiable evidence like videos or photographs. This will help the AVA to prosecute the perpetrators responsible.
We can all make the future brighter for all animals in Singapore by being their eyes and ears, to ensure that they are not abused.