Category Archives: Letters & Rants

Letters/comments published in the Singapore press or elsewhere

Kitten in mrt station incident: Officious response

A follow-up to the kitten in Dohby Ghaut NEL station incident (or Bureaucracy, boxes, beer. Blech).

From the TODAY Voices section. At least the NEL spin doctors have the grace to acknowledge the mistakes on their part.

‘Proper procedure was not followed’

But there was no evidence that the cat had been hit
Letter from Tammy Tan, vice-president (Corporate Communications), SBS Transit
Updated 09:05 AM Oct 07, 2009

WE REFER to “MRT staff at Dhoby Ghaut ignored pleas; had no regard for animal welfare” by Ms Risa Okamoto Mardjuki (Today Online, Oct 4).

It is rare for animals to enter our stations, but when they do, our staff have been told to spare no effort in ensuring their safety whilst not compromising on the safety of our passengers.

The Standard Operating Procedure in such cases is for station staff to seek assistance from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (SPCA) and to watch over the animal as the SPCA makes its way to our premises. This has been the way we have handled similar cases in the past when dogs strayed into our station.

Unfortunately, the proper procedure was not followed in this instance. Our station staff first erred by calling the pest control company instead of the SPCA.

An error of judgment was also made when the staff tried to lure the cat into a non-public passageway which is located behind the emergency door. The manner in which this was done was also wrong. Certainly a stick and a garbage bag should not have been used.

To make matters worse, the cat unexpectedly leapt up the wall into a small opening located just beside the emergency door and landed on the tracks instead.

Since the incident occurred on Oct 2, we have conducted several sweeps of our tracks and found no evidence that the cat had been hit by our trains.

We have also been trying to look for it in our tunnels to try and bring it back up to street level and to safety, but we have not been able to spot it. We will continue to keep a lookout for the cat, but we believe that it has since escaped and is now safe.

We wish to offer our sincerest apologies to Ms Mardjuki and all animal lovers for the way in which we have handled this situation. It was not our intention to bring harm to the cat.

We have since learnt from this episode and will be fine-tuning our procedures to ensure that stray animals are better dealt with in future. We will be seeking assistance from the SPCA and our staff will be trained on the proper ways to deal with such situations so that the animals’ welfare is not compromised and our passengers’ safety is assured.

The question of course, is do they walk the talk?

Bureaucracy, boxes, beer. Blech

Reading Dawn’s thoughts on the Cat on MRT tracks incident, one has got to wonder why Singapore bureaucracy has this tendency to stick around in the revolving door, and go with the flow to nowhere. Doesn’t it get motion sick at some point? Or rather, how long does the Singapore bureaucracy like to punish itself and those it affect before it does something and drag or throw itself out of it and perhaps give relief to the affected populace?

Dawn says:

“… the staff member may not have felt empowered to do this – or to face the consequences especially when the management may not already be very cat-friendly to begin with. I remember at least one case where I wrote in to offer our help because we were told that the unsterilised cats were usually rounded up and sent to the AVA if there were complaints or if they were found to be a ‘problem’.

So what needs to be done? Clearly what this episode shows is that there should be some manner of procedure or protocol devised so that staff members DO know what do in future. This would ensure that we don’t have to cross our fingers and hope that if this happens again, the staff member knows something about cats.”

It’s like the long long slate of mrt track “intrusions”. Only now are we getting platform screen doors for the doorless above-ground stations.

And consider the train service disruptions which jolt us out of our complacency every so often. The LTA says it takes a serious view of service disruption. But there’s been 92 instances of disruption over a 3 year period, and it’s always the same old same old in the bag of grievances when the letters of complaints flood the media. About how staff don’t seem to know about crowd control, traffic direction, or plain don’t know what they’re supposed to do. About alternatives which are non-existent or cause more “hardship” to the already inconvenienced commuters.

In place is a SOP which received a parliamentarian airing, so why are there still so many unhappy commuters who complain about the same things each time?

Do we dare hold out much hope that a SOP will be set in place to handle kitties in stations, or that it the SOP in place will actually be followed, or even applied correctly?

It’s also the same old same old in the bag of grievances us minions caregivers have about how we and the kitties living in Singapore’s streets are treated.

The powers that be keep relying on the same tired old excuses for keeping status quo.

Curiously, I keep thinking about the latest Tiger Beer ad making the TV rounds when I think about our situation.

Not that I’m stumping for the frothy or want some morose dousing, but it does demonstrate a life lesson (the ad, not the draught), which is saying quite something since beer ads never make much sense (though the Heineken ones I always found most palatable among the hordes).

The ad is no philosophical dissertation for sure. Two guys fighting over the last bottle in the bucket — can’t they just order more? – decided on arm-wrestling, and end up trying to one-up each other, morphing into bigger and stronger opponents which also happen to counter the other guy’s latest incarnation. The winner morphs into a blond hot chick and wins by shorting the circuits of his robotic rival.

No, there is no kitty involved but how cool that instead of being stiff-necked, conventional, and deadboxed into the one-track idea of bigger must be better, the winner takes stock of the situation (while in the very pleasing form of a buff Jungle Man who stares down Philly_Rheilly_20090927_005xsilverbacks), basically jumped out of the box and threw his then stronger-than-Jungle-Man robotic foe out of orbit with his twist on oneupsmanship. Imagine if he had been lazy and conformed with the flow, and morphed into something stronger than stronger-than-Jungle-Man-robot instead. Bore, broken record, tiresome, credibility depreciation. Vicious cycle.

Whenever I see the ad, I ask myself the million dollar question: why can’t the powers that be do the same when confronted with ideas, facts, or complaints about Singapore ’s cats? Have a tiger or whatever’s their poisons of choice, untie the knots they’re in and LOOK the issues in the eye rather than trotting out and nursing those so-old template responses that don’t do a thing except tighten the knots they’re in, and grind our noses in it. Vicious cycle, anyone?

Maybe this post should be titled “Saatchi & Saatchi for government” instead. [EDIT: Or maybe I don’t want that actually, imagine legislation that decree ad-watching quotas on citizens… ]

Footnote
Remember: if you come across an SOS, whether from a fellow human or a little kitten, don’t just walk away. And drink responsibly.

Today 20090326: A little compassion will help pet owners

Another follow-up to TODAY 20090316: Rise in lost dogs, despite laws. This was sent in by a friend. She’s a dog-owner who also does TNRM. It is a bloody shame that her comments on the cat stats in the report were all taken out. I’m appending her original letter after the printed version for reference.

But before reading the letters, here’s an idea: after reading it, please follow the letter link on today online and post comments there. Do the same for the other letter, which is online only. Maybe we’ll get more some visibility about the facts behind the stats in the print version.

Today Online Voices Logo

A little compassion will help pet owners

Thursday • March 26, 2009

Letter from Lilian Teo

I REFER to “Rise in lost dogs, despite laws” (March 16).

The Housing and Development Board only allows one dog per flat from a list of small-sized dog breeds. The abandoned dogs reported by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals may have been owned by those who have had to downgrade from private property to public housing.

Also, large dogs may have been bought before the change in rules, and their owners feared running afoul of the law. For them abandoning their pet was the answer.

Exceptions should be made for such cases where the dog is not a dangerous breed.

Part of the problem is that behavioural training is not mandatory. Most dogs require instruction in how to behave around people.

The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority should legislate behaviour training for dogs and make it compulsory for pet shops to counsel dog buyers to send their pets for training. This is so as to reduce the number of dogs abandoned for being unmanageable.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

Here’s the original version:

Subject: Response to “Rise in lost dogs, despite laws” (Mar 16)
To: news@newstoday.com.sg; cheekong@mediacorp.com.sg

Dear Editor and Mr Loh,
This report gives me mixed feelings as I am a dog lover who also manages the community cat population in my neighbourhood.

I believe the reason why the tighter dog-licence rules are proving ineffective is due to these rules being out of synch with the aspirations of the modern Singaporean who wants to have pets.

HDB only allows 1 dog per flat from an approved list of small-sized dog breeds. The abandoned dogs reported by SPCA may be former HDB pets or pet dogs whose owners have had to downgrade from private property to public housing and got hit by this rule. Also, large dogs may have been bought before the new licencing rules, and had owners who fear running afoul of regulations. For them abandoning their pets was the answer.

Therefore AVA and HDB should show compassion and empathy, and make exceptions for such cases where the dog does not come from a dangerous breed.

I also feel that part of the problem is that behavioral training is not mandated. Despite their image as obedient animals who are eager to please their human masters, most dogs do require “schooling” in order to know how to behave among people. The AVA should legislate behavior training for dogs and make it compulsory for pet shops to counsel dog buyers to send their newly bought pets for training to reduce the potential of dogs being abandoned for being unmanageable.

While I do not need the statistics for cats to confirm the success of my Trap-Neuter-Release Management (TNRM) programme, which is self-financed, it is good to see formal statistics affirming TNRM at the national level.

TNRM is both humane and effective. It will be even more successful if our leaders and the government agencies they run acknowledge this fact and support sterilisation instead of removal and culling, which is ineffective in managing cat issues. For example, Town Councils instinctively round up cats without first verifying the validity and true cause of cat-related complaints, leaving TNRM managers like me to sterilise the new cats that appear because of the vacuum effect.

HDB’s cat ban also causes problems: how can cat owners be made aware of their duty to be responsible if their pet cats are “illegal”?

Obviously, Singapore ’s pet rules have much room for improvement.

TODAY Online 20090323: Pet issues can’t be legislated away

A follow-up to TODAY 20090316: Rise in lost dogs, despite laws. (Links and emphasis mine)

Today Online Voices Logo
Online Only – Pet issues can’t be legislated away
04:16 PM March 23, 2009
Letter from Goh Boon Choo

I refer to “Rise in lost dogs, despite laws” (Mar 16).The dog abandonment statistics released by the SPCA is alarming but not unexpected. When the tighter dog licence rules came into effect on 1 Sep 07, there was an immediate increase in large dogs being abandoned. I wrote a commentary on Singapore’s pet issues for TODAY, “Pet project: Let’s work together”, which was published on 7 Nov 07.

The SPCA statistics show the situation for dogs, and to a large extent cats, has not changed since then. 85 per cent of Singaporeans and Singapore residents stay in HDB flats, where only certain breeds of dogs are allowed, determined by size when temperament should be the determining factor.

HDB also categorically bans cats as pets even though animal experts and the AVA have said sterilised cats make perfect flat pets. Though HDB’s ban applies only to flat interiors, the Town Councils took it upon themselves to extend it to the streets.

Most cats surrendered to the SPCA are homeless, or community cats. That the number of cats it receives has dropped to 300 from 500 monthly is concrete testament to the success of efforts by residents who sterilise, stabilise and manage their neighbourhood’s community cat population. This is TNRM: trap-neuter-return-management. It is humane and effective, compared to the AVA and Town Councils’ penchant for cat killing.

In Singapore, TNRM is commonly self-funded. I am one such Singaporean and I have been running TNRM for 3 areas in my estate for 10 years.

However, TNRM programmes are still not recognised by Town Councils, nor even some of our Members of Parliament as active citizenry, organic community building at its best. In fact, successful TNRM programmes are sometimes undermined by Town Councils’ enthusiasm to respond to all manner of cat-related complaints by rounding up every cat in sight to be killed at the AVA, without even investigating the root cause. It is a vicious cycle as the removals create a vacuum effect, leaving the neighbourhood open for new, often unsterilised, cats to take over. Resident volunteers like myself have to sterilise the new cats if we don’t want to see our TNRM programmes down the drain.

Despite more than 2 decades of cat culling, new cats keep appearing. Town Councils and the AVA need to address the pertinent question: where are our community cats coming from?

Out of Singapore homes, just like the abandoned pet dogs.

With changing demographics, Singaporeans’ needs and wants for a cuddly pet will continue to evolve and grow, ban or no ban.

The Singapore Government needs to recognise pet issues, like every other problem, cannot be legislated out of existence. The key is in acknowledging that people want to keep pets, that cats and dogs are very popular pet choices regardless of what type of residence they live in, and to manage the situation accordingly.

Today 20090321: Don’t snatch them out of the wild …

This letter is a follow-up to the petition to Say “NO” to whale sharks in captivity. The focus has been on the whale sharks but let’s not forget the conventional staple of marine parks: dolphins.  Live dolphin capture is the only way to fill the IR’s quota, and the source is the Solomon Islands, self-made dolphin kidnapping capital (not forgetting Asia’s version: Taiji of Japan). There are many issues with such dolphin “acquisition” and the dolphins’ subsequent (often short-lived) exploitation, not least because dolphins are closely bonded with their extended families and capturing them mean tearing families apart. It is no wonder that dolphin captures spark protests beyond Singapore shores. The next time you see dolphins performing or swim with them in so-called swim with dolphin programmes, remember that’s not a smile you see curving their mouths upwards.

Don’t snatch them out of the wild …

Weekend • March 21, 2009

Letter from Louis Ng

Founder and Executive Director

Animal Concerns Researchand Education Society (Acres)

I REFER to the report “Petition to stop captivity (March 13)” and the Marine Life Park statement issued on Jan 9.

The main issue should not be whether the dolphins or whale sharks that Resorts World at Sentosa plans to acquire are listed as “endangered” or “least concern” or “vulnerable”.

How endangered these species are is important, but what Acres feels is most important is the individual animals that will be and are affected by Resorts World at Sentosa’s decisions.

According to news reports, 18 dolphins have already been snatched from the wild and are currently in the Philippines for training. Catching dolphins from the wild is a terribly invasive process — stop and think for a moment how frightened these dolphins would be.

I doubt the dolphins care that they will be looked after by a team of professionals and experts. We hope that the resort owner will change their plans before a whale shark is similarly captured.

Acres remains committed to maintaining our dialogue with Resorts World. They have taken the progressive step of leaving sharks fin off their menus, recognising the importance of protecting wild marine life. Acres sincerely hopes they make a moral and similarly progressive decision of not gambling on the lives of dolphins and whale sharks and cancel their plans to acquire these animals.

It really is not just about simply abiding to regulations, but about maintaining the moral integrity of the company.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

This is the report TODAY ran on 13 Mar, which Mr Louis Ng referenced.

Petition to stop captivity

Friday • March 13, 2009

LOCAL animal welfare groups are teaming up with their international counterparts for a public awareness campaign online opposing plans by Resorts World at Sentosa to import whale sharks for its oceanarium.

The seven groups on Wednesday launched a website which calls on the public to “voice their opinions” on the plans to import the whale sharks, described as the largest living fish species.

The integrated resort will feature a Marine Life Park, set to become the world’s biggest oceanarium, with 700,000 fish in 20 million gallons of water.

But the seven organisations, including the international groups Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, are arguing that whale sharks, which can grow up to 20 metres, are listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and do not belong in the facility.

“No man-made environment, no matter how large, could accommodate the needs of a whale shark … evidence has shown that they fare poorly in captivity,” the groups said in a statement, while acknowledging that the Singapore Tourism Board and the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority have committed to ensure that all wild animals are cared for at international standards of animal husbandry.

Campaign coordinator Jaki Teo said that they have received more than 100 emails overnight.

“We hope government organisations will support us on this because this concerns Singapore’s international image. It’s not just a tourist attraction, people will come and say ‘what’s a whale shark doing in Singapore?’” she said.

RWS defended its plans, saying the threat that whale sharks face “makes the role of aquariums in their conservation all the more crucial”. The Marine Life Park’s goal is to “help protect the species’ wild population from disappearing”, and it has worked closely with marine experts to give the animals “top-class care”, said the resort. AFP

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

MYPAPER 20090309: CAT-WELFARE GROUPS CAN BUILD BONDS

Read this on my daily commute and been meaning to post it. I was pleasantly surprised. Best part is this is from a man, so it cracks the stereotype of such suggestions coming from women.

My Paper

MY SAY
MONDAY MARCH 9, 2009

CAT-WELFARE GROUPS CAN BUILD BONDS

THERE have been unfortunate cases of cat abuse, as reported in the press.

Recently, I was visiting a friend in an HDB estate and was told by some residents that a number of them had come together to look out for the welfare of the cats in the neighbourhood and to prevent them from being culled.

Perhaps town councils and residents’ committees can turn this to their advantage by promoting catwelfare groups in estates and to foster community spirit.

Mr Roger Chow

New Paper 20090225: Mr Serial-Cat-Culler’s Cousin Strikes Again

So, the New Paper printed a letter which countered the rickety logic of Mr Tan Tuan Khoon and his cousin Mr Lee Chiu San. Mr Lee apparently takes issue with the letter and the letter writer, and guess what? The new paper has printed his gripes.

Here’s Dawn‘s take on it:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

TNP (25-2-09)

Thanks to Chinky for sending this in. It’s surprising that it seems that Mr Lee is unaware that people have been working for many years to repeal the ban on having cats in flats. CWS has been working on it since its inception and that has been more than the 7 to 10 years that he mentioned. SPCA has also been working on this issue for many years.

During my time with CWS, we got the support of vets, gathered more than 3000 signatures in less than 3 weeks, met the HDB twice with two separate proposals (available online on the old CWS website – it is probably up on the new one as well). Even the AVA had no objections. Before I left CWS, we had sent in another request to meet with the HDB with our new proposal but were turned down flatly as they felt there was no need to revisit this issue.

CWS would have been happy to revisit the issue and we took HDB’s concerns into our new proposals – but what happens when the HDB won’t listen? I am sure that the many of you out there who have written and gotten HDB’s stock reply will sympathetise.

It’s also disingenuous that Mr Lee mentioned the case of Mr Tang. There was no active campaigning to change the law.

So where the arguments illogical then? As most of you know, our suggestion was that all cats be sterilised, microchipped and that there be a limit on cats in flats (subject to a compassionate period for existing cats as they did with the rule on dogs). There would be a register maintained, which we suggested that the RCs could help to maintain. CWS also offered to help with mediation in terms of complaints and advising irresponsible cat owners. We even had a town council willing to implement a pilot project with their RC, but again this was turned down by the HDB.

I was also taken aback that Mr Lee is so quick to tar the entire community of people working with cats with the same brush especially as he is an ex-committee member of the Singapore Cat Club. After all, isn’t this the same community we’re talking about?

Of course it is the duty of every citizen to obey the law, but as Mr Lee is well aware there is no law against cat feeding. In fact, his entire letter is an example of what he claims to dislike in others.

There is already a law against littering which is the same law that should be used against people who do not clear up after cat feeding. Why have an additional law to ban cat feeding specifically unless there is a particular bias against people who feed cats?

Mr Lee mentioned that “Those who feed cats near the homes of others may not experience their thievery, fighting and bad behaviour”. Perhaps Mr Lee is in an estate where there are no responsible caregivers running a TNRM programme. With Mr Lee’s experience, it would be great if he could start one. Certainly if the cats are fed, they would not need to ‘thieve’ in his words, and sterilisation would stop the fighting, though I am unclear what ‘bad behaviour’ he refers to.

If Mr Lee is serious about changing the law to allow cats in HDB flats, I am sure that people working for animal welfare would be happy to have him on board. One wonders though what his suggestion would be for the many community cats that cannot be housed even if the rule is relaxed.

Click on the blog post title to read the discussion. Below is the article itself.


The Electric New Paper

Tackling issue of stray cats

Feel sorry for strays? Commit to repeal ban

February 25, 2009

REPORTER Teh Jen Lee quoted me accurately in the article ‘He has ideas on tackling issue of strays’ (The New Paper, 13 Feb). But the response from the cat-feeding community was disappointing.

Click to see larger image
THE NEW PAPER, 13 FEB

Dr Tan Chek Wee wrote on 17 Feb that a ban on cat feeding might exacerbate the problem, causing some to do so secretly, and not clean up the mess afterwards. If this is how that community might behave, it is a sorry reflection on their civic sense.

In civilised society, it is the duty of every citizen to obey the existing laws, whether or not they agree with all of it. But nothing says that Singapore citizens cannot try to change laws they do not like.

Recently, Mr Tang Wee Sung was penalised in a kidney-trading case, as he had broken the law. However, it was agreed that the law was outdated, and would be changed.

Petitioners have also persuaded the Government to preserve Chek Jawa as a marine park, to raise the speed limits on expressways, to repeal the ban on motorcyclists’ full-face helmets, and alter many other rules.

From my personal involvement, I would put the success rate at better than half when logical proposals are presented.

If those who feel sorry for strays are serious about their mission, they should put forward a defensible argument to repeal the ban on keeping cats in flats.

They also have to be prepared to accept different points of view, make concessions and understand why community cats get people up in arms. Those who feed cats near the homes of others may not experience their thievery, fighting and bad behaviour.

I was also disappointed to find a number of comments made anonymously online, mostly negative, some inaccurate. They accused me of elitism, blithely neglecting to note that of my three present cats, two are rescued strays.

So, instead of cowardly, anonymous ranting, will those really concerned about cat welfare get credible research that supporters can use, send petitions to MPs, and work for the seven to 10 years that it took to change other laws?

FROM READER LEE CHIU SAN