Category Archives: AVA

Agri-Veterinary Authority of Singapore – “overseer of Animal Welfare issues”

Help: Save the pigeons living in Singapore

Pigeons_20100317_006x Unless you’ve been living under Singapore River, there’s no way you are unaware that living among Singaporeans in this cold home of concrete that demands we give and give and give, is another “homeless” animal who has been targetted for the Singapore brand of population and complaint management.

The letters that have seen print argue for both sides of the coin… but it seems like as soon as “potential hazard” or health concerns are trotted out, that’s the end of the argument. Is that valid? There was even a letter that tells of the letter-writer’s father brush with death due to inhalation of dried, power-form pigeon shit. While I feel sorry for the letter-writer’s father, I am concerned at the myopic nature of her call to arms as it were. Yes, pigeon shit caused the problems her father suffered, but the pigeons were just being pigeons, but the true cause? Human neglect. Yet the letter writer does not go after her neighbour for negligence leading to the “perfect storm” that hit her father.BirdStatue_20100317_002x

There is too much fear-mongering, what-ifs, laziness, illogic, blame-shifting and complacency in this matter.

Sounds familiar?

Let’s extend our empathy for our homeless kitties’ fellow victims of the Singapore brand of population and complaint management.

Help the pigeons sharing our homeless kitties’ space, check out savepigeons.blogspot.com to find out how.

TODAY 20051104: Why animal welfare groups in Singapore can’t reach out to the authorities

Hot News // Friday, November 4, 2005

The art of getting heard

Why animal welfare groups in Singapore can’t reach out to the authorities

Goh Boon Choo

IN Singapore, animal cruelty reports precipitate letters in the media calling for harsher punishment, tougher laws and stringent enforcement.

The authorities then issue sympathetic responses, explaining their stand and that they “will not hesitate to take strong action” against perpetrators — but stop short of committing to firmer penalties.

In a reply published in Today in June, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said: “While we may not be able to adopt all the suggestions by the (letter) writers, we will definitely take these suggestions into consideration when we review our rules.”

So it was too, when news of Max, the Alaskan Malamute, broke in August.

For fatally neglecting him, Max’s owner, Lim Bee Leong, was fined $3,000. Singaporeans wrote letters and signed an online petition for stiffer punishment.

The persistent calls for tougher enforcement are a symptom of the gap between public disapproval of animal cruelty and official policies.

People understand that animal cruelty concerns society at large. Nine in 10 respondents believe “we have a moral duty to minimise suffering”, according to the results of an Asian survey commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, presented in March.

In July last year, a local newspaper reported that culling costs for 2003 rose 20 per cent. That year, AVA cancelled its five-year-old Stray Cat Rehabilitation Scheme (SCRS), following the Sars scare.

Eighty per cent of readers surveyed objected to AVA’s annual $600,000 culling bill, and more than half felt funds should go to animal welfare groups to re-home or sterilise strays.

Animal welfare groups play an important role in raising awareness and rallying like-minded citizens. But they seem unable to engage the authorities to the extent their counterparts elsewhere do.

The Humane Society of the United States collaborated with a senator to successfully lobby for an end to horse-slaughter for food exports. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it secured senators’ sponsorship of its proposal to change evacuation policies to include refugees’ pets.

The disparity may be due to cultural mindset and maturity of the political system — but in comparison, Singapore’s welfare groups are often left reacting to policy changes. For instance, the Cat Welfare Society championed in vain for the continuation, then reinstatement, of the SCRS.

In fact, AVA’s own case study of the SCRS in Bukit Merah View (since been removed from the AVA website) proved the scheme’s effectiveness over culling.

Tellingly, part of that study’s conclusion was that “sterilisation and responsible management has the support of up to 96 per cent of the public. The majority want cats controlled but do not want them culled”.

Another example is the Action for Singapore Dogs’ (ASD) proposal to the HDB. It suggested easing HDB’s rule on dog breeds, to widen the adoption pool for larger dogs, as temperament rather than size determines a breed’s suitability for flat-living. Despite volunteering to monitor trial adoptions, ASD’s proposal fell through.

Since collaboration is not welcomed, groups have to try to involve themselves indirectly. For example, a US group, pet-abuse.com, produced a training film on investigating animal cruelty and successful deterrent sentencing. Targeted at police and prosecutors, the film’s distribution has widened beyond America.

Welfare groups also need to be politically savvy: Identify and initiate contact with foresighted officials, as it seems change is possible only from within officialdom.

In recent months, readers have written in urging for a rethink on current laws, legislative support for pet ownership (for example compulsory microchipping) and cooperation between AVA and welfare groups to design humane and effective solutions to issues conventional policies cannot address, such as stray culling and unregulated pet breeding. So far, the authorities have issued the standard responses.

The equation between public opinion and official stance is a skewed one. Still, if only extreme cruelty cases compel Singapore to react, it would reflect poorly on our collective compassion.

There will always be another Max, but instead of decrying lax enforcement or incongruent penalties after the fact, Singapore should minimise the number of Maxes by deterring the potential Lim Bee Leongs.

This necessitates paradigm shifts, but to effectively address prevalent problems, the authorities must include Singaporeans and the welfare groups more thoroughly in its policy formulation process.

The writer is an analyst concerned with animal and environmental issues.

HDB’s cat ban elicits incredulity

Popular local blogger Mr Wang blogged about his brother’s art exhibition in Hong Kong. The interesting thing is its his “brother’s sixth exhibition of cat paintings, all of which are inspired by his real-life pet cat”. If this cat minion were in Hong Kong, this would an exhibition I’d go to. I was particularly piqued with this remark by Mr Wang:

And here’s another. I guess this is about HDB’s prohibition on flat owners having a pet cat:

The interesting thing is one reader’s reaction to the HDB cat ban:

Are you sure this is the case? I think this sort of statement spells disaster for credibility.
I think feeding strays is illegal or frowned upon, but not having legal pets.

I think this sort of reaction is good. People do tend to want to believe the positive where there’s a choice, never mind the reality. But this also shows how incredulous people find the ban to be. I’m interested to know the reactions when more people realise just how ridiculous Singapore’s pet and animal control policies are. I’ve responded (adding AVA’s pet cat brochure which extols the suitability of cats as indoor pets who do not need to roam for good measure), but of course it depends on whether Mr Wang approves my comment. I hope he does.

Forget awareness, I cannot believe in this day and age such things should be shocking news. What people need to do is acknowledge reality, not just about the pet legislations in place but also the whole animal population control situation – and the laughability of it all. TNRM is the way to go, culling is ineffective and an expense taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize. When the Singapore government and the bureaucrats running rings around their fingers see the light depends on more and different Singaporeans speaking up.

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.

NewPaper 20090327: Seletar Hill residents get catty over strays

The ghosts of the 45 dead cats of Seletar case are still haunting the estate it seems, and have exposed a long open can of worms. Us-vs-them doesn’t work, but obviously these folks aren’t willing to sit down and talk. It doesn’t help that

Mr Madhavan Kannan, head of AVA’s Centre for Animal Welfare and Control, said those troubled by strays are informed about AVA’s free loan of cat traps and free collection of trapped cats.

Hello, vacuum effect? Is this conveyed to the aspiring trapper? Are aspiring trappers also told the cats are killed once they reach AVA? And who is paying for the costs of such trapping and killing? How about actually suggesting effective options like the Scarecrow for a change? Options that happily, also happen to be humane?

‘The borrower is informed to ensure that the trapped cat is not subjected to ill-treatment or injury and that it is an offence to subject an animal to cruelty,’ he said.

Yes, public service announcement. Well and good. But who ensures the trapped cat really wasn’t ill-treated? What action is taken if such ill-treatment is discovered? Who checks the trapped cats for signs of ill-treatment or injury before they are sent into the kitty murder room in AVA grounds?

For complaints on a large number of cats in a house, an AVA officer will visit to check on the number of cats and their welfare, and advise the owner to confine them within the premises, sterilise them and also to reduce the number by re-homing them.

At last, some recognition that sterilisation and keeping kitties indoors is the way to go. But why are such simple pre-emptive measures not suggested and promoted BEFORE such a case happens? And once again neighbours should be told about the impact of vacuum effect rather than offered the free traps upfront. It doesn’t take much to convey the message, especially if it’s men-in-uniforms doing the conveying.

Re-homing them… what is the likelihood of successful rehoming? What aid is given to ensure the re-homing is done properly and the cats’ new homes are genuine refuge for them where the risk of abandonment or neglect is minimal? Otherwise, what is the point of ‘advising’ the owner to re-home? Lip service? I hope not.

Here’s the article for your vigorous exercise in logic

Seletar Hill residents get catty over strays
Cat lovers & trappers divided over hygiene & stench problems
By Teh Jen Lee
March 27, 2009

SELETAR Hills Estate residents are getting increasingly divided over stray cats.

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TNP ILLUSTRATION: FADZIL HAMZAH

On one side are animal activists who insist that it’s fine to keep cats in large numbers. They feed strays and take them home when they are sick.

On the other are neighbours aggrieved by problems such as the stench when too many cats are kept in one place.

Since the start of this year, three of them have resorted to trapping strays and sending them to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to be put down.

When 45 cats were found buried in the area, accusations started flying between the two camps.

The New Paper received an e-mail from a resident who accused her neighbours of animal cruelty because they were unhappy with her keeping stray cats. Two of her cats were found with their tails injured.

Another resident was fingered as the culprit for the cat burials because he is known as an avid cat trapper.

Netizens posted his address online and threatened to harm him.

We’re not naming those involved because we do not want to aggravate the situation.

Other residents who are neither cat lovers nor trappers feel caught in the fracas.

Humane

One resident told The New Paper: ‘Cats are okay but it’s more of a cleanliness and hygiene issue when there are many cats in one house.

‘I was told that NEA (National Environment Agency) officers almost puked when they entered (one such) house, so you can imagine how bad it was. The person must be an ardent cat lover to be able to withstand the smell.’

The woman, who requested anonymity, said Jalan Rengas in the estate is famous for its cat stench.

Mr Lim Kuan Zhong, 24, a marketing executive who raises money for stray cat caregivers in Seletar, said: ‘I’m not a resident but I do know there is a conflict. However, I’m for the keeping of community cats.

‘Some problems are due to residents’ intolerance or lack of understanding of what caregivers are doing. They spend money to neuter. I see this as a practical benefit, controlling stray numbers in a humane way.’

Sterilisation also decreases the likelihood of caterwauling, he said.

Caregivers also medicate strays so that disease doesn’t spread to other cats, including domestic cats, added Mr Lim.

He said when strays are adequately fed, they don’t go into people’s houses or rummage through rubbish bins. They help keep the population of rats and pests down.

But what if they are so well-fed that they don’t go after rats? ‘It’s not necessarily true. It’s in their nature to catch lizards, cockroaches, rats and moles, unless they are so overfed and obese that they are sedentary.’

What about cats that defecate indiscriminately?

Mr Lim said: ‘Actually, by natural instinct, they will dig the soil and cover up after defecating. They do this even when they have diarrhoea. However, they may not cover it that well.’

He felt that dog owners who don’t pick up after their pets cause a bigger problem.

What about too many cats in one house?

Mr Lim admitted that more than 30 cats was excessive, but said: ‘There are limited shelters and houses to keep cats in Singapore. The Housing Board should repeal the ban on keeping cats.’

Another Seletar resident, who declined to be named, said a neighbour who lives near a house at Jalan Rengas with 80 to 90 cats told him that four neighbours sold their homes and moved away.

‘The matter has gone all the way to our Member of Parliament but there’s just no solution. It has been a problem for the past five years,’ he said.

The MP, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, told The New Paper: ‘Whenever complaints about cats are received, the complaints are referred to AVA.

‘Cat lovers have also voiced their concern about the need to treat cats humanely and this has also been relayed to AVA.’

When The New Paper visited Jalan Rengas, only one resident was around and willing to speak with us.

Renovation work was going on around the house with many cats and the contractors working next door were acutely aware of the smell.

Mr Xu Shu Long, 46, said in Mandarin: ‘I’ve been working here for almost a week, it’s very bad. This is the smelliest site I’ve worked at since I came to Singapore four years ago. Even in China, such a stench is very rare.’

Mr Percy Jeyapal, chairman of the Seletar Hills Estate Residents Association, takes the position that ‘we must live and let live’.

‘Obviously, we don’t encourage stray cats all over the place as it does propagate disease and can be a nuisance.

‘We must also ensure that cats are not abandoned. Having a large number of cats is a problem but we can’t interfere with people’s lives. Those living close by need to suffer certain inconveniences.’

House visit

Mr Madhavan Kannan, head of AVA’s Centre for Animal Welfare and Control, said those troubled by strays are informed about AVA’s free loan of cat traps and free collection of trapped cats.

‘The borrower is informed to ensure that the trapped cat is not subjected to ill-treatment or injury and that it is an offence to subject an animal to cruelty,’ he said.

For complaints on a large number of cats in a house, an AVA officer will visit to check on the number of cats and their welfare, and advise the owner to confine them within the premises, sterilise them and also to reduce the number by re-homing them.

Mr Jeyapal said owners must show some responsibility on hygiene and smell issues.

He said: ‘If they can’t manage… then they have to keep cats in moderation.

‘Those with more than 30 cats, we acknowledge their love for cats, but there must be some places such as farms where cats can have a better life.’

Pet Station’s Free Hamster Giveaway… I still got burning questions

This storm has obviously blown over… but I’d like to keep track of such happenings. While things are now quiet, there are still questions that don’t seem to have been addressed:

1. What is Pet’s Station going to do about the designated “Free-Gift” hamsters?

Note these requirement on the AVA’s own PET SHOP LICENCE CONDITIONS (2) DISPLAY AND SALE OF SMALL MAMMALS* (pdf format):

REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS

12. Each animal in the shop must be accounted for. The source of an animal, its date of arrival in the shop (and Singapore), the medical history and date of purchase / release to the buyer should be available.

I can only hope that the grading of Pets’ Station will be revised.

2. Will the AVA take into consideration this near-violation of of the licence agreement when considering Pets’ Station annual licence renewal request?

REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS

14. The shop should be able to show that customers have been duly provided with relevant information relating to their purchase of the animal. For example, the shop could implement a checklist or sales agreement initialled by the customer to acknowledge that relevant information has been provided. Information provided to customers should include the following:

(a) Details of the animal – the breed and whether it comes with a pedigree certificate; its age & sex;

(b) Advice on care of the animal;

(c) Conditions for refund / replacement, if any.

Seriously, for a free-gift, will the staff even bother with any parts of this regulatory requirement?

And look, with the original proposal to give the hamsters away at a roadshow, wasn’t this a SECOND regulatory requirement that would have been violated? Do the AVA, and in fact the petshops it grants pet-selling licence to, even know the regulatory requirements that actually govern the pet-selling licence?

REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS

15. All animals must be kept in their designated display areas approved by AVA. Any change of location of the animal display area must be approved by AVA.

Actually, the galling thing is the cost of the licence:

Fees

Pet shop licence fee: S$126 / annum

Application fee*: S$94.50

*The application fee is a one-time, non-refundable fee that is payable for all pet shop applications and for updates to pet shop licences requested by the licensee.

3. How many such incidences have happened? This particular incident was in the limelight because it was a large scale promotion involving a government related body. What about small-scale animal-giveaway promotions that take place within a petshop’s premises? Check out the “Pet shop best practices” on the AVA site. I particularly like this:

Customer Education & Service

25. The shop has a system, e.g. a checklist, to screen customers to determine whether they will make responsible owners.

26. The shop does not sell animals to children not accompanied by adults.

27. The shop provides good customer and after sales service.

30. The shop practises good business ethics and honours all agreements.

I just want to say rats smell more fragrant.

Here’s the chronology:

This is the first post

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Free Hamster?

I was sent this by Chinky – and I have to say I was shocked. Here is the coupon. Thanks Chinky for bringing this to my attention so I can post it here. This is terrible – when you buy accessories, you get a free hamster? Apparently you normally get a free hamster for $35, but now you can get one for only $25 if you are a Passion Card member at their Tiong Bahru Atrium sale later this month.Please write in to Pets’ Station at this email address and tell them to stop giving out free hamsters. You can also write to them at their feedback form.

Please also do write to Peoples’ Association to tell them that they should not be supporting this under their Passion Card. Passion Card’s contact details are here.

Update : Pet Station just wrote back to say that they are canceling the promotion. The PA also wrote back to say the promotion is off. Thanks to everyone who did write in!

Click on the post title to read the comments… I cannot understand the Anonymous’ stand that it is ok to get a free hamster. Among the tec minions’ pre-kitty managerie, we had a large number of hamster. As kids we had no idea just how prolific they are. Our parents were also taken by surprise. After a few stork visits which exhausted our list of potential (and still willing hamster adopters) we hit on the bright idea of separating the males from the females. This stopped the storks, but it still didn’t stop our hamsters from developing reproductive system problems, most commonly womb cancer after they get past their first year. It is small comfort that our hamsters tend to live to about 2 years of age, quite advanced for the little furries.

And in addition, we find abandoned hamsters from time to time. Once was a large cage by the roadside – red ants were already crawling all over and agitating the six hamsters trapped inside. The most recent time was when btmao was out feeding in Area2. In a landscape trough outside one of the blocks, she saw something wriggly. While the then resident community cat ate just a metre away, she checked out the trough and saw baby hamsters scuttling about. I brought a pail and we managed to find 6, while trying to stave off the kitty’s advances. After an hour, we went back again to search the trough, worried we might have missed some.

The good news is we managed to find homes for all these foundlings (if only it was as easy to find kitties homes). But we do not care for the experience as it’s even tougher to find hamster fosters then kitty ones and we can’t take them ourselves due to the accident potential quotient in kitty central.

Where did all these foundlings come from? Irresponsible pet owners of course. But the burning question is, how does getting a free hamster for spending $35 at a petshop foster responsibility toward the free-gifted hamster?

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.