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  Today Online 1 Nov 07
Pet project: Let's work together
Goh Boon Choo

Like some other countries, Singapore too has its set of pet problems, manifested in our homeless animal population and irresponsible pet ownership.

Government agencies address these problems independently: The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) regulates pet sales, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) does not permit cats and large-breed dogs to be kept as pets, and pet abandonment is a legislated crime.

HDB residents have the added option of requesting their Town Councils to remove animals for culling by the AVA.

Some 20,000 cats and dogs are put down by the AVA and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) every year. And the AVA's annual culling bill averages $500,000.

In spite of these efforts, we still hear of pet-related spats between neighbours and of abandonment issues.

The SPCA receives up to 1,000 animals each month and the homeless animal population stays at around 100,000. This begs the question: Do the current set of policies need a rethink?

Many abandoned pets are not neutered those which survive become street-smart, ensuring the homeless animal population's viability despite consistent culling.

While residents can request their Town Councils' help, culling every animal is not a solution.

Another recourse is to contact the National Environment Agency if the issue is hygiene-related. But the agency can only warn errant pet owners or issue fines.

Is a blanket pet ban the solution? That would be a bad decision because it ignores the fundamentals of pet-animal issues.

The increased abandonment of large dogs as highlighted in the article, "Large dogs: Time for a rethink" (Oct 25), after the AVA tightened licensing rules is a good example. If the problem was simply stricter rules, then it would not just be large dogs being abandoned.

Can this issue be handled better? Possibly.

The key is in acknowledging that people want to keep cats and dogs as pets, regardless of what type of residence they live in.

While some problems cannot be eliminated completely, they can be minimised with a consistent, comprehensive and progressive framework conducive to responsible pet ownership.

Such a framework requires a clear consensus that this is a multi-faceted problem requiring cooperation and coordination among all stakeholders government agencies, pet sellers, pet owners, animal welfare groups and non-pet owners. Therein lies the crux: The absence of an entity with overarching authority that can facilitate communication at all levels.

For example, while the AVA oversees national rules on pet ownership, the HDB sets its pet laws independently, while Town Councils follow the HDB's lead. According to animal experts and the AVA, sterilised cats are highly suited for flat-dwelling. Also, temperament and training, rather than size, dictates a dog's manageability.

Yet, the HDB clings to these very reasons for continuing its ban. And Town Councils do not want cats and dogs outdoors.

Where do such rules leave responsible pet owners, or neighbours of irresponsible ones?

Denying the existence of flat-dwelling pets, and legislating them out of home and hearth aggravate existing problems. All parties should come together and play a part. It is time we rethink our pet policies, starting with the HDB's rules on pets.

The writer is a reader of Today.

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