Animals in Singapore had a bleak 2023 – but acts of kindness show there is hope too

Programmes and initiatives from both animal welfare groups and the authorities means things are looking up for animals in 2024 and beyond. - ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE: The year 2023 paints a bleak picture for animals in Singapore, with cruelty and welfare cases at an 11-year high.

However, things may look up yet – there were also incredible acts of kindness by good samaritans, as well as programmes and initiatives from both animal welfare groups and the authorities for 2024 and beyond.

But first, the bad news.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) revealed in October that it had investigated 862 cases of cruelty and welfare concerns between July 2022 and June 2023 – the highest since the same period between 2011 and 2012.

In that same period, it helped 266 abandoned animals – a sharp increase from a yearly average of up to 70 cases in previous years. However, the organisation acknowledged that the surge in cases could have been due to greater awareness and willingness on the public’s part to make reports.

In the first half of 2023, there were more than 400 cats found in cases of pet hoarding, with rescuers pleading burnout – the first few months alone saw a “disproportionately high number” of abuse cases.

A number of shocking cases emerged, drawing ire from animal lovers in Singapore – among them, the arrest of a teenage boy caught on video trying to perform obscene acts on a cat outside a Housing Board flat, and a case of two emaciated cats found locked in a cage with the skeletal remains of three others in a rental flat in Jalan Minyak for over a month.

Pets of all shapes and sizes were involved in other cases – at least 20 hamsters were abandoned under a shrub and drenched in heavy rain, while more than a dozen guinea pigs were found abandoned in thermal food bags at the side of a road.

A parrot was also rescued by an animal welfare society after a video of a woman abusing it circulated, while a director at dog training and daycare centre was charged with animal cruelty after being caught on video hitting a dog multiple times and shouting profanities. He can be heard telling it: “Welcome to hell, my friend. Four weeks of hell, stupid idiot dog. Tonight, you make a single noise, see what happens to you.”

It’s not just pets that have had it hard – the trade of illegal wildlife and animal parts in Singapore is “thriving” in physical and online marketplaces, with black markets hawking live exotic animals to the tens of thousands of people who subscribe to such messaging groups.

Hot water, insecticide or glue traps have been used to abuse and kill snakes in several cases despite their use without approval being an offence. Speaking of glue traps, the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) revealed in March that nearly a thousand birds and other wildlife have been accidentally caught by these cruel contraptions since 2020.

Local animal shelters and welfare organisations here saw adoption numbers halved in recent years, with some attributing the drop to rising the cost of living and more people returning to the office after the Covid-19 pandemic, among other reasons.

In fact, more pets were abandoned after the pandemic, with the trend possibly worsening as animal groups reported a spike in the number of pets being abandoned and surrendered.

Experts told The Straits Times that boredom and exposure to domestic violence are among the reasons people abuse animals. A psychiatrist at the Institute of Mental Health called it a “complex tangle of related issues”, which raises further questions as well as concerns in the search for answers to why people abuse animals.

Despite the dismal year, 2023 also saw displays of incredible kindness, such as three heroes who risked their own safety to rescue a kitten from a storm drain during heavy rain.

Motorists banded together to herd a spooked dog to safety on a busy expressway, and a worker was lauded for helping a lost, panicking mother hen and her chicks to safety across a traffic junction.

Cats found by SPCA. Animal welfare groups and veterinary professionals are urging the public to be more aware that pet ownership is a lifetime commitment. - PHOTO: SPCA via The Straits Times/ANNCats found by SPCA. Animal welfare groups and veterinary professionals are urging the public to be more aware that pet ownership is a lifetime commitment. - PHOTO: SPCA via The Straits Times/ANN

Remember the two cats rescued from Jalan Minyak?

Today, Barry and Nori have found their fur-ever homes – though separated from each other, they are away from the distress they were put through.

Avian keeper at Bird Paradise Ellen Tay, 37, who read about their plight in ST in June could not get the two cats out of her head.

“My senior cat died in December last year at the age of 16. He was my first cat, adopted at just three weeks old. After reading the news, I was drawn to this one cat and could not really stop thinking about its plight. I told my husband, Ken, about this and he was open to giving him a home,” Ms Tay said.

Cat rescuer Fiona Loh, who “bailed” the two cats from the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS), had her hands full with other rescues when Ms Tay approached her “for a home trial with one of them”.

“The home trial was to see if Nori was able to get on well with our other cats. I was told he was quite a handful with his loud wails and meows for food,” she said.

After two months with the couple, Nori has settled down. He has put on weight and has become particularly close to a tabby named Goma.

“The only time he whines and meows loudly is when they are apart. He weighs about 6.4kg now, plays with toys like a kitten and follows us around like a dog,” she said.

The story of the other cat rescued from Jalan Minyak, now named Barry, has a happy ending too.

He now lives with pre-school curriculum specialist Leow Yan Ping, her mother and sister.

Ms Leow, 31, said she was at a bus stop in July, scrolling through Instagram when she came across a post by Ms Loh about the two cats.

“My heart broke reading their plight and I cried openly. I felt particularly drawn to Barry, so I messaged Fiona to ask her about him and whether I could adopt him,” she said.

Like Ms Tay, Ms Leow’s previous cat also died in December 2022, and she felt it was time to adopt another.

“When Barry came, he was sniffing around for other cats,” she said.

When the family went away for two weeks, Barry was settled at Cat Crib for boarding.

“There he was reunited with Rong, a tabby. They were together after Fiona’s rescue and rehabilitation and they looked like they needed one another, so I decided to adopt Rong as well. Both of them came home with me on Dec 13 after I returned from my trip,” Ms Leow said.

Ms Loh said it was good that the two cats went to different families because it would help them heal and perhaps forget about the trauma they went through.

When asked about the cats abandoned in the Jalan Minyak rental flat, AVS said it is still investigating the case.

Those who abandon their pets can be charged under the Animals and Birds Act. First-time offenders can be fined a maximum of $10,000, jailed for up to 12 months, or both. However, about 95 per cent of cases that are reported to AVS are not substantiated.

Some rare animals are also bouncing back from the brink of extinction, from a crab species found only in and around Singapore’s last freshwater swamp forest to the Raffles’ banded langur, which was in the 1990s predicted to die out within 40 years due to habitat loss and fragmentation.

The Mandai Wildlife Group revealed in March that nearly 800 animals were born or hatched at Mandai Wildlife Group parks in 2022, including critically endangered cockatoos and the 14th offspring born to the zoo’s oldest pygmy hippo couple.

The authorities also took steps in 2023 to ensure a better future for animals, with new initiatives to protect them.

In October, it was announced that a council will be established by 2025 to raise professional standards and practices in the veterinary sector. Standards for the breeding and sale of pet cats in Singapore were aligned to conditions already in place for pet dogs, as part of efforts to ensure their health and welfare.

A programme to manage the population of stray dogs by trapping and neutering them will be extended by the authorities – 80 per cent of these animals have been sterilised since November 2018.

A new bridge will be built to allow both wildlife and pedestrians to cross between Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and the Western Water Catchment Area via Bukit Batok Nature Park.

In December, the Government proposed a framework on cat management that will lift a 34-year ban on cat ownership in Housing Board flats – two cats will be allowed for each HDB flat, and three cats for each private residence. Of course, this will come with the caveat that this should not inconvenience neighbours or impact public health. It will be implemented in the later part of 2024.

Welfare groups also stepped up their game.

Local animal welfare group Chained Dog Awareness Singapore launched a new campaign to educate the public about dog behaviour and science-based pet care.

SPCA enhanced its youth education programme to raise awareness of animal abuse among young people. In May, SPCA started an initiative that saw more than 100 pets whose owners are from low-income households given free health screening.

Meanwhile, a pilot programme in two nursing homes allows their residents to play with cats to help the residents improve their mobility.

In a world where poor mental health is a rising concern, caring for animals can be a source of comfort and purpose.

A self-professed “cat mother” said her depression subsided after she began caring for community cats over two decades ago. “I was completely healed,” Madam Piry Lim, 68, said.

“When I am with the cats, I forget all my troubles.” - The Straits Times/ANN

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Singapore , Animals , Cruelty , Cases , 11-year High


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