BY ALIZA SHAH
Animal activist Dr Rizal Mohd Razman is a man on a mission: to rescue and neuter as many strays as possible, and find them loving homes. Not only is he caring for 35 cats at home, he and his team of animal rescuers have been working for six years to rescue and neuter stray cats.
Rizal is an Undergraduate Studies and Development deputy director at Universiti Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. That's where he and his team are working to control the stray population, in the university's grounds. But they have had to overcome one major obstacle: The public’s indifference to the plight of stray animals.
“Some people lack empathy,” says Rizal with a rueful laugh. “They look at stray animals as pests and are hell bent on getting rid of them. That’s the mindset we want to change.”
The caring begins at home, where many of Rizal's 35 cats suffer from disabilities, so he and his wife care for them because nobody would adopt them. But to him, the inconvenience and sheer expense doesn’t matter because it’s one small step towards controlling the stray population.
“We can never catch them all but if we can get at least 70%-80% of them, the population will be stabilised,” he says.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 kittens in just seven years. An out-of-control stray animal population could lead to a myriad of issues, ranging from general disturbances to disease outbreaks.
Rizal and his team are just one of many groups nationwide working to control the stray cat population, but it hasn’t been easy working alone.
They have faced challenges in expanding their operations because of a lack of funding, he says. Neutering a single cat costs between RM100 and RM150, and that's excluding vaccinations and other medical costs incurred in preparing an animal for adoption.
Despite the challenges, the team has already neutered around 250 stray cats and has rescued 150 more animals, including dogs, birds and squirrels. Now they hope to one day expand their operations beyond the university's campus.
Happily, his small team has received a huge boost in the form of telco Celcom’s Ican Care initiative, an extension of its Ican Care campaign, which was launched last year with the aim of rescuing, rehabilitating and finding new homes for stray cats.
“Celcom is on to something good! The Ican Care campaign is exactly what we wanted to do but we were doing it on a much smaller scale. It is a great idea that benefits Celcom, us as the rescuers, the community involved in the engagement, and of course, it helps the strays,” says Rizal.
Now the animal-loving team can put its expansion plans into action. “Once we have stabilised the population in UM we will expand to areas around us,” Rizal says with a huge smile.
But he cautions that funds alone aren’t the only factor that has been hindering his team’s work. “It will be impossible to cover the whole country unless there is a huge shift in the mindset of the Malaysian population. In UM it’s still doable because it’s an enclosed area. It will be a different ball game outside.”
He calls on Malaysians to educate themselves about strays, adoption and best practices for the Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage (TNRM) programme.
“Our hope is first and foremost to change the public’s opinion on strays and to learn about being a responsible pet owner. There are a few websites that provide good information on TNRM, such as SPCA and Paws Malaysia,” he says.
“It is impossible for rescuers to save all the strays, which is why education and awareness is the key to sustained stray management,” he says.
Members of the public who share Rizal’s passion for animals can volunteer by emailing him at email@example.com. "We welcome any volunteers and those who want to learn the ropes with open arms!” he says.