THE financial constraints as a result of almost a year of braving the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with restrictions under the various stages of the movement control order, have driven more pet owners to abandon their furry companions.
Checks with several animal welfare non-governmental organisation (NGOs) in Johor revealed that the number of cats and dogs left on the streets by their owners increased in 2020 compared to previous years.
Johor Baru Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) chairperson Jacqueline Gomez said the number of cases they received related to abandoned pets tripled in 2020 compared to previous years.
“On average, we receive about 30 cases related to pets being abandoned in a year but last year, the number spiked to between 90 and 100 cases.
“Among the typical reasons people do so include getting bored with their pets and feeling that the animals are not as adorable now that they have grown; failing to spay or neuter their pets, which results in unwanted offspring; and not wanting to be responsible for medical fees for their old and sick pets.
“However, during the pandemic, the main reasons for abandonment are due to the owner’s financial constraints and in some cases, owners working in Singapore who are unable to return to Malaysia, ” she told StarMetro.
She revealed that she had received calls from pet owners stuck in Singapore asking for help to find a home for their pets.
“Although we do not condone such behaviour, we understand that some of them are under stressful circumstances where they do not have any other choice. Some of the pet owners who called us were in tears, hoping that we could help find a new home for their pets.
“They say that it cost about RM20 to RM30 per day to pay for a pet sitter.
“As the travel restrictions are extended, they cannot afford to pay for the service anymore, along with other financial responsibilities that come with taking care of the pets such as buying food and medical fees, ” said Gomez.
She said, however, there were cases where pet owners simply left their pets on the streets, especially near market places.
“There were also cases where pet owners would just leave their cats and dogs at the house that they were moving out of.
“We had one case where the owner left their pet in the house without any food.
“Fortunately, one of the neighbours noticed that the pet was alone and fed it. Eventually, other neighbours also came together to give food to the pet, ” she said, adding that it was cruel to abandon a pet that way.
Gomez urged pet owners to spay or neuter their pets to control the population of the animals and to reduce strays.
“A cat can reproduce about four times in a year and dogs about twice a year.
“Imagine the number of strays and abandoned pets we could reduce if people were more responsible and spayed and neutered these animals.
“Pet owners, the public and local authorities need to also come together to solve the issue in the long term.
“It may not be a perfect solution but it will reduce the number of strays and also avoid having to put these animals to sleep, ” she said.
Gomez said Johor Baru SPCA spays and neuters an average of about 10 cats and five dogs a month with the little resources they had.
“We need about RM40,000 a year to spay and neuter the animals, conduct adoption and fundraising drives, and attend to matters related to animal cruelty where we also have to pay for the medical fees as well as transportation fees of the abused animal.
“However, with the MCO, we are unable to organise crowdfunding events and people are also less likely to donate.
“Last year, we received less than RM5,000 from donations, which is a far cry from the amount we need.
“We have been using our own money to attend to the cases, ” she added.
More animals, less funding
Kok Siew Kuan, who is a volunteer at an animal shelter in Pekan Nenas called Homeless and Orphan Pet Exist (HOPE), said that despite reaching the maximum capacity at the animal shelter, they sometimes had no choice but to take in more animals.
HOPE currently houses more than 3,000 cats and dogs.
She noted that they usually received more than 10 calls a day related to strays and the number doubled last year.
“As much as we want to rescue all the abandoned and stray animals out there, our hands are tied as we are already running at maximum capacity.
“While the number of abandoned pets has increased, the funding we receive from the public dropped by at least half last year.
“We are facing a lack of manpower too, as all our full-time animal caretakers here are Indonesian workers and half of them have returned to their home country due to the pandemic, ” said Kok, who is the daughter of the shelter’s founder.
“Although we appreciate our volunteers, we also understand that they have other responsibilities. We need to depend on our own workers.
“It is a difficult situation to be in. We are trying our level best to attend to the animals and we hope that the public can do their part by spaying or neutering strays and most importantly, give them food and do not harm them, ” she said.
Kok said the shelter neutered and spayed an average of 50 cats and dogs monthly.
“However, it is getting increasingly harder for us to do this and we really hope that the public can help these animals, ” she said.
Meanwhile, Siah Li Mei, who is a volunteer and secretary of another animal shelter — Noah’s Ark Natural Animal Shelter (Nanas) — said Nanas’ facility in Kampung Ulu Pulai in Pekan Nenas received many calls to rescue abandoned animals left by the roadside.
“Due to limited resources, we currently only take in animals injured in road accidents, and those abused or neglected by their owners.
“Nanas also received abandoned animals left at its doors by pet owners seeking an easy way out, ” she said.
She added that funding had been very slow and low.
Siah said there were about 700 dogs and 300 cats at the sanctuary, along with several horses, macaques monkeys and a wild boar.
“These are animals that are unable to fend for themselves. Some are orphaned, handicapped or sick. Some were previously abused.
“We wanted them to have a chance to live with dignity.”
She said Nanas had been collaborating with Iskandar Puteri City Council (MBIP) in Johor and Melaka Historic City Council (MBMB) in Melaka since 2017 to conduct mass spaying and neutering activities.
The Kembiri campaign enables the public to bring their pets or
animals they find on the streets to be spayed and neutered at a low cost.
“The purpose of the programme is to encourage the public to sterilise their animals at affordable rates to prevent unwanted litters.
“We conduct the event once a month and the effort has received positive feedback.
“We have been able to spay and neuter thousands of cats and dogs over the past three years.
“There are those who come with stray animals they found and this proves that there are still kind-hearted people who are willing to help.
“There is at least some awareness among the public on the need to neuter and spay these animals, ” she said, adding that they had to stop the programme during the MCO.
However, Siah said that more awareness and education on responsible pet ownership was needed as there was no shelter big enough to accommodate all the abandoned and stray animals.