Singapore rolls out 5-year sterilisation programme to manage stray dog population

A dog with a GPS collar on Pulau Ubin. GPS collars help track movements of dogs under a separate, ongoing study on stray dog management in Singapore. - AUDREY TAN/The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE: To better manage the stray dog population in Singapore, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) will be rolling out a five-year programme aimed at sterilising 70% of such dogs here.

In a statement on Thursday (Dec 21), the AVA said that it will be working with animal welfare groups and veterinarians in the new Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage programme, slated to start in the second half of 2018.

This is the first time that such a scheme for stray dogs has been rolled out at a national level. Previously, dog welfare groups, fearing that culling may be used as a method of animal population control, conducted such programmes on their own initiative. There is already a national trap-neuter-release programme for stray cats, which was rolled out islandwide in 2014.

The programme will involve humanely catching stray dogs and sterilising them, with efforts made to rehome as many of the sterilised animals as possible, AVA said. Those that cannot be rehomed will be released at suitable locations to live out their lives naturally.

AVA said that this is a humane and science-based method to reduce the number of stray dogs here. These dogs, which live in harsh and difficult conditions, face various risks, such as from traffic, starvation and disease.

"Stray dogs who return to their feral instincts can potentially pose a danger to the public, especially when in packs. Stray dogs are also a potential reservoir of disease like rabies," it added.

AVA is targeting to sterilise more than 70% of the stray dogs here in five years. Animal Lovers League co-founder Mohan Div estimates that there are currently about 8,000 stray dogs in Singapore, mostly found at industrial areas and construction sites.

"A trap-neuter-release programme is a win-win situation: It allows existing dogs to live out their lives in their habitats, takes future generations of dogs off the streets where they may suffer, and overall, helps reduce the number of stray dogs in Singapore," he said.

Citing scientific literature and mathematical modelling, AVA said a sustained sterilisation rate of 70% or more is necessary to stabilise a stray dog population, before it can begin to decrease.

AVA's animal management group director Jessica Kwok said: "Through the sterilisation of stray dogs nationwide, we hope to find a humane and sustainable solution to manage stray dogs."

She said that the programme will be complemented by regulation of the pet industry. This aims to make dogs more easily traceable, exercise control over import and export of pet dogs and ensure that pet dogs are licensed at the source. There will also be tough penalties for abandoning dogs.

Several animal welfare groups and the veterinary community have shown strong support for the programme, AVA said.

Derrick Tan, founder of the animal shelter Voices for Animals, said the latest initiative was a step in the right direction, as it involves the authorities working closely with animal welfare groups.

A standard operating procedure is now being worked out between the authorities and the animal groups, which will detail the steps that should be taken after a dog is trapped. This involves procedures such as taking the dog for health checks and vaccinations.

The plan is also to get the various animal welfare groups to be involved in the management of certain areas after dogs are released into the environment. This will ensure that all released dogs are accounted for. Animal welfare groups will also be able to mediate any potential human-wildlife conflict that should arise if dogs are released back into the environment.

"There is a difference between animal welfare groups stepping in to respond to complaints from people in an area, and in AVA doing so. If animal welfare groups are the first responders, we could do our best to mediate conflict," said Tan.

Some 11 groups have committed to join in the programme and AVA said that these groups play a crucial supportive and facilitative role. Animal welfare groups or those who wish to participate in the programme can contact AVA on 1800-476-1600.

For instance, they will be help to galvanise stray feeders and volunteers in these efforts.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) executive director Jaipal Singh Gill said that he was thrilled to learn of the programme and called it "a game changer for street dogs in Singapore".

SOSD president Siew Tuck Wah noted that various animal welfare groups have carried out sterilisation of stray dogs for the past 30 years, but there has never been a concerted, large-scale effort such as this programme.

Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, said in a Facebook post on Thursday evening that many animal welfare groups have already adopted trap, neuter, release and manage programmes on their own.

"AVA wants to take this effort further, and has been discussing with the animal welfare groups and the Singapore Veterinary Association on how to replicate the success of these localised efforts on a wider scale... through this programme, we hope to manage Singapore's stray dog issue in a humane manner, based on science and data, and in the spirit of community partnership."

Separately, AVA is working with a team of academics from Singapore and Australia on a three-year stray dog study which started in 2015.

The scientific study, which involves attaching GPS collars on dogs, aims to establish an estimate of the stray dog population size in Singapore, and to understand its ecology. "Some of the ecological and biological aspects being looked at include the dogs' range size, activity patterns, mortality and reproductive rates," said AVA.

In conjunction with AVA's study, researchers from the National Institute of Education are helping the National Parks Board look into the impact of stray dogs on native biodiversity in the nature reserve, including at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

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