Malaysian dogs really do deserve better

AROUND this time every year my friend, who is in marketing, is usually busy designing her company’s Chinese New Year ang pow packet.

In the past, she has incorporated the incoming animal into the design. She has featured the horse, goat, monkey and rooster.

This time, however, she has been told by her boss not to feature the animal for 2018. The creature in question: the dog.

When she told me this, I was deeply dismayed. I also immediately understood why. In this country, the dog has become a sensitive issue among many Muslims.

It is generally accepted that under the Shafie school of Islamic jurisprudence which the Government subscribes to, the dog is deemed unclean and touching its wet fur or saliva requires ritual cleansing. So understandably, Muslims avoid the animal.

But what is puzzling is the extent to which the dog has been vilified in this country, especially in recent years, so that it is now almost as abhorred as the pig.

Yes, Muslims who have no wish to be in contact with pigs and dogs must be given due respect and consideration. But does it mean these animals must be bashed and banished completely from sight?

Remember how the mascot of an Australian company, Sidney the wombat, was mistaken for a pig in a 2015 Hari Raya electronic advertisement in Kuala Lumpur, which resulted in KL City Hall pulling the plug on the billboard?

After that, it was perhaps not surprising that a local film distributor took it upon themselves to digitally remove the half-human, half-porcine character Zhu Baji from the Journey to the West-The Monkey King 2 publicity posters the following year.

Porcine revulsion has been building so strongly over many decades that it has led to the desire for halal and non-halal supermarket shopping trolleys and Muslim-only launderettes – because these shared items could somehow have been made unclean by pork-eating non-Muslims.

Now, dogs are also under scrutiny. In October last year, the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) recommended Auntie Anne, in seeking to renew its halal certification, to rename its “Pretzel Dog” to “Pretzel Sausage” to avoid confusion.

That move surprised many, including Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, who said the fuss was ridiculous as the word hot dog had been around for many years.

But Auntie Anne dutifully changed the name, even though it was said to be only a “recommendation”.

But such responses are becoming commonplace. No business wants to tangle with or run afoul of the increasingly powerful religious bodies in the country. Everyone is terrified of being branded insensitive to Muslims or anti-Islamic as the consequences can be dire.

Because of that, the hardline conservatives are winning over the moderates. Nazri even lambasted Jakim for making Malaysia seem stupid and backward, calling those responsible “ignoramuses” and “not living in the real world”, but to no avail. It looks like it requires royal intervention to scuttle such moves, as in the case of the Muslims-only launderettes.

For the pig, there’s no turning back. It is so reviled that even the Malay word for it, babi, has become unsavoury. It is more palatable to the Malaysian Muslim ear to refer to the animal and its meat by the Arabic khinzir.

I have not understood the logic behind that. I fervently hope the dog is not going the way of the pig here. If it does, will it mean pet shops can’t sell puppies, bookstores can’t offer calendars featuring dog breeds and movies like Marley and Me, Beethoven and this year’s A Dog’s Purpose won’t get past our censorship board?

Back in 1995, Babe was initially banned as the central character was a talking pig. It took the intervention of the then Deputy Prime Minister to allow it to be screened.

Does anyone believe Babe would be “saved” if it was released today?

Local councils have also made it harder for houseowners to keep dogs, especially in Muslim-majority neighbourhoods. My niece and her husband did all they could to meet the requirements and ensured their Pomeranian did not bother their neighbours when they moved in. But the pressure, at first subtle and finally openly hostile, forced them to give their beloved pet away.

Admittedly, dogs, if they are reared by irresponsible owners or become strays, can be a nuisance but these issues can be tackled, the latter in humane ways.

Make no mistake: I am not asking those who genuinely fear or dislike dogs for whatever reason to roll over for them. But that doesn’t mean they have the right to subject dogs to cruelty. Which is why there is a canine welfare NGO known by the initials MDDB, which pointedly stand for Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better.

And they certainly deserve better as their ability to serve humans has been proven beyond doubt. Dogs make faithful companions, especially to the blind and disabled; they can sniff out drugs at airports, cancers and other diseases, and are extensively used in search and rescue work.

Our Fire and Rescue Department has a canine (K9) unit that was used to find victims from the Penang landslide and locate the cause of the tahfiz fire in Kuala Lumpur, among other cases. All this seems overlooked as the prejudice against dogs in Malaysia takes on an increasingly rabid tone.

Despite this and Jakim’s disapproval, there are Muslims who show kindness and compassion to dogs. The most recent examples are the director and bilal of Taman Free School surau who opened their doors to the Penang flood victims, both human and canine.

Actions like this give me hope and the belief that non-Muslims should not be spooked so easily and overreact by doing what is unnecessary.

So, let’s look forward to welcoming the Year of the Dog. And if anyone rejects an ang pow because it has a canine motif, well then, it is their loss.

Not for the first time, Aunty wonders how we will celebrate the Year of the Pig that comes after the dog. Feedback to

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