THERE is an endless tide of unwanted stray animals in Malaysia, and local councils are tasked with the huge task of keeping neighbourhoods safe by getting them off the streets.
There are claims that certain councils hire private dogcatchers - some with no qualms about using inhumane methods to capture and put strays down.
Then there were cases where stray dogs were shot at with guns and arrows by members of the public.
More recently, you may remember the 'One dog for RM10' campaign planned by the Tanjung Malim District Council, which was later cancelled following public outcry.
But with the passing of the Animal Welfare Bill in Parliament last Wednesday, the future seems to be looking a bit brighter for strays.
There will be more stringent guidelines on what is classified as animal abuse, and it also bans the shooting and poisoning of animals, with some exceptions, of course.
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) chief operating officer Lorna Fisher said that majority of the stray population can be attributed to irresponsible owners abandoning their pets.
"I am glad that the issue of neglect and abandonment is addressed in the Bill," she said.
Under the Bill, abandonment will be considered as animal abuse and upon conviction will received a fine of no less than RM20,000 and not more than RM100,000.
"We get dogs and cats abandoned at our shelter every day. There are people who dump older animals and sick animals on our doorstep, hoping that someone else would take over their problem," said Fisher.
However, when asked about her thoughts on stray management, Fisher said that it must be done.
"The reality is that there are tens of thousands of unwanted animals in Malaysia," she said.
"There's no magic nirvana for them. I believe that the best thing we can do is to feed, neuter and release them so that that they can live their lives," she said, adding it would be a better alternative than keeping them caged for the rest of their lives.
However, Fisher admits that the council would still have the responsibility to cull stray animals.
"But the difference is how they do it. Under the Bill, they wouldn't be able to poison or shoot any animal, and handling any animal inhumanely is also against the law.
"So anyone, whether a Government body or individual, who wants to catch or kill strays with cruel methods can now be prosecuted under the Bill," she said.
Fisher says that having properly-run council pounds is a necessity, and she hopes that the Bill will put the necessary standards in place to ensure the strays are managed humanely.
"All of us would love to say 'stop killing the strays', but you have to know that there is no magical way to rehome all the animals," said Fisher.
I have to agree with her, it is close to impossible to rehome every stray on the street. But what can be done is to have an effectively stray management plan that is carried out as humanely as possible.
Here is the proposed solutions by several NGOs in Malaysia - the trap-neuter-release-manage program.
The idea is to catch the strays, and instead of killing them, they are neutered by veterinarians and allowed time to recover, then released.
Fisher said that the program is practiced in many countries and is found to be a more effective method than putting down strays.
"What I want is to have funds to run a pilot project. If we can do that and make it work, we can then expand it," she said.
"If it's successful, we can possibly see a drastic drop in the number of strays in five to seven years," said Fisher.
SPCA will be heading a proposal to the state government with a more concrete plan on the program soon.
Stray management is a necessity in Malaysia and I believe that the Animal Welfare Bill is a good step forward in the right direction.
Issues of animal cruelty in the country needed to be addressed, and this Bill will now give authorities ammunition to hand out harsher punishment to abusers.
The Bill also requires any organisation or business that deals with animals to be licensed. That way, certain guidelines that take into account the welfare of the animal will have to be in place.
That way, council pounds, pet shops, breeding centres, pet boarding centres, and even animal shelters will have to be licensed.
Having the laws is one thing, but having the authorities enforcing it is another. I hope that the authorities will do the necessary to ensure that the rights of animals, including the strays, are looked after.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own