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Fur-ever friends

World Animal Day is on Oct 4 and four animal lovers have a common message - adopt, and give the furry friends a forever home.

Bunny Wonderland Singapore, Co-founders Jackie Fang (right), Lynne Tan (left).

Cat Welfare Society, Executive director, Laura Ann Meranda.

Save Our Street Dogs, President Siew Tuck Wah.

Bunny Wonderland Singapore
Co-founders Jackie Fang, Lynne Tan

What is the biggest challenge when rescuing a rabbit?

Lynne: The biggest challenge is that rabbits are prey animals. The more you look for them, the more they hide. It becomes a test of patience when you want to rescue such an animal.

What more can be done to increase accountability of pet owners?

Lynne: One is to control the source of rabbits - be it legal or illegal breeding. As a welfare group, we have no authority to impose any regulation or confiscate abused pets. We can only raise awareness. Another thing we have been advocating is microchipping. Microchipping gives ownership and if the rabbit is abandoned, we can trace the owner. There is a law that states abandonment is punishable with a fine and /or jail term. So if you have a law, why not find a way to regulate it?

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What screening process do potential adopters go through?

Lynne: There will be an interview to ascertain the person is suitable to own a rabbit. We ask people to take pictures of their home.

If the home is not well organised or has loose wires and cabling hanging out, it sends a red flag that this person needs to improve the housing environment before acquiring any pet.

What are some misconceptions about rabbits?

Lynne: Rabbits cannot eat so much carrots! That is a big myth. Pet shops are also not advocating the right message too. They give limited hay and a big bowl of pellets. This is very unhealthy for the rabbit. The other misconception is their lifespan. Rabbits can live up to more than 10 years and that is a big commitment.

What would you tell someone who is contemplating to either buy or adopt a rabbit?

Lynne: There is no right or wrong answer. Our first pets were bought from pet shops as adoption was relatively uncommon back then. But now, SPCA, House Rabbit Society Singapore and Bunny Wonderland have hundreds of rabbits for adoption. While most of these rescues do not practice euthanising, if the animals don't get adopted, they can live and die in the shelter. If you are an animal lover, adopting one will definitely be a wise decision to save a life from being unloved.

Jackie: People also have the misconception that if I buy from a pet shop, the animal must be healthy. However, our experiences show that pet shops seldom bring their rabbits for health screening and the babies are weaned off very early from the parents, resulting in poorer genetic health.

What advice would you give to potential rabbit owners?

Jackie: Read and have some knowledge first. First thing you need to ask is if you can treat them as a family member. It is a big responsibility and you do need to take them to the vet when they are unwell.

Cat Welfare Society
Executive director
Laura Ann Meranda

What are some challenges that CWS face?

Laura: CWS is not a shelter and we do not keep cats on our premises. Instead, cats featured on our online adoption board live with independent fosterers. Some people think that they can offload the cat to us but we often give them advice on how they can help the cats, for example, crowdfunding, or recommending a cheaper vet. There has also been an increase in stray cats due to backyard breeding and abandonment.

What is your take on the rule that cats are not allowed to be kept in HDB flats?

Laura: As long as the legislation to keep cats in HDB flats is not passed, problems of hoarding, neglect and abandonment will continue to plague us.

This is because there is no clarity on what responsible cat ownership is and there are no penalties in place to penalise irresponsible cat behaviour. We will continue to work towards the day when cats will finally be allowed in HDB flats.

What more can be done to deter animal abandonment/abuse?

Laura: We have the Love Cats pilot programme in Chong Pang. Once it is legal to keep pet cats in flats, we can then spearhead the microchipping of pet cats. Legalising ownership with microchipping is the best way to deter animal abandonment/abuse.

What more can be done to educate the public on the issue of abandonment and abuse?

Laura: People have to understand that cat problems stem from irresponsible human behaviour. It is due to rampant abandonment that we now have such a large stray cat population.

We do outreach programmes with schools through the use of our Catopia travelling exhibit and assembly talks . We believe that responsible pet ownership has to be cultivated from a young age. Parents also play a big role in inculcating such values on their children.

What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating to either buy or adopt a cat?

Laura: I definitely encourage adoption. When you adopt a cat, you save two lives - that of the cat you are adopting, and that of the next cat the fosterer/rescuer takes in.

As long as people continue to buy cats, there will always be a demand and the supply will continue.

What is the most common complaint that CWS receives?

Laura: People feeding stray cats above the ground floor. Some people do not adhere to the rules of feeding the cat on the ground floor and the cat, after eating, defecates along common corridors and residents complain. The community cat sometimes get the blame. That is when we come in and investigate to prevent the community cat from being removed as it is, after all, already familiar with the surroundings.

What misconception do people have of cats?

Laura: People say that cats like to roam and are difficult to keep indoors. While cats are naturally curious creatures that like to explore, they can be as happy and well-adjusted living indoors. Meshing your windows and doors and keeping your cat indoors ensures its safety.

Save Our Street Dogs
President Siew Tuck Wah

You are both president of SOSD and founder of Radium Medical Aesthetics. How do you juggle the various portfolios?

Dr Siew: SOSD now has a general manager, a robust management committee and more structured volunteer departments. It allows me to free up my time to oversee the organisation, and be less involved in operations.

What more can be done to deter animal abuse/abandonment?

Dr Siew: The law, which was reviewed in 2012, is a good start. Second is enforcement, which requires continued efforts from AVA to prosecute cases and make it public.

Third is advocacy education, which is why we do a lot of outreach to the public and schools.

What advice would you give to people who are contemplating to either buy or adopt a dog?

Dr Siew: Saving lives aside, adoption is a better way to get a pet because there is a lot more guidance. Volunteers will screen the family to make sure the members are ready before they get a dog. SOSD is also very transparent with potential adopters about the health or behaviour issues the dog may have.

Retired police dogs can now live in HDB flats. There is also Project ADORE which allows certain larger breed dogs to live in the flats. Can more be done?

Dr Siew: Currently, the mongrels or mixed breeds allowed in HDB have to weigh below 15 kg and not exceed 50cm. It is a great step forward but more needs to be done.

Right now, the criteria only allows about 15 per cent (of such dogs) to be adopted.

Plus, owners who live condo units, which can be smaller than a HDB flat, are allowed to have three dogs of any size. In this case, the law does not make sense.

What misconception do people have of dogs?

Dr Siew: One misconception is that large dogs are aggressive.

However, bigger-sized dogs like Labrador and retrievers are actually friendlier and have better temperaments.

Certain breeds of dogs (such as the Pit Bull and Akita) are not allowed in Singapore. What are your thoughts about the list?

Dr Siew: As an animal activist, I think that having a list causes some prejudice. I feel that some dogs with thick fur, such as the Alaskan Malamute, should not be here.

Singapore's weather is not suitable for them and unless the owner is willing to invest in a cool room to keep them in, it is a torture for the dogs. If there is to be a list, it should be more for the health of the dogs than anything else.

How can businesses help SOSD?

Dr Siew: Donating to animal cause is a very new concept in Singapore. but we do rely a lot on the generosity of the public to sustain the shelter.

It would be good if businesses could donate and help us do some projects, for example we always need writers, designers, event planners etc. Now that we moved to Tengah, our expenses have gone up by S$15-18k a month since the move.

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