SINGAPORE: Last week, the ADORE (Adoption and Rehoming of Dogs) project was expanded to allow dog handlers from the K-9 units and Military Working Dog Unit to adopt retired sniffer dogs. In many ways, this was a significant step, not only for animal welfare, but for Singapore society.
Under current Housing and Development Board (HDB) rules, only certain toy breeds, such as Schnauzers and Shihtzus are allowed in HDB flats. In addition, the dogs have to be below 40cm in height and under 10kg in weight.
UNCOMFORTABLE SITUATION WITH STRAY ANIMALS
The ADORE project, introduced in 2012, allowed medium-sized mixed-breed dogs below 15kg and 50cm to be adopted and housed in HDB flats, under a stringent framework. Now, with this new expansion to include K-9 unit dogs, even larger breeds such as Labradors and English Spaniels will be allowed in HDB flat for the first time in Singapore’s history.
Singapore has always been caught in an uncomfortable situation with regard to wildlife and stray animals. Although there is increasing awareness over animal-related issues, complaints are also on the rise. This is largely due to rapid urbanisation and deforestation - animals’ hiding places are increasingly being levelled to the ground to make way for housing estates and other developments.
In areas such as Punggol, many residents come face to face with stray dogs who lived there long before they did. The result is conflict. Humans are unhappy with dogs roaming near their homes; dogs protect their territories by barking. The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) received about 5,000 complaints about stray dogs last year, demanding for them to be removed.
Traditionally, AVA’s default method of solving these conflicts was to catch and cull these stray dogs; 23,229 stray dogs were culled over the last 12 years. Matters have improved in recent years - AVA is now working much more closely with animal welfare groups (AWGs) to rehome impounded dogs and help manage human-dog conflict.
At the same time, AWGs are actively sterilising stray dogs, so that their population in the wild will not rise.
Our work as an AWG is, however, paved with difficulties. HDB’s rule of allowing only small dogs means that stray dogs cannot be rehomed in more than 80 per cent of Singapore’s households.
CULLING STILL INEVITABLE FOR MOST STRAYS
Although progress has been made with the ADORE project, it does not significantly improve the dire situation. Singapore’s stray dogs are mostly large. The majority are about 55 to 65cm tall and weigh 18 to 25kg. Only 10 per cent of dogs in shelters qualify for the ADORE project.
With more than 1,500 dogs already stuck in shelters with no homes to go to, AWGs are unable to take in any more dogs whose lives are on the line. The result - culling is still the inevitable outcome for the majority of stray dogs.
Repeated calls to increase the size of dogs allowed in HDB flats have been futile. HDB’s worry may be that Singaporeans are not ready to have larger dogs living amongst them. They may be worried that the idea that large dogs are “dangerous” is still widespread among people who do not like dogs.
The truth is, larger dogs bark less, are more gentle and are better with children than smaller dogs. The character of a dog has nothing to do with its size. Large dogs are bigger but they are not dangerous, nor do they cause more problems.
On the contrary, dog-related problems are mostly caused by irresponsible pet owners. Size has nothing to do with it.
ALLOW LARGER MIXED-BREED DOGS IN HDB FLATS
HDB’s concerns may be largely unfounded and can easily be overcome. First, the rules on dogs were formulated half a century ago, at a time when flats were smaller and packed denser together. Stricter rules were needed to ensure harmony for families living in close proximity.
Today, HDB flats are larger and better designed. In fact, most condominiums are even smaller than HDB flats – and yet there are no restrictions on the size of dogs allowed.
Second, the socioeconomic factors in Singapore have changed. We are now more educated and more affluent. We are starting to take notice of issues such as animal welfare and we are definitely more receptive towards dogs than we were 50 years ago.
The ADORE project goes a step further in ensuring dynamics in a HDB neighbourhood are not upset when a new dog is introduced. For instance, all ADORE dogs are required to undergo obedience training by a panel of accredited dog trainers. In addition, neighbours are interviewed prior to adoption to ensure that they are receptive of a larger dog in their vicinity.
This robust framework has worked very well for medium-sized dogs, and we are confident that it will work too for the larger sniffer dogs from K-9 units and for larger mixed-breed dogs as well.
LET STRAY DOGS FIND LOVING HOMES IN SINGAPORE
Increasingly, Singaporeans are calling for a humane method to deal with the stray dog problem, rather than culling them. In a study conducted by The Nielsen Company and Save Our Street Dogs in 2015 to examine Singaporeans’ attitudes towards stray dogs in Punggol, 82 per cent of participants agreed that homeless dogs should be rehomed and only 2 per cent wished for dogs to be trapped and culled.
It is heartening to know that Singaporeans care. However, this vision can only be fulfilled, if existing regulations are relaxed to allow larger mixed-breed dogs in HDB flats.
In a world divided by trends like extremism and protectionism, it has become increasingly important to foster a more tolerant, kinder society. If a simple policy change can do that, there is very little reason not to look into it.
The K-9 expansion of ADORE is the first sign of some light at the end of the tunnel and a significant step in moving Singapore forward in the right direction. We are extremely grateful to MND for the initiative, and we look forward to the day when the thousands of stray and shelter dogs in Singapore no longer face persecution, but instead, are able to find loving homes.
Dr Siew Tuck Wah is president of Save Our Street Dogs.