Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Singapore Animal Welfare Symposium 2009 II

The Cat Welfare Society gave a presentation as part of the second panel session on Domestic Animal Welfare. It raised up our community's two main issues - that HDB allow cats to be kept as pets in flats and the reinstatement of the stray cat rehab scheme - amidst positive evidence of the effectiveness of sterilisation and a growing community of cat caregiving and advocacy in Singapore.

Can we make a cat auntie's dream come true?

Since 2004, there has been a year on year drop in the number of cats surrendered and impounded.

Long overdue, these caregivers are starting to receive well-deserved recognition in recent years.

So, what do these community cat caregivers want? They want more eligible homes for community cats. And they want to know that their cats are safe from being indiscriminately caught and culled.

While stray cat population figures show that sterilisation is effective, what it doesn’t do is reduce the number of cat nuisance complaints, which is constantly cited as one of the reasons for resisting cat-friendly policies.

On the ground, there are many parties and their differing concerns to balance when trying to achieve an amicable level of human-animal co-existence. A lot of the resistance to the reinstating of the Stray Cat Rehab Scheme is from the town councils who are skeptical about how the scheme benefits them and also the additional workload that comes with administering the scheme.

(AVA confirmed that if they were to bring the scheme back, it would be in a decentralised form and only with the consent of the town councils.)

It reinforces the point that helping town councils reduce instances of human-cat conflicts is paramount in winning them over. And that is a task that CWS will take up this year. It is making plans to engage HDB, MPs and TCs and call for like-minded people in this community to come forward with inputs and support towards this campaign.

In contrast to the stray cat, stray dogs remain far less tolerated on our streets. The govt still does not recognise the same trap and neuter programme for our canine friends. Yet the pet dog trade trumps the cat anyday.

Singapore being a free market, the govt does not interfere with the market supply of pets from breeders or in pet shops. Many advocates argued that more must be done to curb the supply, especially in the face of a growing number of abandoned pets in Singapore, many more dogs and an alarming number of pedigrees.

This would be music to our ears certainly but as unlikely as it is that the govt will restrict the trade in pet animals, they must at least answer for how well these animal traders are being policed. It became clear that AVA relies on whistleblowing to keep these traders in check.

As the day progressed, several areas of overlap surfaced that animal welfare groups could potentially collaborate on:

1) Allowing more categories of pets to be kept in flats like cats and medium-sized dogs.
2) Regulating the loaning of traps to the public for errant cats and monkeys.
3) Policing of unscrupulous breeding and trading of animals.

To their credit, AVA indicated a willingness to continue the dialogue beyond the symposium on many of the issues raised. One person from the floor said it best. She asked AVA to tell us how we, the animal welfare community, can help them make some of these long-awaited changes a reality. And this is an opportunity that AVA cannot quite afford to pass up.

Students made up a large percentage of the audience at the symposium, many recipients of the animal protectors grant with an impressive showing at the event. These student leaders and activists with a passion for animal welfare are likely to become our next generation of veterinarians and advocates. If AVA wants these future leaders in their fold and not on the opposite side of the table, this is the time to engage them.

And what these students want is the confidence that the govt and its policies can change. More than that, what they want is to be part of the movement that leads and that inspires the conscience of this country for animal welfare and for conservation, not trail behind it. You can just see it in their eyes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Singapore Animal Welfare Symposium 2009

The 2nd annual Singapore Animal Welfare Symposium was held last Saturday 16 May 2009 at the National University of Singapore. There were 2 panel sessions, one on Wildlife in Entertainment and the other on Domestic Animal Welfare.

Various issues were brought up about animal performances and arguments were bandied about the necessary public education and awareness aspect of these performances against the moral question about whether it is humane to train animals to perform unnatural behaviors for education, entertainment and revenues.

While this debate will certainly continue beyond the walls of the symposium, one pertinent question did come up that provides a practical handle on why rational sounding policies are so problematic when seen from the ground level. Senior-level management of entities like the Singapore Zoo and AVA, by nature of their profession and their position are grounded in a deep understanding of animal welfare issues and do, within parameters, aim to preserve and uphold these values on an organisational and national level.

Where it often falls apart is how these policies and values are translated on a day-to-day operational level. Which begs the question, is the staff on the ground reasonably qualified, indoctrinated and trained to execute these policies and practices with the same comprehension? The answer was that there is always room for improvement.

If improvement is what they seek, the animalfamily would like to highlight that this goes beyond the question of staff selection, qualifications and training, to empowerment. Is there sufficient empowerment for the staff to provide the kind of discernment and compassion on the ground that goes a long way on an emotional issue like animal welfare? Organisations dealing with animals certainly cannot be run like other govt agencies. Their ground staff cannot be like the many mindless administrators in so many govt offices, but be recognised and managed like what they really are, the keepers and custodians of countless lives every single working day.

I see two fronts that animal welfare advocates can and should pursue. One, to engage on a policy level, and the other, to hold agencies accountable for the execution of policies to a standard that even comes close to justifying their rationale.

There is a temptation for advocates to lump the two and to use unacceptable ground practices to make the leap towards calling for policy about-turns. And that’s where they run into a brick wall.

Ultimately, there is a time for discussing policy and there is a time to simply call out undesirable practices like use of withdrawal of food and coercion on performance animals and loaning traps without proper checks and investigation, for what they are - counter-intuitive to

# Safeguarding the health of animals, fish and plants.
# Building a positive image and enhance community outreach.
# Promoting animal welfare.
# Optimising the utilisation and return on resources.

Because they said it, we didn't.

(to be contd)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

let's start a revolution

These are exciting times for cat welfare volunteers, supporters and activists. In the beginning, they started websites, then forums and they blogged. Now more than ever, they have organised themselves into a remarkably coherent voice for the common community cat in our communal void decks and on our collective streets.

The woman remembers that singular moment when her flame for cat welfare was fanned into burning scorching action. That was 5 years ago when Maneki walked into her life. Back then, it was tough to get started. Cat Welfare Society helped by providing starter packets of information but because there were never enough people to start a TNRM group in this area, it didn’t make sense for CWS to come down to conduct workshops or to make contact with the town council.

The woman had to find her own way, attend a TNRM workshop in NLB, loan a couple of traps, make herself useful to the town council officer and just get on with it.

Blogs and bloggers certainly helped along the way but cold hard information was tough to come by to paint a coherent picture of how we arrived at the present milestones in cat welfare, who are our minor and major movers in government and civil society and what are the common goals for the future.

It is truly only after Facebook and the flowering connections it proffered that this organically emerging animal welfare ecosystem in Singapore is crystallising in a way that this feline hopes will inspire progressive thinking and greater action in Singaporeans for us Singaporean cats. Facebook connects people, their human faces and their stories on a level that surpasses their carefully crafted words that make up websites, blogs and forums. This has done more to move bodies of knowledge around at great speeds without saying any much more than people are already doing.

So if you haven’t found your way onto the bandwagon, maybe this is the time.

This blog has been featuring links to other animal welfare groups in Singapore since forever, it also spots a blogroll that I have just split into a local list and the rest of the world so that it is easier to monitor our very own catty echo chamber of meows and grunts.

If you want to join the revolution that is happening online, here is a list of Facebook groups that you can hook up with for starters. Perhaps by chance or design, we might become mutual online friends and fans and I look forward to that.

Cat Welfare Society Page / Group
SPCA Singapore

Appeal to the AVA to Stop the Free Loan of Cat Traps
Cats in flats...
Support Pet Shops that Do Not Sell Pets
Stop Culling and Revive Stray Cats Rehabilitation Scheme in Singapore
STOP the culling of stray cats!

Support Groups
Cat-CareGivers' Support Group
Cat Fosterers (Singapore)
TnRM (Singapore and Malaysia)
Singapore Adoption Group

Student Groups
Cats Management Network
NUS PEACE! People Ending Animal Cruelty and Exploitation
NUS Cat Cafe

Other Groups
Cat Absolut
Paw Pledge
Blessing Home

Cat Lovers Singapore
Singapore Community Cats

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