SINGAPORE: The Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) released a code of conduct for pet owners last Thursday (Jun 15) that specifies minimum standards which pet owners should comply with when caring for their pets.
Areas covered in the code include standards regarding accountability, animal housing and environment, and animal management and care. The code goes down to specifics, such as specifying the tether length for your dog.
At first glance, it may seem strange for AVA to release a document telling owners how they should look after their pets. But judging from how common it is to see some pet owners keeping too many animals or chaining their animals up for long periods of time, educating them on the minimum they must provide for their pets is a welcomed move.
However, the promulgation of the code goes deeper than that.
We are taking baby steps to shaping a society that upholds animal welfare. We are putting in place key building blocks that might not seem significant individually but are important foundations to ensuring a more humane, caring society.
FOLLOWS CODE OF CONDUCT FOR PET INDUSTRY
Over the past three years, we have seen measures put into place, in line with the aim of fostering responsible pet ownership, greater responsibility in the pet industry and better animal welfare.
The code of conduct for pet owners is a culmination of past efforts in this direction. It was put together by a Multi-Stakeholder Collaboration Committee for Animal Welfare (MSCC) formed in 2013 to follow up with the recommendations made by the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee (AWLRC) a year earlier.
The MSCC, established in October 2013, comprises Members of Parliament and representatives from animal welfare groups, the pet industry, the veterinary profession and AVA.
The AWLRC itself had proposed several changes after its year-long review, most notably to the Animal and Birds Act to increase the penalties against those convicted of animal cruelty. Besides that, the review also laid down concrete measures to improve animal welfare – such as setting a minimum age for buying pets, a mandatory pre-sale screening in pet shops and minimum standards for animal welfare. All 24 recommendations were accepted by the Government in 2013.
A significant step in ensuring animal welfare in the pet industry was earlier taken in August 2016 when AVA released the much needed code of conduct for the pet industry. It lists minimum standards on animal housing, management and care which pet businesses are expected to comply with and best practices which they are encouraged to adopt.
With this first code in place, it has become easier to prosecute wrongdoers who compromise animal welfare in pursuit of commercial gain – a problem which has been plaguing the pet industry.
For decades, many breeding farms, also known as puppy mills operate like factories, churning out litter after litter of puppies for sale, while breeding dogs are kept in deplorable conditions.
Over the past year, AVA has successfully prosecuted and punished farm owners who ill-treat the animals under their care, after the promulgation of the code. For example, a pet farm licensee who owned Top Breed Pet Farm was fined S$180,000 after failing to ensure the health and well-being of eight dogs under his care earlier in June.
NON-COMPLIANCE CAN SUPPORT PROSECUTION
Naysayers point out that both the codes for the pet industry and pet owners are not legislation, and failure to meet the minimum standards are not offences in themselves. Indeed, it was debatable deciding what was considered animal abuse and what was not in the past.
However, with both codes in place, AVA can now use non-compliance with the minimum standards specified in the codes as supporting evidence when prosecuting wrongdoers for animal cruelty. With these concrete guidelines, I believe that we will see more cases of animal cruelty brought to light in the near future.
Being able to successfully prosecute such cases citing violation of these codes will be the true litmus test of whether they make a sum difference.
KINDER, MORE COMPASSIONATE, MORE TOLERANT
This is only the beginning. Animal welfare in Singapore is still in its toddler stages.
The measures put in place so far are more legislative in nature, involving laying down the rules. What comes next is even more challenging – it involves changing what decades of relentless economic pursuit has produced.
Emphasis has to be placed on education on animal welfare issues, as well as community involvement, to foster a harmonious environment between pet owners and non-pet owners.
But we also require a mindset change about how we think about our pets, our environment and the stray animals around us. We need to be kinder, more compassionate and more tolerant.
This can only be done if the majority of Singaporeans begin to care for animals. Education is key and it begins with our young. I strongly believe in this and for this reason, I regularly give talks on animal welfare in schools, to students as young as pre-schoolers, through SOSD’s education and outreach programmes.
AVA is setting the right tone for animal welfare, and it is now up to every one of us to ensure that Singapore becomes the First World country we want it to be – not only in terms of economic growth, but also in other important areas, such as animal welfare.
Dr Siew Tuck Wah is President of SOSD, a Singapore-based organisation dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming stray and abandoned dogs