SINGAPORE: I can barely remember the last time I took my dog out for leisure.
Like many other aspects of life we used to take for granted, my dog walking routine has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic in the name of safe distancing.
I accept that and have made various modifications to ensure I play my part in breaking the chain of transmission.
For instance, I have deliberately shifted my dog walking to late night hours when there are fewer people jogging around my HDB neighbourhood. I also make it a point to walk my 10-year-old dog as briskly as his weakening knees will allow.
We no longer linger out in the open pre-circuit breaker style, and I definitely keep a wide berth should we pass by another person.
From what I can tell, other owners in my neighbourhood are likewise following the guidelines for physical distancing as they too are careful not to let their pets get too close.
I suspect all these poor animals are feeling confused at being trotted quickly away without being allowed to stop and sniff their friends, but there is little any of us can do about this for now.
At least most of us are cooperating by maintaining a safe distance while still going about the daily business of ensuring our pets get to stretch their legs after being cooped up in small apartments for the whole day.
To those that are not, I’ll say what my mother would have: The safe-distancing ambassadors are watching.
THAT RULE ABOUT NO PET-WALKING IN PRIVATE AREAS
Still, I can empathise with owners living in condominiums who felt blindsided by the by the regulation that pet walking will no longer be permitted within the property’s common areas. Instead, residents are now only permitted to walk their dogs on public paths and areas outside the condominium’s premises.
Just like closing all sports and recreational facilities and not permitting residents to exercise in common areas, the aim of this no-pet rule is to reduce crowding within the gated compounds by spreading out dog walkers in a public space.
It does make some sense, especially in smaller developments with minimal facilities like gardens or pathways.
But as someone who has friends with dogs of all sorts, I know this rule will make it incredibly challenging for owners who have older dogs that have multiple conditions, including partial blindness, arthritis and more.
READ: No exercising, dog walking within condominiums' common areas as part of circuit breaker measures: BCA
READ: Commentary: How did a dog catch COVID-19? Until we know more, pet owners should take preventive steps
For these creatures with poor mobility, while they need more space than our small apartments provide, the area downstairs is as far as their legs can take them. Some condominiums are also so large, getting to the exit may be when it’s time to head back.
Practically, there are dogs that need to head out a few times a day to relieve themselves. This essential activity has sometimes been misconstrued by others as a recreational walk.
Some dogs may develop behavioural problems if they do not go outdoors for their daily exercise so that walk can’t be skipped.
Barring special exemptions for exceptional cases, it will be a tricky, painful logistical challenge for some dog owners as long as the circuit breaker is in place. Most Singaporeans are law-abiding citizens who have been brought up to follow the letter of the law.
At least, the Building and Construction Authority has clarified that owners may walk their pets out of the condominium compound (as opposed to carrying or driving their dogs), so that should at least provide some relief to the majority of Singaporeans who abide strictly to the rules.
Still, it has thrown up questions on the minutiae of the law, like if dog owners walk their dogs on the path toward the condominium gate with the intension of heading out, only to have to head back after for one reason or another, will they be fined? Then again, why should intent matter if the objective is to abide by the letter of the law?
There are no easy answers in a time when we must follow these circuit breaker restrictions.
EVEN WALKING OUTSIDE WITH YOUR DOG REQUIRES PRECAUTIONS
The other challenge actually is ensuring people do spread out when they walk their dogs outside the premises of their condominiums – and keep to the spirit of the law.
Some neighborhoods in Singapore have a higher proportion of condominiums and dog owners. Compelling them all to walk their pets in nearby public spaces could see crowds in the evening.
There is also the matter of having to share space with other people who are jogging or cycling - surely adding dog walkers to the mix will end up increasing the crowd density in public spaces and the potential for inadvertent violations.
DOG OWNERS SHOULD EXERCISE COMMON SENSE TOO
At the same time, there is no excuse for owners to spend hours outside the home playing fetch with Rover.
Nor should those walking dogs use this as a way to congregate or chat with other people they may encounter while out and about. Such egregious violations should be called out, with enforcement action taken.
Instead, common sense should prevail. No matter where you live, it would not hurt to adjust one’s dog walking schedule to off-peak hours when there are fewer people outdoors.
Or simply take a look out of your window to ensure it is quiet outside before leashing up your pet. If you have the ability to take your dog to a more sparsely populated public area, please do so for the greater good.
Ultimately, the implementation of rule upon rule, some of which can be confusing to uphold, will still come second to the public’s exercising of good sense, in helping to stop the transmission of this virus.
And the sooner everybody contributes to doing so, the sooner we might be able to return to a semblance of normalcy.
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Karen Tee is a freelance writer.