SINGAPORE: Ways to make pet adoption easier amid safe distancing measures are set to roll out by end of May, according to the National Development Ministry (MND).
This follows a meeting between MND, the National Parks Board (NParks) and 11 animal welfare groups last Friday (May 8).
Among the plans is a monthly pet adoption drive by NParks, called “Pet’s Day Out”, which is expected to go online for virtual viewings of animals.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development Sun Xueling said the authorities are also looking at how one-on-one meetings between animal and human can be facilitated before an adoption.
“Definitely whatever it is we decide on, in terms of the protocol, we have to make sure it takes into account safe distancing measures that are important within the current COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ms Sun.
“We are mindful that even when the circuit breaker ends, now come Jun 1, life will not exactly go back to normal … We still have to be careful about safe distancing measures, we still have to protect our animals and potential pet owners. We are looking at different modalities we can do with animal welfare groups.”
In addition, Ms Sun told CNA that the Government is considering a one-year waiver on dog licences in a bid to get more people to adopt during this time. Other pets, such as cats, currently do not need such a licence.
Animal welfare groups such as Action for Singapore Dogs, Cat Welfare Society and House Rabbit Society – which were part of the meeting last Friday – run programmes that rescue animals which are put up for adoption.
But this has been made difficult since "circuit breaker" measures kicked in. For instance, open houses have been cancelled and visitors have been unable to visit shelters to interact with the animals.
While online adoption platforms exist, those who run such adoption programmes said that interaction is necessary before making such a life-changing decision.
"Having a remote adoption thing is not really working out for us,” said Ricky Yeo, President of Action for Singapore Dogs.
“You can't let a potential adopter see a dog they like on a website and then say, ‘Wow, that's great, I'm going to ship a dog to you in an hour.’ It's not ordering a pizza. You do need that interaction, you do need to assess, the potential adopters themselves need to assess if that dog's going to be for them,” he added.
With the dogs at his shelter getting bigger with age, space is also becoming an issue, which Mr Yeo said could also affect the dogs’ physical and mental health.
He pointed out that having a place for strays also keeps members of the public healthy and safe.
“If there are more strays out there, they may start to forage more, they may start to become a public nuisance, may cause safety concerns,” Mr Yeo said.
“Would this incremental increase of dogs, is that going to impact society on a whole? Are we going to get more complaints from the public? Are the authorities going to have to deal with more manpower issues to look into all these issues?” he added.
READ: Case of euthanised dog to be investigated, AVS should be allowed to do its job 'without public pressure': Shanmugam
The circuit breaker has also meant manpower is becoming scarce at animal welfare homes.
From about 40 volunteers, Mr Yeo now only has seven “essential volunteers” coming in to help feed and bring the dogs out for exercise. The non-profit organisation, which has rehomed more than 300 dogs, has resorted to forgoing lengthy walks and letting the dogs play in the corridors instead.
HELP TO COME
Ms Sun said NParks will work individually with these groups to better understand the number of volunteers they need at this time, and discuss this with the Trade and Industry Ministry, which gives out exemptions for essential services during this period.
“The animal welfare groups were interfacing directly with the Trade and Industry Ministry, and different animal welfare groups put forward their proposals in different ways,” said Ms Sun.
“We’re looking to try to standardise that a little to see how we can make it more efficient, more effective, and that is also to facilitate a better understanding from the government agencies as to what the animal welfare groups need.”
But Ms Sun added that shelters will need to find creative solutions to the manpower problem, with safe distancing measures likely here to stay.
READ: Hong Kong penguins chill during COVID-19 pandemic while carers work overtime
“They are going to have to think about how to optimise the use of manpower … how to stagger the volunteers out so that at each time we only have a handful of volunteers who are appropriately spaced out, so that even as they look to care about their animals, they are also protecting their volunteers,” she said.
In the meantime, animal welfare groups also have to struggle with finances, as there are fewer visitors, adoptions and donations.
To further help with operating costs, MND is also looking to provide free food packs for animals that are rehomed from the Animal and Veterinary Service. This is on top of an existing two-month rental waiver.