SINGAPORE: The issue of whether pet owners can decide if, when and how their sick animals should be treated was highlighted in a recent court case where a dog owner was fined S$3,500 for animal cruelty after he was found to have caused “unnecessary suffering" by denying his sick miniature schnauzer adequate pain relief.
According to a press release by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on Wednesday (Jan 16), 51-year-old Ng Yeow Chian did not send his dog back for follow-up treatment by the vet despite it being diagnosed with “serious medical conditions”.
The agency had received feedback about this on November 2017, months after the first vet visit in September that year. Its investigations showed that the clinic had made several calls to the accused to return for the scheduled review, which went unheeded, it added.
The dog eventually succumbed to its condition and died after a month, the press release said.
According to the charge sheet seen by Channel NewsAsia, the miniature schnauzer was found with a lump on its right shoulder, chronic heart disease and accumulation of stones in its bladder and urethra.
INTERVENE, BUT WITH REASON
Founder of Action for Singapore Dogs Ricky Yeo said there were “many unanswered questions” over the enforcement action in AVA's press release revealing the incident.
“What if the dog had died a day or a week after the first vet visit? Would the owner still be viewed as negligent?” Mr Yeo asked. “What was the assessment of the dog that, with treatment, there would be a high probability of recovery?
“To view it from a wider context, such actions can impose a climate of fear on dog owners who may even decide not to seek treatment or to choose euthanasia for fear of any action from the authorities.”
Long-time dog owner, Ms Sue Ching, told Channel NewsAsia that that in general, she supported authorities stepping in to intervene, but only after carrying out an investigation based on all facts and only in cases of gross and extreme mistreatment.
“If they are going to step in over every complaint, even when an owner is too busy at work and has to reschedule a vet appointment, then it would be an overreach,” Ms Ching said.
WHY AVA STEPPED IN
In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, AVA provided more details on the case. It said when Ng’s dog was first brought in for a medical review, it was found to be in a very poor state of health. The vet recommended that the dog either be treated, albeit without guarantee of recovery, or humanely euthanised, the agency said.
The family requested for time to decide against the doctor’s advice, and opted to bring the dog home with temporary pain relief medication, it added.
After the course of painkillers had been completed, the clinic called Ng’s family several times to convince them to bring the dog back for a review but they did not do so or seek a second opinion, AVA said.
“Instead of animal prescription painkillers, they inappropriately fed the dog ‘aspirin’ tablets,” the agency said. “The dog subsequently passed away.”
The agency shared that the vet who attended to the miniature schnauzer provided it feedback. Its investigation found that on top of the health issues already identified by the vet, the dog had severe bladder stones that would have caused “significant” pain and suffering.
With these findings, the agency found the case warranted enforcement action as Ng had failed to provide adequate pain relief to the dog, leading to its unnecessary suffering.
PET OWNERS BEAR FULL RESPONSIBILITY
SPCA’s executive director Dr Jaipal Singh Gill said the authorities were right to intervene as pet owners should be fully responsible for the wellbeing of their pets.
He added that responsible pet ownership includes ensuring that one has the financial means to keep and maintain the pet, including paying for medical treatment when necessary.
“We do understand that some pet owners may not be able to afford medical care,” Dr Jaipal said.
“In such cases, the pet owner has to seek help and should do all they can to ensure that the animal does not suffer.”
Another avid dog lover, Ms Grace Chng, said even if a dog owner decides to let his or her pet “fade into the sunset naturally” because of its failing health, they still need to be “cared for, made clean and comfortable so that they die with dignity”.
“There is a fine line between getting the best medical treatment and letting them fade away,” Ms Chng said.
“Pet owners will understand the great pain in making this choice.”