SINGAPORE: A couple who euthanised their dog for apparent aggression did not fail in their duty of care or commit animal cruelty, while the veterinarians who performed the euthanasia did not breach the Code of Ethics, the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) said on Tuesday (Sep 15).
In its investigation findings, AVS said the owners had explored various options before euthanasia, including medication, training and rehoming, and did their best to care for Loki the dog.
The owners and vet did not breach COVID-19 safety measures by euthanising Loki during the “circuit breaker”, as veterinary acts that uphold public safety were deemed an essential service during that period, the AVS found.
The findings come after the AVS opened investigations into the case in May following a complaint by Exclusively Mongrels, the dog welfare group from which the owners had adopted Loki. The group said Loki was healthy and would have turned three around the time of the euthanasia.
The AVS, formerly known as the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority, is a unit under the National Parks Board.
The case sparked outrage among some netizens who felt the euthanasia was not justified. Some have identified and exposed the owners, and criticised the Mount Pleasant Veterinary Group that conducted the euthanasia.
READ: Case of euthanised dog to be investigated, AVS should be allowed to do its job 'without public pressure': Shanmugam
In its findings, AVS said Loki was adopted in December 2017 and was timid, afraid of loud noises, averse to men and nervous around children. Between 2018 and 2019, it grew to be about 25kg, and became “more confident and confrontational”.
The dog also had panic attacks with no known triggers, with more frequent and severe bite or attack incidents, AVS said. Loki was eventually euthanised on Apr 20.
AVS listed 12 occasions between 2018 and 2020 when Loki had bitten or attacked other dogs, the owner, the owners’ relative, the owners’ friends and children of the owners’ friends.
In two of the most recent instances this year, Loki had bitten a child on her face and the owner on his lip. Both visited the Accident and Emergency (A&E) Department at a hospital.
OTHER OPTIONS CONSIDERED
In January 2019, a blood test was done on Loki to rule out hormonal causes of aggression, while medication was given to manage potential separation anxiety, which could be causing the aggression. The owners also visited vets regularly to ensure Loki was healthy, AVS said.
Loki was sent for training between November 2019 and February this year. During the first session, the trainer assessed Loki to have medium to high levels of anxiety and reactivity, and was nervous around strangers.
AVS said Loki’s behaviour did not improve from training, pointing out that Loki had bitten the child when training was ongoing.
During the final training session in February, Loki’s owners told the trainer they wanted to euthanise Loki. The trainer tried to convince them to consider other options, including behaviour modification, mood altering medication and rehoming.
In March, the owner and a Mount Pleasant vet discussed options for Loki. They decided Loki could be rehomed, rehabilitated with behavioural modification drugs and training, or euthanised as a last resort.
Loki was given behavioural drugs as an interim measure. The vet reached out to the trainer, who said he was open to rehabilitating Loki with the drugs. But the trainer said Loki would need at least another six months of training before it could be reassessed.
The vet then persuaded the owners to try to rehome Loki. However, AVS said the trainer and owners were unsuccessful in finding new owners for Loki despite “multiple efforts”.
“We understand that what the owners did was to approach their own acquaintances. We also understand that the trainer himself tried to look for rehoming options and even the vets chipped in,” an AVS spokesperson said.
“In the end, it was only (an) animal shelter in Malaysia that came back as an option, and unfortunately that couldn’t be put into action because of the COVID-19 situation.”
The Mount Pleasant vets suggested that the owners send Loki to a shelter in Malaysia, but after the owners agreed, Malaysia implemented its movement control order. Plans to send Loki there were shelved, and the owners decided to keep it in the meantime.
AVS said that the owners did not approach Exclusively Mongrels for help in rehoming. The group has commenced legal proceedings against the owner for what it said was a breach of the adoption agreement.
“That’s a decision by the owners,” the AVS spokesperson said. “It wasn’t part of our investigation, in the sense of why the owners chose certain methods of rehoming and not others.”
He added: “The adoption agreement is a private agreement between Exclusively Mongrels and the owner, so it was not part of our investigation.”
In early April, Loki’s owners had a newborn child. The owners noticed that Loki was uncomfortable and nervous around their child, AVS said.
On Apr 19, the husband reached over Loki to get a cover that the dog was lying on, something he had done many times before, when Loki bit him on his lips. The husband went to the A&E and got stitches, a tetanus vaccine and a course of oral antibiotics.
The next day, the wife made several calls to a vet and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for Loki to be euthanised, but was rejected or redirected.
The wife called the AVS to clarify if euthanasia was allowed during the circuit breaker. The AVS said it was allowed as an essential service if it was carried out in the interest of public safety.
The wife reached out to the Mount Pleasant vet who had been involved in Loki’s case. She told him that Loki had attacked a family member, and that their family’s safety was of “great concern”.
The vets agreed that they had explored all other options and that Loki’s aggression and unpredictability was a risk to the family’s safety, AVS said. The euthanasia was scheduled that evening. Loki was put to sleep with the owners present, having given written consent.
OWNERS REPEATEDLY SOUGHT HELP
AVS said the owners did their best to care for Loki and had “repeatedly” sought help for Loki’s behavioural issues, trained Loki and looked for rehoming options.
There was also no evidence of animal cruelty, as Loki had been observed to get along with the owners, with no evidence of abuse or mistreatment.
The vets who performed the euthanasia did not breach the Code of Ethics for Veterinarians, AVS said, noting that they had worked with the owners over several weeks to explore rehoming, training and use of modification drugs to help Loki.
The vets also contacted the dog trainer to explore the use of medication for rehabilitation and contacted an overseas animal shelter on their own initiative, AVS added.
“Euthanasia was performed as a last resort to safeguard the family’s safety,” AVS said, noting that it had conducted a "detailed" investigation based on the facts of the case.
Moving forward, AVS said it has since August 2019 been conducting a review of the pet sector by consulting vets, trainers and Institutes of Higher Learning that conduct veterinary training.
NParks will introduce measures to improve standards in the breeding and boarding industry, before looking at the veterinary industry.
A workgroup involving the various stakeholders, chaired by Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How, will also study standards and guidelines related to the rehoming and adoption of animals, AVS said.
"We have received feedback and comments from various stakeholders following Loki's case, so these will all be taken into consideration as part of our pet sector review of the veterinary industry," the spokesperson said.
When asked if the euthanasia protocol will also be reviewed, the spokesperson said "there will be quite a few things that we are looking at".
"Our approach for the pet sector review has always been coming from a holistic angle," he added.