SINGAPORE: It was the wee hours of a sticky Saturday morning and while most residents in her estate were fast asleep, Tampines resident Ms Jane, as she only wanted to be known, was pedalling hard on the eerily deserted roads.
This was not part of her exercise regime. She was patrolling the streets on the lookout for stray dogs which are believed to have attacked and killed at least seven cats at various locations in the estate this month.
Ms Jane said that between June and October, she had known of only two instances of community cats getting killed. Since the attacks escalated, she and a few other fellow residents decided to form a patrol group.
"Basically if we see the group of dogs, we won't approach them, but we want to update the authorities of their position," said Ms Jane. "We don't want the dogs killed because they are living things too."
Ms Jane is also part of the Support Tampines Cat Caregivers Facebook group, which has close to 300 members. Stray dog sightings are frequently posted in the discussion thread, so that members and cat feeders are alerted.
Most sightings this month have been concentrated in the vicinity of Tampines Street 71 as well as Streets 42 and 43.
At about 4am on Nov 3, four stray dogs were said to have mauled a black cat at Blk 432, Tampines Street 43.
"The cat died with its intestines spilled out," Whydah Ism wrote in Support Tampines Cat Caregivers Facebook group. "It was so gruesome to look at, according to one of the feeders who retrieved the body and buried it. The dogs were about to attack another cat (ginger cat) when a passer-by saw and chased them away."
In another post dated Nov 9, Facebook user Diana Fuzz wrote that a pack of 11 stray dogs savaged a community cat to death at the void deck of Block 863, Tampines Avenue 5. The attack occurred at 3.20am on Nov 8, she said.
"My dad was on his way to work when it happened right in front of his eyes," she said. "My mom then came down with the bamboo pole to scare them away but it didn’t stop them from killing the cat."
Some residents believe that the attacks have been going for some time. One of those who witnessed these attacks first-hand was Mdm Mariah Marina.
She told Channel NewsAsia she saw "two or three" dogs mauling a community cat at about 6am on Aug 9 at Blk 859, Tampines Avenue 5.
"I saw a group of dogs throwing the cat around. It was still alive - making a lot of noise," she recalled. "There were two or three guys that came down from the opposite block. They stamped on the ground and the dogs ran away."
The black cat, whom she had affectionately named Marble, died minutes later.
"It was very violent, very horrible," she said. "I keep hearing those dogs barking - even now."
TAKING A TOLL
Three weeks into their efforts, Ms Jane's seven-member patrol group is already feeling the strain of spending late nights combing the neighbourhood.
The used to patrol daily, now they mostly focus their efforts on Fridays and the weekends.
"It took a toll," admitted Ms Jane."When I headed to work after a night of patrolling, I felt like going to the toilet to sleep for the rest of the day."
The group have tried various means to protect the cats, including bringing them home when stray dogs were spotted in the vicinity.
But with the cats not used to being cooped up in an unfamiliar environment, they sometimes refused to eat and can be traumatised, Ms Jane said.
"We felt 'heart pain' for the cats to see them very, very stressed out. But then we know they are more protected in the house," she said.
Members of the patrol group have contacted the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) for help.
In an email to the patrol group, the authority said it had been working with animal welfare groups and veterinarians on a "five-year Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage (TNRM) programme to manage the stray dog population in Singapore".
This programme aims to sterilise more than 70 per cent of the stray dog population islandwide over five years, the email added, with the priority to rehome as many of these dogs as possible. This should lead to a reduction in the number of stray dogs on the streets, added the AVA.
The email also listed advisories on what individuals who encountered stray dogs could do.
The patrol group said it tried contacting animal welfare groups such as Save Our Street Dogs and Animal Lovers League, but did not get a response.
A member of the patrol group also raised the issue to Member of Parliament for Tampines GRC Desmond Choo in an email. According to Ms Jane and based on emails seen by Channel NewsAsia, Mr Choo then notified the town council general manager and the matter was subsequently raised to the AVA.
In its reply, the AVA said it was "monitoring the situation closely", and working with animal welfare groups to trap "these elusive dogs".
Separately, AVA confirmed later on Saturday in response to Channel NewsAsia's queries that it had received feedback on stray dog sightings in the vicinity of Tampines Street 71.
"We have conducted inspections around the area where sightings were reported and have observed four stray dogs in the area at various locations in Tampines estate," said the authority. "The dogs have not been reported to be aggressive to people when approached.
"AVA will continue to work with relevant stakeholders such as (animal welfare groups) and the grassroots to educate residents on what to do when they encounter stray dogs."
"QUITE CHALLENGING TO MANAGE"
Singapore’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals told Channel NewsAsia that the matter has also been brought to its attention.
"It is very distressing to hear of cats being attacked by dogs and these situations can be quite challenging to manage," said SPCA executive director Jaipal Singh Gill.
"One possibility to mitigate the problem is to shift the feeding sites of both the dogs and cats further from each other, so that there is less overlap of their territories."
The cats could also be temporarily housed elsewhere, said Dr Gill, "in the hope that the dogs will move on".
For now, members of the patrol team vow to continue their efforts.
“We just do what we can," said a 21-year-old member of the team, who wanted to be known only as Desmond.
"We are concerned about the safety of the cats, since some of us have been feeding them for years. We just want them to stay safe.
“It seems like nothing is being done, we will never know if one day we wake up and the cats will just be lying there dead.”