SINGAPORE: A woman allegedly kept 60 dogs in her house, 14 of which died after an outbreak of the deadly and highly contagious parvovirus.
Leow Suat Hong, 49, appeared in court on Wednesday (Apr 7) to defend herself against two charges of failing to take two dogs to the vet for proper treatment.
She faces more than 50 other charges, which have been stood down or set aside for now.
The two charges that prosecutors are proceeding with allege that Leow failed to take reasonable steps to ensure that a male bichon-maltese dog was protected from and rapidly diagnosed with any disease in October 2016.
The animal, identified only as Dog 11 in court, was not vaccinated and died after contracting parvovirus.
The second charge states that Leow failed to take similar reasonable steps for a female bichon-maltese dog in June 2018. She failed to take the dog to a vet for diagnosis and treatment, resulting in a bilateral ear infection, court documents said.
Mr Ong Jun Xiong, a former Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) investigation officer, took the stand for the prosecution and described how the authorities first received feedback in February 2016 about a suspected animal welfare case at 4 Starlight Road in Serangoon.
After AVA officers arrived at the house, Leow brought 11 dogs to the front porch and handed them over one by one for AVA officers to examine. She refused to let them enter the house, testified Mr Ong.
The officers told Leow that landed property owners can keep a maximum of three dogs and advised her to rehome them or hand them over to animal welfare groups. They also asked her to microchip and license her dogs.
Mr Ong said Leow was reluctant to accept AVA's advice. Sometime in October 2016, Leow called him and said she needed AVA's assistance, as her dogs were "dying one by one".
When Mr Ong arrived at the location she provided – The Pet Hotel in Pasir Ris Farmway 2 – he realised there were 50 dogs. Thirty-six were alive and 14 were dead. He later learnt there were another 10 dogs that were unaccounted for.
According to Mr Ong, Leow said she disposed of the 10 dogs after they died. AVA officers advised Leow to get a vet to test all the live dogs, in order to separate the infected ones from the non-infected ones and prevent more deaths.
He said Leow did not explain why she had so many dogs – all of which were bichon-maltese crosses.
In June 2018, Voices for Animals notified AVA that Leow's dogs that were with the animal welfare group were infested with ticks. One dog had diarrhoea and another was pregnant.
Leow, who was unrepresented, asked Mr Ong multiple questions in an attempt at cross-examination. In her questioning, she said she had cooperated with Mr Ong and provided him with updates.
I WOULD NOT HAVE PLACED MY DOGS THERE IF I KNEW ABOUT THE OUTBREAK: LEOW
When Leow was told to rehome her dogs, she sought lodging for them at The Pet Hotel, she claimed. She repeatedly questioned Mr Ong why he did not know that the hotel had a bad outbreak of parvovirus.
She said if she would not have placed her dogs there if she had known about the outbreak.
"If I know got virus, I will definitely not be moving in. Even if they (AVA) want me to get another place for my dogs, I will not be moving in. And all my 14 dogs will not be dying in this way," she said.
She said she had taken Dog 11 to the vet but was not allowed to go in, as the vet immediately saw that the dogs she brought there had parvovirus. Asked if there was proof that she brought Dog 11 to the vet, Leow said she did not have a receipt because she was not allowed in, but asked for time to locate the cab driver that took her there.
"(The vet) asked me to put all these dogs to sleep, because it's a deadly virus," said Leow. "I refused. My question is – if I put my dogs to sleep will I be charged now?"
Mr Ong said that AVA's general recommendation to pet owners is to heed the advice of vets.
"Some good dogs, some owners bring very healthy dogs to the vet and put them to sleep. What kind of action do you call that, Mr AVA officer? I understand there's no measure for that," said Leow.
The prosecution interjected to say Mr Ong is not in a position to answer, and that it is not relevant to the charge.
Mr Ong said it is the basic responsibility of a pet owner to ensure the place they house their dogs in is kept clean, and that the animals are well, supplied with food and water and ample space to roam around.
He said that Dog 11's body condition score was 1 out of 9, which meant it was very emaciated.
"As a dog owner, when you are able to see the ribcage, it at least warrants to send for treatment," said Mr Ong.
Leow claimed that someone from Voices for Animals took 34 of her dogs and lost one of them. When she found the dog in a drain, it was very skinny, but it began improving when she moved it to the pet hotel.
"I have so many dogs, I can compare. I know! Even the vet himself will not have the same dog, same breed, so many numbers," she said.
"I did not mistreat my dog," she stressed.
The trial continues. If convicted of failing to take reasonable steps to ensure that her pets were protected from and rapidly diagnosed of any significant injury or disease, Leow could be jailed for up to a year and fined up to S$10,000 per charge. She could also be banned from keeping pets for a period of time.