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Man's (and Woman's) Best Friends

Animal abuse is on the rise. How can we stop it, asks Kavitha Darshini?


"A dog is a Man's best friend."

"To you he's a pet - to him you are everything".

Such friendly and familiar quotes address all animals and appeal to many of us.

They are seen in big prints and posters on the premises of the SPCA (Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and NANAS (Noah's Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary). They highlight the loving friendship between humans and animals.

However, such expressions are sometimes undermined in reality. This is observed through the rising statistics of animal abuse and animal cruelty articles in the papers.

It happens everyday and in every country. Over the years, we have all witnessed or read about acts of shocking cruelty and injustice done to animals on large and small scales - from the poaching of animals, to unnecessarily testing them in laboratories, right down to pet owners ill-treating their pets.

Surveys and online polls have shown the increasing number of stray animals and abandonment of pets over the years in many places, including Singapore.

To educate the public and make them comprehend animal rights, animal shelters including Singapore have expanded their websites with information on animals and people's opinions and views on bettering the lives of animals.

The public is encouraged to buy products free of animal testing and non-animal leather products. To encourage this movement shops like the Body Shop and other pharmaceuticals are established .

How do you define animal abuse ? SPCA head Deirdre Moss defines animal abuse as any form of ill-treatment of an animal either physically or through neglect. She further explained,"a person is guilty of animal abuse when they intentionally kill, injure or cause suffering to an animal, and also if they knowingly fail to provide adequate care , or adequate control of pets in their care."

Deirdre has been working with the SPCA for 18 years. She first began as a volunteer and her love for animals moved her to stay longer and help and support abused and abandoned animals.

She brings me on a tour of the SPCA. I was surprised at the number of animals in the area. Their branch at Bartley Road was small but the environment and the living conditions were well kept.

There were two separate areas. One was for animals that were healthy and put up for adoption.

Deirdre explained that this adoption scheme was to prevent overcrowding of animals at the SPCA and helped in the animals getting good homes.

Another area was secluded, for the treatment of badly injured and ill animals. According to the SPCA workers, some were found in very bad living conditions and have been neglected for a long time so that they were ill. Deirdre said some of them had very slim survival chances because the injuries they had sustained from their owners or strangers were very bad.

According to Mr Raymond Wee, founder of the Noah's Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary (NANAS) , the main reason for establishing this sanctuary in Singapore was to educate the public on animal abuse and promote the humane treatment of all animals.

What started out as a small shelter is now a proud home to over 250 dogs, 200 cats, goats, rabbits, ducks, chickens and other animals - even one pony. Raymond says, "This place provides refuge to many stray animals that have suffered because of man's disregard and rapid urbanization."

Animal abuse has become common because of owners' irresponsibility. Every month cruelty reports come into SPCA about animals being tied up or being caged for too long , or scars and injuries being inflicted upon pets, especially dogs and cats.

Whenever high-profile cases of animal abuse are reported in the media, a common public reaction is to ask "Why would someone do that?"

The Cruelty to Animals Assessment Centre discovered some of the causes that leads to animal abuse. It's shocking to find out that children and adolescents are common abusers of pets. A common BUT grave mistake made by pet owners is to abuse the animal in the name of discipline or "training". They are unaware that certain disciplining methods irritate the animals and are harsh .

Another common cause of abuse is to retaliate against an animal or bully an animal simply because the abuser is not in favour of it. For example, a phobia for cats might led to children bullying them just to satisfy a prejudice against them.

According to Deirdre 80 per cent of abused animals come from abusive homes . This is where the pet owners themselves tend to be aggressive in nature and they themselves might have been abused which leads them to lash out at their pets.

Furthermore in violent homes abuse and punishment is carried out on the animals first before being carried out on children. This has been observed by psychiatrists - that child abusers lash out on their pets before attacking their children.

Serious laws and harsh punishments are implemented for these adult abusers from heavy fining to maximum jail penalties under Singapore law. As for children who abuse animals this could be due to curiosity , peer pressure and mood enhancement . This is when the child has been punished by or bullied by someone and they take their anger out on their pets. For such young offenders behavioural experts and counsellors advise that the child or adolescent attends counseling with the parents for anger management and therapy treatment.

To help to remedy this situation and prevent animal abuse, there are certain solutions.

One of them would be to identify an animal abuser or signs and symptoms that indicate an animal has been abused. In the case of children, parents should observe whether their children are callous towards animal life or whether the child has shown any act of violence towards the animal.

They should also try and ensure that that the child does not treat their pet as a plaything.

Listening to what children say about their pets would be helpful in knowing how they feel towards animals.

Most importantly, authorities and the public should watch for homes in which pet owners are highly aggressive or violent and are abusive to their children. This is a sure sign that the animal is being abused as well.

According to Mr Raymond Wee of NANAS, an animal which has been ill-treated may cover when you approach them or have excessive aggression or anger towards strangers. This is because of the bad conditions they have been put through by their previous owners.

Animals that have been abused exhibit signs and symptoms of malnutrition, scars, or open wounds. They are found in filthy living areas and are often subject to lack of shelter.

Examples of acts of cruelty to animals include pet owners starving their pets without food or water with the lame excuse that they are busy.

Others living in small flats, simply cage up bigger animals such as dogs and cats in small cages, which greatly resists the movement of the animal.

There have been incidents where a cat was found with masking tape rolled over its neck . It could have turned disastrous for the cat if it had been too tight . In another incident,a mongrel dog was brutally beaten to death by someone just for the simple reason that it barked at him . Also a cocker spaniel , was found on the street with its face slashed across by a sharp object . All these cases highlight severe animal cruelty . The most annoying factor is that it is for simple and absurd reasons that animals are being abused .

Many of us overlook or ignorantly think that caring for an animal is easy . In fact, it requires a lot of effort , time and patience . There many ways and solutions to stop animal abuse and offer our help to our animal companions. According to the SPCA's Deirdre, young children and adolescents should be our first target in education. On-going programs in schools about cruelty to animals should be more frequently conducted. There should also be seminars and counselling for those young abusers to teach them the value of an animal's life.

The SPCA has been raising awareness and educating the public on animal abuse by holding campaigns and talks on management of pets and owners treatment towards them . It also sends out newsletters to the papers to highlight animal abuse and their publication provides more information on animal welfare issues. There has also been a joint venture by the SPCA and other animal shelters to raise funds for treatment of abused animals and to improve the living quarters of these animals in shelter homes. Furthermore the public is also educated online through various animal protection websites. Members of the public are encouraged to personally come down and witness the conditions of these animals who are left in a vulnerable state. Last but not least , the laws in Singapore are strict regarding the ill-treatment of animals and the penalty for adult offenders can reach up to 3 years in jail . This aims to stop animal abuse and such tough penalties should be meted out for people who do not respect the lives of these animals and take them for granted.

But laws can only punish abusers and stop them from ill-treating animals again. The real protection of animals is in everybody's hands. We as the public and the owners of these animals have to take animal abuse seriously.

For all those who are thinking of having pets and for those current pet owners, the main message is to be responsible to your pets . Be willing to be committed to your pets for at least 10 -12 years. Advises Deirdre, "As an owner you should be willing to pay for your pet's medical expenses, food and other expenses. Also really love and care for your pets and look out for signs that your pet is sick and needs attention . Never neglect your pet . If you are too busy, don't have one . Educate your children that an animal is not a stuffed toy that can be used and thrown . This abandonment of pets leads to more stray animals every year . Furthermore even if we are not a pet owner, we should contact our local Humane Society , the SPCA or NANAS if we know or suspect any animal being abused, neglected or in distress."

The biggest help we can provide for our animal friends is learning to respect them and their space. We should always keep in mind , "Don't treat animals in a way you don't want to be treated yourself."

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