KUALA LUMPUR: Sometime in April, Fatimah (not her real name) contacted her friends to find out if they had any cat to spare.
The private-sector clerk, who is in her late 30s and has a young child, even “advertised” for a cat on Facebook.
Fatimah, who has never kept a pet prior to that, was apparently in search of a feline companion to keep her and her family occupied during the Movement Control Order (MCO).
“We can’t go out anywhere... it will be nice to have a cat to keep us company,” she said.
Incidentally, during the MCO – enforced since March 18 – many social media users have been making requests to adopt puppies and kittens. Explaining why they wanted a pet, some said they had a lot of time on their hands while others said their children were bored and wanted a cat or dog to play with.
And, when queried by animal rescuers in the comments section, most of them said they have either never owned a pet before or it has been a long time since they had one.
So, what will happen to their newly-adopted pets once life gets back to normal post-MCO when they return to the office and children to school?
Like the Malay idiom Habis madu sepah dibuang (After the honey is drained, the remnants are discarded) will the poor animals be dumped onto the streets after they have outlived their usefulness?
This is exactly what seasoned animal rescuer and Malaysia Animal Society president Arie Dwi Andika is worried about. Describing it as an unhealthy culture, he said abandoning pets when they are no longer useful should not be happening in this country as Malaysians are in general educated and compassionate towards animals.
“To legitimise their actions, they would say they have no time (to look after their pets) or have too many commitments or the neighbours are complaining,” he said.
He said abandoned pets usually fare very poorly on the streets as they have no survival skills. As such, these animals would normally starve to death or become ill or get killed by predators or meet with an accident.
“Even more worrying is the fact that the number of animals adopted was far lower than the number of pets abandoned during the MCO period,” he told Bernama.
In April, media reports had quoted Arie as saying that the dumping of pet animals such as cats and dogs had tripled in and around the federal capital during the MCO.
He did not rule out the possibility that the pet owners were acting out of fear that their pets may transmit the COVID-19 virus to them or they may not be able to look after them after losing their source of income due to the MCO.
Arie said taking home a pet, whether it is a stray or an expensive purebred cat or dog, is a long-term commitment for the owner who must be ready and willing to look after it forever.
“Caring for an animal includes taking it to a veterinary doctor for regular vaccinations to keep it disease-free and neutering it so that it doesn’t reproduce,” he said.
SHELTERS NOT THE SOLUTION
Expecting animal shelters to become more congested when more people start dumping their pets there, Arie said over-congestion is the reason why rescuers are not able to run their shelters well.
“The real function of a shelter is to temporarily house injured rescued animals that are treated and then (put up for adoption or) released again,” he said, adding that animals by nature like to be free and would not want to be left in a cage.
Commenting on the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) 2015 which, among others, protects the well-being of pets, Arie said enforcement of the law has been ineffective due to weaknesses in producing proof of ownership.
“For example, if an abandoned pet has no collar or microchip embedded in its body, how can we find out who the owner is? The Act does not provide for a microchip identification system which we think is necessary to help detect owners who abandon their animals,” he explained.
He also said that in Malaysia, animal rescue groups are at odds with the local authorities over the management of strays.
Pointing to their Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programme – whereby street cats and dogs are trapped, neutered and then released again – Arie said while their humane initiative kept the stray populations in check, the local authorities, on the other hand, prefer to trap and kill animals that pose a nuisance to the public.
“Our TNR efforts are wasted when animals that have been neutered (the tip of their ears are clipped to indicate this) are caught and killed,” he said.
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) patron Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye, meanwhile, urged those who have adopted pets during the MCO to make the necessary arrangements to ensure the animals are cared for when they are at work.
Dumping them on the streets or in markets is the most irresponsible thing to do, he said, adding that when a person decides to take a pet, they should be willing to look after it until it dies.
“Pets are not playthings that can be discarded when one gets bored with them. Animals reared at home depend entirely on their owners, not only for food, water and shelter but also tender loving care,” he said.
Stressing the importance of AWA 2015, which was enforced in 2017, Lee said animal abuse cases had increased by 30 percent in 2018.
Urging the authorities to act immediately each time an animal cruelty case is reported to them, he said in their efforts to apprehend and punish the perpetrators concerned, they should also create a special line for people to call and report animal abuse. - Bernama