It's a common sight in any urban township. Except that in most cases, dogcatchers seldom exercise restraint when going after strays or even pets.
IT is one day an 11-year-old girl will unlikely forget. On July 15, a group of armed men stormed into her neighbourhood in Labuan and shot her pet dog twice in front of her house compound.They hoisted the badly wounded dog, still kicking alive, by its tail and left.Jonathan Ang, father of the Year Five student, says his daughter is still having nightmares and has yet to recover from the trauma.The 20 to 30 “trained sharp-shooters” were deployed by the Labuan Corporation's Veterinary Department to eliminate strays in the area, with help from the People's Volunteer Corp (Rela).
In the 12-day operation which started on July 9, 471 dogs were killed, falling short of the targeted 500.A bounty of RM30 was set on each killed dog, says Ang.On that day, Ang's daughter Jocelyn, together with 10 other children, were playing with her dog in a playground in Taman Sea View when the men arrived and shouted at them to stay away.They shot Jocelyn's dog in the leg, and gave chase when the dog ran towards the house, shooting at it a second time in full view of the screaming children.
Ang can't fathom why a dangerous weapon like the rifle was used, why pets were killed, and why children had to be exposed to such cruelty.“There was no regard for safety. A missed shot hit the wall of my fence. There were people running around at that time! What if a stray bullet had hit someone? “My dog didn't die instantly. I don't know how to explain the incident to my daughter. It was just inhumane.”In the Klang Valley, some captured strays have been subjected to a slow and painful death, says a witness.
Most municipal councils lease dog catching contracts to contractors, and some to private dogcatchers.Operations are conducted occasionally, but some contractors catch dogs as and when they like, says the source.“Municipal councils pay RM35 to RM50 for a dog, so it's good business (for dogcatchers). They no longer act based on public complaints. “At times, they encroach on other territories to hunt for more dogs - strays or pets.”In Balakong, there was a case of dogcatchers lowering a rope into a workshop compound to lasso a blind puppy out.
Animal rights activist Jacqueline Tsang says dogcatchers have no right to trespass on a private premise to get a dog, regardless of whether or not the dog has a licence.What they can do is to issue a summons or a warning letter requesting the owner to apply for a licence.However, the authorities can catch any unleashed dog outside the house compound. It is learnt that three-quarters of the dogs in the Kuala Lumpur City Hall pound are owned, but were caught when irresponsible owners let them out to roam.
Some dogcatchers don't hand over their catch to the municipal council straightaway but keep the dogs in their vehicle instead.They make a trip to the council only when the vehicle's loaded with 20 to 30 dogs.Due to lack of space, many puppies and smaller dogs are trampled to death, and deadly fights break out among the bigger ones.If the dogs fight or are too noisy, the catchers would hit them with a stick. Fierce dogs have been beaten to death, the source says.Food and water are not given as the rationale is money should not be wasted on dogs that are going to be put down in the pound with a lethal injection, as is the procedure.
Dogs locked up in a dogcatchers' vehicle instinctively know their fate, says a dog lover.
Cruelty knows no bounds. Wires instead of rope are used to tie the dogs caught, constricting their throat and airwayAs it can take up to weeks for the vehicle to be filled, dogs caught earlier would have died of starvation or thirst. Some dogs, due to extreme thirst, lap up a dead dog's fluids which flow from its mouth.“The stench of the dogcatchers’ van is horrible due to the many carcasses,” says the source. “Dogs can smell it from afar and make for a dash when they see the van but most of the time, they fail to escape when surrounded by up to four catchers.“Once caught and placed inside the van, these dogs can sense their fate. “Would you believe me if I say these dogs cry? They don't just howl. They have tears.“It is a pitiful sight I hope no one will ever have to see.”
Strays should be caught but they must be treated as humanely as possible, says the source.“There is a procedure. Catch the dogs, hand them over to the pound, and wait for a week or two to see if someone claims them. “If not, put them to sleep. At least in the pound, the dogs are fed.“A criminal on death row is given anything he wishes to eat before he is sent to the gallows. Why can't the same be done for animals? “Please let them die with dignity, they didn't ask to be born as strays.”
It is learnt that some dogcatchers are also involved in dognapping, selling pedigree at a discounted rate to pet shops in the Klang Valley.Some offer a full refund if the dog dies within two weeks. Another source, who had stumbled upon a dogcatchers’ van and pitied a captured dog, had bought it for a couple of hundred ringgit.The dog was diagnosed with severe dehydration.
The problem is compounded when dogcatchers are not trained and when there's no proper procedure, says Christine Chin, chairperson of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals (SPCA) Selangor.“Some municipal councils like Klang, Kajang and Ampang Jaya do not even have pounds.“Where then are these animals placed? How are they put down? Are there qualified professionals to supervise euthanasia?“And our repeated requests to witness how dogs are put down in the Selayang pound have never been entertained. It's all a mystery.“We have written to the municipal councils for years, but have never received a reply. If there's no proper handling, it goes against the good practice set by the Department of Veterinary Services.”
Chin says the Klang Municipal Council recently agreed to set up a pound but pleas to other councils have fallen on deaf ears.Kuala Lumpur City Hall's pound is a model and should be emulated, she adds.
When the New Sunday Times contacted the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council and asked where dogs caught are sent to, a public relations officer said, “Adalah tempat khas dia (There's a special place for that).”The council's deputy environmental health officer, Ghazali Abdul Wahab, says the dogs are given an injection and disposed of in a dumpsite in Klang.He says the setting up of a pound is taking longer due to the high costs involved, which he puts at RM50,000-RM60,000.
The Klang and Kajang municipal councils couldn't be reached.It is not known how owners can go about claiming pets, which have been mistaken for strays and captured by municipalities without pounds.A few sources claim that employees of Vet-Fine (M) Sdn Bhd - the contractor for the Ampang Jaya, Selayang and Johor Bahru municipal councils - do not adhere to humane dogcatching practices.
Its managing director Dr Nor Bakry Mat Drus, acknowledges that there have been ‘one or two allegations’ but dismisses the claims.“I checked each and every allegation, but so far, there is no improper practice,”“The definition of humane and inhumane practices is very subjective. When the police round up people, it might look rough to outsiders, but it's the normal way of doing things,”“I'm a registered veterinarian answerable to the Veterinary Association of Malaysia and the Malaysian Veterinary Council,”“If my company is cruel, my contract wouldn't have been extended,”Nor Bakry says his service is of great help to municipalities in keeping the population of strays to a minimum.
In Ampang Jaya alone, 250-300 dogs must be caught each month alone, he adds.He urges councils to look into shortcomings like the lack of funds in addressing this issue.Chin says SPCA has received tipoffs from concerned individuals on the whereabouts of cruel dogcatchers, but tracing them is almost impossible as they don't stay put at a spot long enough and can resort to violence.
“Once, for two to three days in a row, a gang of them drove past SPCA and yelled abuse at us. They were very threatening.”SPCA has been lobbying in vain for municipalities and the veterinary department to set guidelines on dogcatching and act against cruel practices, but a recent meeting might turn things around.The department has agreed to let SPCA draft out the guidelines, says Chin.
Proposals include compulsory registration and training for dog handlers, and hiring handlers who hold animal welfare in high esteem.“The dogcatching profession should be revamped. Instead of dogcatchers, we should have ‘animal wardens', people who like animals but treat their job as a job, not a business.”
Attempts to contact the department for comment were unsuccessful.Chin says irresponsible owners who allow their dogs to breed but turn the puppies to the streets are equally at fault.Animal cruelty is an offence, but the Animal Ordinance 1953, which imposes a maximum fine of RM200 and/or six months’ imprisonment, reflects how trivial animal welfare is in Malaysia, a far cry from neighbouring countries.
“Every country recognises animal cruelty, except ours,” says Chin.
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