By Joelyn Jonathan
Dogs and cats are cute furry animals often given as gifts to loved ones. What most people don’t realise is, that one impulsive act of falling in love with that adorable fur bundle is a commitment of 10-15 years of feeding, walking and caring. Not to mention visits to the vet to vaccinate, neuter and manage the odd little ailments that may occur. And while they are cuteness itself as kittens and puppies, it’s quite another matter when they are fully grown. And how about when there is an accidental litter from the Lothario next door? Ipoh Echo went in search and this is what we gathered about the stray population in Ipoh.
Whom Do We Blame?
“Stray” by definition means someone or something that has been separated from where it should have been. Focusing on Ipoh city, this most popular tourist spot is now a home for strays. The stray population in Ipoh has increased remarkably over the years. The population of strays in Ipoh could easily breach the 5000 mark. They are mostly found in residential areas such as Taman Botani, Tambun, Buntong and Kg Simee. They are also found at market areas and factories. The dogs found here usually move in packs.
Stray dogs and cats are said to have a shorter lifespan compared to home pets. This is because they are susceptible to diseases, starvation, poisoning and napping by the unscrupulous. They are also being deliberately harmed by the inconsiderate who would throw stones, whack them and even run over them with their vehicles. A number of cats and dogs are also killed on the roads. Dogs, for obvious reasons, are more likely to succumb to these treacherous deeds than cats.
The public’s greatest concern, when it comes to strays, is the harm that they may cause. But whom do we blame? More than half of these strays are the result of irresponsible pet owners. Dogs, especially, are dumped once they outgrow their usefulness. Since most are not spayed they multiply fast.
When it comes to rescuing, people expect non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to take the lead. NGOs such as Ipoh Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) and Noah’s Ark have been doing their best by neutering the rescued dogs. Depending on NGOs will not solve the problem. Pet owners should also play their part by ensuring that their dogs and cats are vaccinated, dewormed and spayed.
Pet Dumping – Why?
According to Malika Ramiah Oates of Noah’s Ark the main reason for pet-dumping is irresponsible owners who do not neuter their pets. A handful of owners do not have the funds to neuter their pets while some give ridiculous reasons why they did not. Once a female dog delivers, the puppies are left to fend for themselves. Dogs mature when they are six months old and hence they are able to reproduce. The stray cycle continues from then on.
“Killing is not the answer,” said Malika. The authorities go around killing the strays by whatever means possible. For reasons of safety, shooting is no longer an option. They have opted to poison the strays instead. Sometimes healthy neutered dogs are caught, dumped and be put down as well. In spite of this, the stray population continues to explode. Strays are still seen roaming the city. People want dogs to guard their properties but are not ready for the responsibility that follows. According to Malika, City Council should implement compulsory neutering and vaccination for rabies. Microchipping pets is another alternative to reduce the stray population. Microchipping is to deter dumping. Old dogs are viewed as burdens by some owners thus they are dumped. Dumping is an act of cruelty and owners can be prosecuted under the Animal Welfare Act 2015.
Ways to Handle Strays
According to Dr Ranjit K. Mendhir, a veterinarian from Ipoh and also the founder of Noah’s Ark, strays are usually owner-owned dogs. The first step in handling strays is by neutering these dogs. “The neutering should be done either privately or at government clinics. Regardless, mongrels or pedigrees, they should be spayed,” said Ranjit. The second step is by reducing the license fees for neutered pets so people would be encouraged to neuter their pets. As for non-neutered pets, the fee should be higher, as some owners are just too stubborn to do so.
Ipohites were urged to buy permits for their dogs from Ipoh City Council. The price was fixed at RM30. Despite the price, many owners are still reluctant to get one. Owners with four dogs may find it problematic. The permit price should be reduced further so owners can afford to get one.
Disposing food waste in a proper manner plays a part in managing strays. Dogs and cats are often seen loitering around eateries, food stalls, food courts and residential areas. Restaurant owners, as well as the community, should learn the proper way of managing leftovers. Strays are attracted to food sources. “A proper dumping site should be earmarked for the strays. By doing so, cats and dogs are able to forage for food at a designated area and not roam around residential and business areas,” added Ranjit.
The fourth step is to urge and educate the public to adopt rather than to buy. The community should understand that by adopting, the stray population can be reduced and, eventually, there will be lesser strays on the streets. “People tend to listen more when the directive comes from City Council. I think that the Council should work hand in hand with NGOs to overcome the stray problem,” explained the vet.
Banners should be hung around the city to create awareness regarding strays. They should carry messages encouraging the public to adopt and neuter their pets. Such banners should be placed at hospitals, bus and train terminals and at shopping malls. This should not be a one-off but rather a continuous effort.
Those who feed strays voluntarily should act responsibly. “We don’t mind working with them to neuter the dogs, but the first step has to come from them,” said Ranjit. Besides that, construction workers should get a sum of money from the developer before beginning a project. When dogs are brought into the construction sites to guard the materials, the population of dogs in that area multiplies. Upon completion of the project, the dogs are left to fend for themselves. Ranjit suggests contractors adopt neutered dogs from a shelter for the task. They can then be converted into community dogs. There are many ways to manage strays. Ranjit stresses the importance of neutering. She insisted that dumping dogs in Papan should not be the choice, as the problem is never resolved.
Ginla Chew, a community feeder at Kg. Simee, who does her feeding every evening with her assistant, Ah Fat, said that the younger generation should be taught how to manage strays. Strays do not normally bring harm to the community. They fight among themselves to ascertain their hierarchy. They also fight for affection. According to Ginla strays are the result of owners with an opposite mindset. They keep dogs for only one purpose – to guard their properties. Therefore, they do not see the need to spend money on vaccination/medication.
“Irresponsible owners leave their pets on the streets as they grow older. This is cruelty, at best. From puppy till the dog is fully grown, the owner should be responsible,” said Ginla. A passionate dog lover, Ginla is up every morning at 4.00am to cook for the dogs. On average, she and her assistant feed around 60 dogs both morning and evening. And all this from her own pocket, not including the money she spends on neutering and vaccinating them.
“The public should not spend thousands buying dogs from pet shops. They should instead adopt and give those homeless puppies a proper home to live” she added. According to Ginla most of the sick dogs are infested with ticks or are wounded during fights.
Terrin, another community feeder from Bercham, felt that Ipoh has now become a city for strays. Terrin uses her own money to feed, neuter and vaccinate the dogs. Although she is more of a cat lover, she treats them equally. The government and the public play an equal role in handling the stray population. “I know of many owners who leave their newly-born puppies on the streets. They dump these puppies close to areas where there are feeders, making them our responsibility,” she lamented.
The government and well-meaning individuals should help these NGOs and community feeders overcome the stray population. When asked whether she would encourage to adopt or to buy, she simply said that a true dog lover would adopt a dog rather than buy one. “Give these homeless a shelter and give them love. Most strays are people-friendly. They’ve been traumatised by past events,” she said.
Well known among the rescuers community in Ipoh, Sifu, a Buddhist nun also owns a shelter off Jalan Gopeng. She has rescued about 100 dogs and she feeds all of them every day. Most of her dogs are rescued puppies that she picked up from the streets. Most have been ill-treated, emaciated and in poor health. Sifu has been saving strays for about 30 years. Her sister helps her with the daily feeding at the shelter. Obtaining food for her dogs has always been an uphill battle but Sifu continues undaunted. The food and medical expenses for her shelter usually cost RM8000 to RM10,000. All her fur babies are neutered and vaccinated to control the stray population. Due to the lack of space, her shelter no longer accepts stray dogs.
Rabies is a fatal disease. This viral disease is caused by wild animals such as monkeys, bats, racoons and dogs. In Malaysia, the disease is caused by dogs. The rabies virus is spread via the saliva of an infected animal. In January 2019, a rabies outbreak was declared in Taiping. Over the years, rabies outbreaks have occurred in Malaysia with Sarawak having the highest number of deaths due to the disease. In order to prevent the disease from spreading, several dogs were put to sleep. In the process, even healthy dogs were culled.
If you have been bitten by a dog, these are some of the signs and symptoms that you need to be aware of: fever, headache, nausea, anxiety and hydrophobia. If any of these symptoms occur, seek immediate medical help.
Dr Ranjit shared her own experience that she was once bitten by a dog and was tested positive for rabies. She advised that the first remedial step is to seek medical assistance as soon as possible and it is crucial to remain calm.
Most rabies outbreaks in Malaysia are caused by dogs that enter our borders via pet shop owners. These dogs are not vaccinated. A new rule saying that all dog owners should own an anti-rabies vaccine should be imposed in Malaysia, as it is done in India. Why wait for an outbreak when the problem can be solved?
Strays do not cause harm if the problem is managed properly. Culling is not the only solution. Start taking responsibility. Dogs are paying the price more than cats. Dog lovers should step out and help overcome the problem. Do not dump everything on the government as it has other problems to attend to.
Attempts by the scribe to get Ipoh City Council and the State Veterinary Clinic at Kg Simee, Ipoh to respond to questions posed were unsuccessful at the time of reporting.
An annual fundraising dinner will be held on Saturday, May 25, 7.30pm at Shi Fang Zhai Vegetarian Restaurant to help the stray problem. Tickets are priced at RM60, RM100 for VIP and RM300 for VVIP. For more information, please call: 017-5832920 or 012-5918023.
Donations are welcome. Please remit your money to Persatuan Peliharaan Haiwan Terbiar Perak (Maybank: 508289307028).
If you are interested to adopt puppies or dogs, please call 012-2368144 (Ginla Chew). All puppies and dogs are vaccinated, dewormed and have no ticks.