Thinking Allowed: The Stray Dog Problem in Ipoh
By Mariam Mokhtar
Stories about dogs being tortured, maimed and killed appear to be on the rise. Dogs have been poisoned in various parts of the country. One dog in Sabah had his lower jaw sliced off. Others have been bundled into sacks and dumped into a river or beaten. In the latest case, in Langkawi, someone killed a dog with arrows. What happened to human compassion? None of the religions say that we must be cruel to animals.
If the manner in which we treat animals is a reflection of our society, what do the stories about animals being tortured or killed in Malaysia say about us?
Ipoh, as in most parts of the country, has a stray dog problem. Various individuals have recognised that something needs to be done, because it is evident, that the authorities are unable to cope.
Aware that stray animals pose an acute and growing problem that must be addressed, veterinarian, Dr Ranjit Mendhir Kaur, came up with the idea of setting up a facility to deal with them.
As her practice frequently deals with stray animals, for which there is no shelter, she decided that the policy of trapping the animals and neutering them before their release into the environment, also known as a Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programme, was the next best solution. If homes could not be found for the strays, neutering would at least decrease their population, over time.
So, in 2005, Dr Ranjit set-up an animal welfare charity and called it, Noah’s Ark Ipoh (NAI). In 2011, she registered it with the Registrar of Societies and launched NAI in Ipoh. Today, she is still very active in NAI and also acts as an advisor to animal welfare groups.
NAI responds to emergency calls from the public, rescues injured animals and provides transport so they can receive treatment; however, its main aim is to reduce the stray population by TNR or adoption. They organise events to help raise funds for the work that NAI does.
NAI’s expenses are high, and often exceed the money available. Veterinary and boarding bills are a drain on their resources. A dog or cat that has been injured in an accident, may incur thousands of ringgit of treatment before it is healthy for release. NAI strives to do more than just the TNR programme.
NAI may have a small member group, but all its members provide an invaluable service and have specific roles. To keep costs down, most of its members rescue and board the strays in their own homes. They have fosterers and also provide a cat shelter which houses over 60 cats.
Rescued animals are treated, neutered and if they are not adopted, will be taken to the shelter. Animals which cannot survive on the streets are also taken to the shelter, which acts as a home for the old, disabled and those which cannot be adopted.
Ipoh has six registered NGOs which do similar work to NAI. A few just manage the stray animals, others perform a role as community feeders, whilst the rest raise funds to help neuter the strays.
Most people are not aware that NAI receives at least 10 emergency calls every day to help deal with strays. When asked how many stray dogs are found each day, Malika Ramiah Oates, NAI’s shelter manager, said, “It is difficult to say how many, as you can walk down a single street and find up to 10 strays, both cats and dogs.”
When asked if she knew how many strays could be found in a year, said, “We believe there could easily be over 30,000 strays. They multiply fast.
“A cat can have a litter every three months. A dog can have a litter every six months. Their offspring can start the cycle when they are around six months.”
She is unaware who compiles official statistics about strays.
So, why do we have so many stray cats and dogs?
Malika said, “Irresponsible pet ownership. People who have pets or dogs to protect their homes do not neuter their pets. They are allowed to roam outside and when they have a litter which they don’t want, the animals are dumped, usually at the markets or eateries.
“I don’t know how they expect newborns to survive without their mums. Many still buy animals.
“The ones who adopt strays don’t have time to take care of them. And strangely they haven’t moved away from the belief that it’s against nature and God’s will to neuter.”
NAI aims to educate the public with respect to caring for pets and has held many education programmes to create awareness.
They advise the public to reduce the number of strays by neutering their pets, by preventing the pets from roaming freely and by learning how to care for their pets.
NAI’s other little known role is the provision of an adoption service, for those who wish to adopt pets. Malika said, “We have an adoption page on our website and we also advertise on Facebook. Those who want to adopt an animal can contact us through these two mediums.
“We’ll interview them and they’ve to agree to our terms and conditions. Although we try and give up neutered animals, we sometimes give intact cats or dogs. The adopters have to agree to bring their pets back for neutering when it’s time.”
Most members of the public deal with strays by contacting the Ipoh City Council) and it is alleged that it receives over 400 complaints about strays, each month.
Other people call the various animal welfare groups to ask them to help relocate the strays, but unfortunately, this cannot be done as Malika acknowledges that this only moves one problem to another area. She also said that most do not have the skills or manpower to catch the stray dogs.
Most people report the presence of strays, but few know what happens to them. When complaints are made, the council must act. The dogs are rounded up, both the nuisance dogs and those who are minding their own business.
They are caught and taken to Papan or another dumping site. It is alleged that the council does not have a holding area, or pound, to retrieve the captured dogs.
Many people wonder why strays which are ill are not put-down humanely to reduce their suffering. Malika said, “NGOs are not permitted to euthanise the strays, because only authorised people like vets or staff from the Veterinary Department can do that. There is a charge for the service.”
Malaysia has laws to protect animals but some people allege that by-laws can be interpreted to suit the council. Many animal cruelty videos have been shown on social media, and people wonder if government employees, who are seen to be cruel to strays, are ever penalised.
In Ipoh, people also wonder why strays are allegedly dumped in Papan, a small town on the outskirts of Ipoh which is largely deserted. Is it because dumping strays there is convenient, as it is away from the residential areas?
It is also alleged that many of the strays, which are dumped in Papan, without shelter, food or water, wander off in search of food and water and are killed on the busy Lumut highway.
Others walk aimlessly on the main roads trying to find their way home. Some run into the jungle. Others are too scared to come out for food, which is provided by compassionate individuals.
Many strays fight and die from their injuries. Many dogs become pregnant and the puppies are killed or die. Some of the survivors are fed by kind volunteers but most starve.
So, will Ipoh City Council and the Veterinary Department act responsibly to deal with the problem of stray animals? There are many reports of dumped animals, tortured and killed dogs, so there must be some tension between dog owners and households that do not have pets.
To reduce the population of strays, and to help with animal care and welfare, pet owners could take note of the following
- Be a responsible pet owner.
- Don’t shop. Adopt a stray.
- Neuter your pet.
- Do not let it stray.
- Do not abandon your pet when you are tired of it. Do not abandon it, when it gets old. Do not abandon it, when you have to move house. Do not abandon it, when it is sick. Do not abandon it, when you have a new baby. Do not abandon your parent’s pet, when they die.
Ipoh City Council cannot resolve the problem of strays. They must work with local NGOs, but pet owners can also do their bit.
A pet is not just for birthdays, or Christmas or for Valentine’s Day. A pet is for life.
Be a responsible pet owner!