AVA in 2-hour stand-off with Buangkok residents over stray dogs
Over the past week, Madam Helen Tan, 53, has been having sleepless nights.
The Buangkok resident has been feeding stray dogs in the area for the past seven years and now, her worst nightmare has come true.
From last Thursday to Saturday, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) was in the neighbourhood trying to capture stray dogs by laying traps.
The AVA said it was taking action against the strays because some residents had complained of being chased by packs of dogs. (See report right.)
Over the past year, it has received more than 120 complaints about stray dogs, mostly about them roaming in packs.
A two-hour confrontation broke out between some residents and AVA officers last Saturday night, Chinese newspaper Shin Min Daily News reported.
More than 10 residents created a ruckus and tried to stop the AVA officers from catching the strays.
AVA did not manage to catch any dogs that night and left with two cages, the residents said. (See report right.)
A police spokesman said they received a call over the dispute at Buangkok Link on Saturday.
He said that the parties involved were told not to breach the peace and they acknowledged this.
"No further police assistance was required," he added.
Madam Tan, a renovation contractor who lives on the 14th storey of a block overlooking a forested area where some of the dogs roam, said: "I try not to be too friendly with the dogs because I'm worried they will become used to humans and get trapped by the AVA.
"I haven't been going to work because I'm always worried that the AVA would be there before me. I've been told that they will be coming back."
Another resident who often feeds the dogs and who wanted to be known only as Madam Rekha, 38, was also concerned that the dogs would be taken away and put down.
FRIGHTENED OF HUMANS
The administrative officer said: "A stray is also a life. Besides, they are like our community dogs. They have not been disturbing us.
"In fact, they are frightened of humans because they could possibly have been abused before."
According to a notice from the Jalan Kayu Residents' Committee, the stray dogs are from an area behind the estate which is now being cleared for residential development.
"With the help of AVA, 16 stray dogs have been caught and taken away safely from our estate since August 2014," the notice said.
Mr Ricky Yeo, the president of Action for Singapore Dogs, said strays are often welcome at construction sites.
"They help to guard the area and the dogs stay there because they are fed. But when the project is completed, the dogs are often left in the lurch and they have to migrate to the populated areas," he said.
A Facebook page, A Stray's Life, has been canvassing help for the strays in Buangkok.
According to a posting, 10 three-week old puppies were caught and sent to AVA without their mother earlier this month.
Dog rescuer Madam Helen Ong, 51, who works part-time in the service industry, is looking after the puppies temporarily and is on the lookout for fosterers for them. Four of the puppies, however, have died from illnesses.
She said: "The challenge is to find an experienced fosterer. Furthermore, many dogs are not HDB-approved.
"I'm hoping that some farms would be willing to take in more of these strays."
Buangkok residents in nearby blocks have noticed the presence of the dogs, but most said they were not bothered by them because the dogs have not been aggressive.
A retiree in her 60s, who wanted to be known only as Jenny, said: "The barking at night is a nuisance and the dogs could possibly be a hazard to motorists because of the way they cross the road."
The grandmother of two added: "But as long as they are not provoked, I don't think they pose a danger."
- Additional reporting by Peng Hong Jin
AVA: The dogs are a danger
Buangkok resident Shaik Yusof was on his way to work at 5.30am when he noticed a dog following him.
He stamped his foot and the dog went away. But to his horror, a pack of about nine dogs started following him.
The 39-year-old safety coordinator said: "It's the first time I have been chased by dogs and the first thought that came to my mind was that I could get bitten."
The father of two children, aged nine and 10, added: "I've seen the dogs loitering, waiting for food. I'm worried about my children's safety."
Another resident, Madam Connie Contreras, 44, an accountant, has seen the dogs chasing children on their bicycles.
The mother of three said: "I'm constantly worried because I don't know when they will attack."
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) brought up these examples to explain why it was taking action on the stray dog population in Buangkok.
Its spokesman said: "Concerned parents have expressed worries over the safety of their children.
"To ensure public safety, AVA has to act on such feedback and conduct surveillance and control operations to round up stray dogs."
And, the spokesman added, although rabies has not been reported here for 60 years, the disease is still endemic in the region.
The fatal disease can be transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected animal.
SPREAD OF DISEASE
"In the event of a rabies incursion, stray dog populations can act as a reservoir for the spread of the disease to humans and other animals, including wildlife," she said.
"The number of strays in the environment must be managed as free-roaming strays can facilitate the spread of rabies, as well as hamper disease control and eradication."
AVA said it works closely with animal welfare groups to rehome impounded dogs.
Since May, 10 of the 14 dogs that were impounded in the Buangkok area have been rehomed.
The remaining four were put down.
Residents chase dogs back into forest
About 10 Buangkok residents got into a heated confrontation with dog catchers hired by the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) last Saturday.
This was not the first time the AVA was there so the residents were well-prepared. They brought whistles and party horns to chase the dogs back into the forest so that they would not be caught, reported Chinese paper Shin Min Daily News.
Mr Ng Ah Pik, 68, who would drive from his home in Serangoon to Buangkok to feed the dogs every day, was there on Saturday night.
The lorry driver and former Buangkok resident said in Mandarin: "They had already taken one away in a cage and we were scared that they would take more away.
"We were very angry and we made noise to make sure the dogs went back to hide."
Madam Helen Tan, 53, added: "I hit the (construction site) barricades until my hands were swollen so that the dogs would run away. Some of the dog catchers tried to stop me from doing that."
When The New Paper was at Buangkok Link on Tuesday evening, Madam Tan and some residents were trying to chase several dogs back into the forest.
They were worried the dogs would get caught after receiving a tip-off that dog catchers were in the area.
They threw stones, shouted and chased the dogs across the road, sometimes without checking if there was oncoming traffic.
Two residents also removed food from a trap that they believed had been set by AVA officers.
An AVA spokesman said: "While we understand the public's concern for the animals, we would like to advise them not to hinder our trapping operations.
"Obstruction of public duties is an offence and is liable, upon conviction, to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment up to 12 months."
Action for Singapore Dogs president Ricky Yeo said that a "blanket sweep" operation would inevitably draw displeasure from animal lovers.
"We would usually ask our registered dog feeders to ask for identification, but often these trappers get hostile and refuse," he said.
Mr Yeo, who has been involved in dog rescue for the past 15 years, said his group has been pushing for a trap-neuter-and-release solution instead of culling.
He said the former has been successful in Hong Kong and San Francisco.
"Currently, AVA traps the dog and we will bail them out to temporary shelters or fosterers. There is never enough space in shelters, but if we don't take them out, they will be culled."
Ms Joanne Ng, CEO of the Cat Welfare Society, thinks that mediation with the authorities and education is crucial.
For the CWS, efforts in mediation have been crucial in reducing the number of cat cullings.
The AVA euthanised about 1,000 strays last year, a huge drop from 3,300 in 2008 and 13,000 in 2001.