Are you my forever home?
By Margaret Apau
IN 2012, the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) shelter at 6 ½ Mile Penrissen Road received 5,055 animals and strays, up 66% from 2011.
The shelter received an average of 324 animals daily. Ideally, the shelter can house 170 animals. Today, it houses 270 on a plot of land that is less than an acre, about a quarter of it portioned off for strays or pets that get brought in almost every day by all three municipal councils: Majlis Bandaraya Kuching Selatan (MBKS), Dewan Bandaraya Kuching Utara (DBKU) and Majlis Perbandaran Padawan (MPP).
Over recent years, the shelter has been noticeably shedding its image as a dead-end place for unwanted pets and stray animals. Besides improving its facilities to ease congestion and improve sanitation, it’s hard to ignore the increasing Likes on the Society’s Facebook page which now has 12,583 likes and counting.
Last year, they held the first WAG music festival and fun-walk for owners and their pets, this year adding the Animazing Race strictly for human participants and the Wiggle Waggle Walk for owners and their pets. Yesterday’s day-long Animals and the City international symposium was a real eye-opener for representatives in legislation and various organisations.
Outside of its fund-raising activities, the shelter works on building awareness of being responsible pet owners, which include ‘show and tell’ activities at the shelter for companies and schoolchildren.
“Their first impression when they come here is ‘Wow there are so many animals here’,” says SSPCA Chairman Rebecca D’Cruz amidst the barking and the meowing of the animals at the shelter. “There’s nothing like holding a kitten or puppy in your hands as you tell the kids why this animal shouldn’t be here, and that’s when you introduce the important messages like why it’s important to spay or neuter the animals and how you should care for your pets… you don’t just throw them out in the garbage just because you feel like it.”
Other efforts they’ve discharged this year to find ways to control the stray population is Phase 1 of the Kuching-wide Stray Dog Survey. It proves to be the first survey in Malaysia and is intended to help local councils better strategise efforts towards controlling the stray population.
In 2012, in partnership with DBKU and MBKS, they organised subsidised neutering campaigns for DBKU and MBKS residents respectively. A total of 496 animals were signed up, 292 of which were eventually neutered.
Despite the leaps and bounds they’ve made in the public eye, there’s still a lot of work to do to inform and educate the public when it comes to the shelter’s role and responsibilities.
“Our role here is: we are not the old folks’ home for animals, we are a halfway house. Our role here is to care for the animals until we can find them a home to make way for another animal. So we need to get the animals to move through the system and that’s why we have adoption campaigns.”
In 2012 alone, only 10% of the animals (557) got adopted, down 13% from 2011. D’Cruz says that a healthy turnover would be getting 30% of the animals adopted annually.
She said that adult cats and dogs were very hard to put up for adoption because people have an issue about bonding.
“But I found that as long as you’re kind to them and they’re happy, they’ll bond. It’s getting over that perception that older animals don’t bond. The senior ones are calmer, they’re not biting their way through everything. Maybe they’ll live for another three or more years, but at least you can rest easy knowing that you gave these animals at least three or more years of a good life.”
ANIMAL VILLAGE: THE FUTURE OF ANIMAL WELFARE
For three years now, the SSPCA has been talking to the government about getting a new piece of land to facilitate its operations.
“Ideally we should be in a space that is about three acres minimum if you factor in that we need a clinic proper, space for cremation, hospital and quarantine space for new animals that come in that are infected and we can isolate them, all of which is happening now.
“In a new space, we can zone things better. And we also want a bonding park, for those who come to adopt an animal, there would be an area where people can see if the animal suits them or not.”
Designed by Design Network Architecture, the cost of building Animal Village comes up to RM1.5 million and will include an animal clinic, quarantine centre, a bonding park for prospective owners and pets, a dog park with picnic facilities for the public, animal crematorium and cremation services.
So far, SSPCA has raised RM206,973 from donations and events and RM150,000 pledged for the new Animal Village. It costs RM22,048 on average to run the shelter each month.
“We wanted to set up the picnic or barbecue area for public access because we hear a lot of complaints that people are having a lot of problems finding spaces to walk their animals because council parks don’t allow people to bring their animals there. A lot of European countries have this concept of an animal park so we want people to come here to walk their pets, take their families for family outings.”
Once completed, Animal Village will be the SSPCA’s most visible revamp of its image yet. “We want the public to move away from the concept that the shelter is for the injured or animals that get thrown away so it’s going to be a place where that’s all about celebrating animals. Yes, we take care of the injured but it’s also a place to come and spend time with the animals, learn about the animals, and animal welfare.”
“There’s a perception that we put animals down ‘willy-nilly’,” says D’Cruz. Of the 5,055 animals the shelter received last year, 2,200 animals (57%) had to be euthanised due to illness.
“That’s not the case here, we have very strict criteria and putting down the animal is the absolute last resort,” she explains. “We will put an animal down if the councils pick it up from somewhere and they are in such a bad state that the vets say there’s nothing else we can do for the animal. Because we are a society for the PREVENTION of cruelty, it would be cruel to prolong their suffering.”
Sometimes because the animals are sick and in such proximity with each other at the shelter, disease like canine parvovirus can be spread.
“Distemper is also big problem, but most of the ones we see are at a very late stage and we have to put them down. Other problems are skin problem like mange, and other bacterial problems.”
THE BENEFITS OF CREMATING YOUR PET
The shelter is also the only shelter in Malaysia that has a crematorium. Besides handling mass cremations, they also offer private cremations for the public.
“We also offer private cremations, and return the ashes to you. It took a while for people to understand the concept. We are pushing it as a safe and hygienic way to dispose of carcasses.”
Another unpleasant reality in Kuching is that people still dump their dead pets out with garbage or into the river, making it somebody else’s problem.
“What’s RM25 or RM28 to pay for an animal that you’ve taken care of and ensuring that you dispose of it in a hygienic way that doesn’t infect people with bacteria?”
To learn more about the SSPCA or how you can help, contact them at (082)618200, visit their website at www.sspca.sarawak.com.my or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ongoing activities by the SSPCA today (Oct 12) at the BCCK include the WAG Bazaar, the Wiggle Waggle Walk, the Inter-Faith Pet Blessing and the WAG Music Festival.