Sunday, April 17, 2011

Untrained animal catchers a cause for concern

Untrained animal catchers a cause for concern
04:46 AM Apr 16, 2011
by Tanya Fong

SINGAPORE - To round up stray dogs, for which the authorities pay S$250 for each captured, one dog catcher uses unconventional tools like fishing lines and hooks, which indirectly led to the death of a stray dog.

Such methods employed by some independent dog catchers have become a cause for concern for animal welfare groups, who are calling for animal capture to be done more humanely.

MediaCorp understands that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) pays external dog catchers - both independents and pest control companies - to capture strays. However, according to the AVA, "there are no structured training programmes for dog catchers".

External dog catchers have to comply with AVA's guidelines for capture, handling and transport of animals and the use of animal traps, said an AVA spokesperson.

In the case of the dog catcher, Mr Francis Lee, he has been fined by the AVA for his role in the death of the dog, which died from strangulation after being caught in a noose trap, after it fell into a drain next to the trap.

Mr Lee had been engaged "with the knowledge that he was an experienced animal handler based on his many years of work in animal transportation", said the AVA.

However, several stray dog feeders reported seeing Mr Lee in the Punggol and Serangoon North Industrial Park areas catching stray dogs using mattress spring coils.

Since November, they have been disseminating alerts on their personal Facebook page with photographs of his van.

The AVA impounds about 1,800 dogs annually, of which about 95 per cent are put down via lethal injection.

It culls strays to control the stray dog population and prevent diseases such as rabies.

The issue of how strays are handled also surfaced last month when a town council alerted the Cat Welfare Society (CWS) that a sterilised cat had been caught by mistake. When CWS found the cat, it found it had been kept in a cage wrapped in a garbage bag, without food.

Said CWS vice-president Veron Lau: "It puts into question the whole process of trapping, transporting and holding strays for which the pest control industry plays a big part.

"The animal welfare organisations are happy to conduct training in animal trapping but no pest control companies have come forward."

Both the CWS and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have also published guidelines on animal capture.

The general manager of Star Pest Control, Mr Bernard Chan, said that formal training is difficult because the job involves dealing with the unpredictable but combative nature of the animals during capture.

"We must be trained because the animals have been out in the wild and we have to protect ourselves as much as we try to be humane to the animals, said Mr Chan, whose firm has been contracted by the AVA to capture dogs.

While it may be difficult to conduct training, "we can, however, have guidelines and use conventional methods", he said. Tanya Fong