ON March 22, Patrick Khoo, a senior citizen and animal feeder, was injured in a tussle with the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ). CCTV footage and videos uploaded on social media by an eyewitness show MBPJ personnel aggressively entering his premises demanding to take his dogs away. Following the incident, Khoo was charged under section 186 of the penal code for obstructing public servants in the discharge of their duties. The charge states that Khoo deliberately hindered the officer from performing his job. Khoo pleaded not guilty. Case management set to be heard on June 16. No legal action was taken against the MBPJ personnel, who allegedly struck Khoo during the dog catching operation, as it was stated that his actions were unintentional.
Now, let’s discuss why this case is but the tip of the iceberg for animal welfare in Malaysia, particularly referring to stray dogs.
Malaysia’s more than 140 town councils have been culling stray dogs as a means for population control for decades despite international organisations stating that the trap-neuter-return model is more effective. This model is practised by many of our neighbouring countries with the help of these organisations. If they can do it, why can’t we? Is it because we won’t? Culling is cruel. In the Klang Valley alone in 2019, Selangor reported catching 29,463 dogs, referring to them as “anjing liar” (wild dogs). These dogs often suffer injury and trauma due to the brutality of the process. The conditions of the pounds are often horrific. Some councils do not even have pounds so dogs are kept in the truck overnight before being surrendered to a contracted shelter. In fact, one of Uncle Khoo’s captured puppies contracted distemper because of this and almost died. Mind you, most of these dogs go unclaimed and are euthanised, protocol unknown. Malaysia has 13 states and three federal territories. Millions of animals have lost their lives since the Local Government Act 1976 was passed. This practice has not only failed to address the issue, but has also been immensely cruel, inhumane, and barbaric.
These animals were born on the streets because of a failed and broken system. A system that has failed to curb their population despite catching and culling for years. A system that has failed to control irresponsible breeding and abandonment.
Dragging an old man to court for protecting his dogs is pointless and a waste of time. Please drop these charges and let’s work together to address the roots of the problem. Let’s have the decency to admit that the current process is futile and unjust. It must change.
Firstly, we must start a systematic nationwide programme to eradicate rabies in our stray dog population by mass vaccination. The public will be more tolerant of stray dogs if we can achieve this. We must also educate them on this issue. Dogs are actively being culled in Sarawak because of rabies. Culling instead of vaccinating strays for rabies been repeatedly condemned by experts all over the world, including the World Health Organization. Let’s not repeat the mistake of 2015 when an outbreak occurred in Penang, Perlis, and Kedah. At the time, the World Veterinary Society was ready to supply 50,000 vaccines and the workforce to conduct a mass vaccination programme in Penang. However, due to paperwork delays, more than 4,500 dogs in the northern region were killed. Only four stray dogs culled in Penang had tested positive for rabies. This was beyond shocking.
Let’s work with these organisations to make Malaysia rabies free. We can achieve this. And we must amend the Destruction of Disease Bearing Act of 1975 to remove our stray dogs as a source of rabies. At the same time, local councils must start practicing TNR. Emulate the Penang Island Municipal Council which has been working to TNR with the International Aid for the Protection and Welfare of Animals since 2015. They also vaccinate all released dogs. TNR is the most effective form of dog population control. The Veterinary Services Department (DVS) has been adamant about not acknowledging TNR and on-site neutering. We urge the Malaysia Veterinary Council and DVS to readdress this unpopular policy that hinders mass spaying/neutering of stray animals on site and in shelters. The current policy of taking strays to a veterinary clinic is a large obstacle thrown at rescuers. This process is ineffective and time consuming. We have written several letters to DVS to get clarity on the process and applied to bring foreign help to conduct spay camps, without getting a response.
To protect TNR dogs, the local Government Act of 1976 must be amended for the addition of a clause in the local council by-laws that allows street dogs to remain in their natural surroundings and to live out the rest of their lives on the streets provided they are under the care of feeders, rescuers and animal welfare groups. Malaysia Dogs Deserve Better is championing this policy. Bring back programme such as Klinik Kembiri and the PAWS Selangor neutering subsidy, which mirrored the animal care model developed by Dr Chan Kah Yein. Why are we regressing and not budgeting for these effective programmes?
Coming back to Khoo. If the local council bylaws were accepting of the docile stray dogs he cared for, the council personnel would not have been at his home in the first place. All these issues are intertwined; therefore, a broad and comprehensive approach will yield the best outcome.
Curb irresponsible pet ownership and breeding which leads to the abandonment of dogs that increases the stray population. Empower and practise section 29(p) of the Animal Welfare Act of 2015 where abandonment of an animal carries harsh penalties. Enforce strict licensing and surveillance of breeders. Licensing requirements of pet dogs must include microchipping and consideration to mandate rabies vaccination. All pet owners who do not comply should face heavy penalties.
Please, leaders and politicians, drop Uncle Khoo’s case. There is a lot more important work that needs to be done.
In the United States, animal welfare practices vary by state and county, just like in Malaysia. The Filbert’s Foundation for Furry Friends (F5) is based out of Kitsap County, Washington state. The Kitsap Humane Society (KHS) in the state is an equivalent body to a local council in Malaysia. The KHS investigated 3,107 citizen complaints in 2020. They rescued 3,818 animals. Strays without a microchip are held for 96 hours. Those with a microchip will are held for seven days while attempts are made to contact the owners. There is no bail fee. After this period, KHS will perform a health exam, revaccinations and then attempt to get these animals adopted or fostered. Several hundred foster families are working with the KHS, which has four veterinarians on staff on site. In 2020, they sterilised 3,529 animals, or 9.6 per day. They have a low cost spay and neuter programme for low-income pet owners which brings them a revenue of about US$150,000 (RM679,000) a year. Updated 2022 data show they have a 94% life release rate. This means 94% of the animals they rescue are reclaimed or adopted. Those that are euthanised have serious health or behavioural issues. The ASPCA site shows that 12% of the dogs in shelters across the US are euthanised.
We are looking to help Malaysian councils emulate a similar model. We want to raise awareness of the sad stray dog situation in Malaysia to Malaysians overseas. We need them to also be motivated to help our cause. We hope to work with the Malaysian government to accept the help of international animal welfare organisations. Just like religion, we believe there animal welfare should not be politicised. Let us do the right thing.
This petition was created for this and has been signed by many. – May 18, 2023.
* Namita Gill MD is president of Filbert’s Foundation for Furry Friends, a US society founded in 2022 to help Malaysian stray dogs.
* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight. Article may be edited for brevity and clarity.