Dangers of animal activism

CONTROVERSY: Seven-month-old adopted puppy Tammy was put down last month due to its allegedly aggressive behaviour.


    Nov 18, 2013

    Dangers of animal activism

    The Sunday Times

    WHEN Mrs Lisa Soh was thinking of adopting a mongrel from an animal shelter, the 40-year-old housewife was grilled by representatives on where she lived and her past pet history.

    She was told she would have to let them visit her home and talk to family members "for screening and spot checks".

    She would also have to pay an adoption and sterilisation fee and sign a contract agreeing to take good care of her new pet.

    "I know they came from a good place but, honestly, I felt they were too intense. Was I trying to give a needy dog a home or were they doing me a favour? Then when I saw how previous adopters had been flamed online, it really made me think twice," she said.

    In the end, she opted to adopt from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) instead.

    Tensions have really boiled over since expatriate Alison McElwee had her seven-month-old adopted puppy Tammy put down last month, claiming the mongrel had become too aggressive.

    Tagged a "puppy murderer", she was vilified by animal lovers who put her photos and personal information online.

    Some made racist and disparaging remarks about the British woman and her family, and she was hounded into removing her details from Facebook.

    The vet who did the deed was not spared either, with many swearing off the clinic's services, and some going so far as threatening to picket at its front door.

    I am an animal lover. And, like most animal lovers, seeing Tammy's sweet "spectacle-ringed" face in media reports, and then reading of its fate, brought tears to my eyes.

    My instinctive reaction was: "What a shame."

    Animal lovers may have every reason to be incensed over the senseless death of a young dog, but it seems that the knee-jerk reaction of some activists is to bark and bite immediately after any perceived wrong-doing.

    What's worse, this often happens even before the full story emerges and facts are established - mirroring general online behaviour where mostly anonymous netizens post with impunity when they might be far more hesitant to confront face to face.

    Even those within the animal-welfare community have not been spared, and in-fighting among groups which have different ideas and opinions is common.

    The SPCA, for instance, is often criticised for putting down animals it has no resources to take care of.

    But, in the end, all this may not do the animal crusaders any favours.

    They risk losing hard-won respect if they persist with an overly adversarial tone and, more importantly, if they allow their passion to be perceived as over-zealous vigilante behaviour.

    It would truly be a shame for these animal lovers to sabotage themselves and undo the good that the animal-welfare community, as a whole, has done.

    Because this community has come a long way since the days when its lone voice was the SPCA's.

    Indeed, the community is one of the most successful and active citizen networks in Singapore. The Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority said it works with 11 registered groups to campaign for animal welfare. A handful of other unregistered groups have popped up in recent years as well.

    And that's not counting hundreds more individuals who feed, home and volunteer for the cause.

    Yes, when it comes to Singapore's furry denizens, love has no bounds for animal crusaders. But the social-media platforms which serve them so well when it comes to sharing information and helping animals sometimes also help fan unnecessary flames.

    Condemning pet owners who are trying to give up their animals to proper homes, for instance, may encourage them to abandon the animals instead.

    By cyber-stalking and harassing people who are not in tune with their beliefs, some volunteers risk putting off the moderate majority who would happily give a "local special" a home.

    It would be more sensible to tone down, calm down and let sanity prevail.

    Or it's the animals which will pay in the end.