Allow bigger dogs under HDB scheme, animal groups urge

Dr Siew Tuck Wah, president of animal welfare group, Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD), with some of the rescued strays at the Pasir Ris shelter.
Dr Siew Tuck Wah, president of animal welfare group, Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD), with some of the rescued strays at the Pasir Ris shelter. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER FILE

For now, dogs up to 50cm tall, weighing up to 15kg can be adopted

A scheme allowing Housing Board flat owners to keep bigger dogs at home - as long as they are adopted from an approved shelter - has been hailed a success.

Although there are restrictions on the size of breeds that can be kept in HDB flats, 227 larger dogs have been adopted under the Project Adore (Adoption and Rehoming of Dogs) scheme since it was launched in June 2011 - and no complaint has been made to date.

Now, animal welfare groups are urging the authorities to allow bigger pooches under the scheme.

Managed by the Ministry of National Development (MND), Agri- Food and Veterinary Authority and the HDB, Project Adore was piloted in 2011 and became a permanent scheme last year.

Currently, the HDB allows only one dog of an approved small breed to be kept in HDB flats.

But under Project Adore, residents can adopt a mixed breed dog up to 50cm tall and weighing up to 15kg from a participating shelter. They cannot be bought from shops or breeders.

The scheme is run by three animal welfare groups - Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), Save our Street Dogs (SoSD) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).

Mr Ricky Yeo, president and founder of ASD, said the success of Project Adore so far has demonstrated that larger dogs can be accepted in HDB communities.

But the current size limits mean that only 30 to 40 per cent of the dogs at ASD's shelter qualify for the scheme. Mr Yeo hopes this can be increased to include dogs up to 60cm tall and weighing up to 20kg, such as a typical golden retriever.

"This would open up a new avenue for 70 per cent of the dogs under our care, so they may be able to find permanent homes," he added.

Only 11 per cent of SoSD dogs qualify for Project Adore. Most of those at its shelter are 60 to 65 cm tall and weigh 20 to 25kg.

SoSD president Siew Tuck Wah said: "While I am not optimistic that Project Adore will be able to include these large dogs, any increase in the size limit will help as more dogs can be included in the scheme."

SPCA executive director Corinne Fong shares a similar sentiment: "Three-quarters of our shelter dogs are larger set dogs, but if they have proven to be trainable and of a good temperament, why should they be denied a home in an HDB flat?"

Animal welfare groups note that increasing the size limits does not automatically make every dog that meets the height and weight criteria eligible for Project Adore.

Potential candidates must still be assessed for temperament and whether they can be trained.

Would-be adopters too must go through a stringent process to assess their ability and willingness to ensure the dog adapts to an HDB flat environment. Dog and owner must attend compulsory obedience lessons by an accredited trainer.

Foreign and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, an animal lover, said that with programmes like Project Adore, Singapore has made more progress on animal welfare than it has "in a long while". He said negotiations are ongoing for larger dogs to be added to the programme.

"I am personally supporting this, but I understand that some dog owners, cat owners are not responsible. They leave the waste around and cause a nuisance for everyone else. So we also need to deal with bad behaviour. I think this has to go at the speed where people are able to take it," he added.

Animal welfare groups have also cautioned against a relaxing of dog ownership rules across the board.

"Even if the rules are changed so that larger dogs are allowed in HDB flats, adoption shelters should be given priority over sellers and breeders," said Ms Fong.

"Every shelter here is fighting for the same potential pet owners as the breeders. We are the ones receiving all the unwanted pets that people are buying. A relaxation of rules across the board could mean that lots of people end up buying large dogs that may eventually be surrendered to us."

Madam Chen Chiu Hsia, a mother of three, had originally planned to adopt a small dog like a japanese spitz until her daughter, Emma Er, 11, made her think twice.

"One night, as I was browsing through Facebook and SPCA's website, Emma came up to me and said, 'Mummy, it doesn't have to be a japanese spitz,'" said Madam Chen, 35, who works in a primary school.

"I agreed with her - if we were going to adopt a dog, we should accept it regardless of its breed. That was how we adopted our medium-sized mixed breed dog, Lily Rose, through Project Adore."

Such stories are why the MND regards the scheme as a success.

But for now, dogs larger than Lily Rose may have to wait a little longer to get a home in an HDB flat.

The MND told The Straits Times it is reviewing Project Adore's adoption conditions with various stakeholders, including town councils and grassroots organisations.

"Any policy adjustments will have to be done sensitively so that we can continue to be an inclusive society, and ensure the long-term success of the programme," an MND spokesman said.

But the MND said it plans to include more animal welfare groups.

This is welcome news for Madam Chen, who said in the five months since she adopted Lily Rose, her neighbours have grown to love her larger-than-average pooch.

She said: "I would encourage others to adopt through this scheme. These dogs deserve a second chance in life."

• Additional reporting by Tiffany Fumiko Tay

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'Allow bigger dogs under HDB scheme, animal groups urge'. Print Edition | Subscribe