Mind the doo-doo, stop the goo-goo pet talk

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 9, 2013

Around my flat, the town council has put up signs telling people to pick up after their dogs.

It puzzles me why after so many years of Keep Singapore Clean, dog owners need to be reminded that dog poop is litter, not pixie dust.

Perhaps it's because they think it is organic.

People who allow pets to leave gifts for residents should be thankful that their way of thinking is not more widespread.

The last time I was in China, the "poop is natural so it's okay" law seemed to be the norm. There, I saw parents let their sons and daughters do No. 1 and No. 2 into flower pots and drains, proud and in public.

Adults do not grant themselves the same privilege, for some reason. Perhaps they think that very young children, like dogs, squirt innocence and joy.

One more thing kids and pets have in common is that grown-ups like to talk to both in the same way, using goo-goo babyspeak. It's one thing to tell a cat to "get the hell down from there", but it's something else entirely to attempt a conversation, which I have seen people do. If you asked your cat what he would like for lunch, I doubt that even if he could reply, he would much care which tin you opened.

Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld took human-feline relations one step closer to its natural conclusion when he told CNN last week that he was "in love" with his Siamese, Choupette, and fancied the idea of marrying his furry companion.

It is hard to know if the famously eccentric man was joking, but it does throw one fact into sharp relief: Only millionaires in the fashion business can say things like that and get away with it.

If I were to tell people that I was in love with my pet and wanted to make the cat, dog or chinchilla my wife, they would rightly summon the authorities.

Choupette, by the way, has 27,000 Twitter followers. A flunky, or perhaps Lagerfeld himself, keeps the followers entertained with tweets about the sort of pampering Choupette might be receiving from any one of her three maids. Yes, the cat has her own maids.

That Choupette can have that many followers is unsurprising given how popular cute animals are on social media. Owners like to share the things their pets do, such as lie down in interesting poses, on Facebook. I'll admit they are cute, but what ruins it for me is the text next to the picture. Sometimes, the post will speak about the pet as the child and the owners as its "mum" or "dad".

On the creepiness scale, it is not as bad as the man who would want to take his relationship with his cat all the way to the altar, but it is off-putting. I do not doubt that these people adore their pets but there is something wrong with equating that affection with parenthood.

I was once invited to a home and then asked to amuse myself while the host went searching for her cat and then, having found it, fussed over it, asking it where it had been and what it was doing outside, while I sat on the couch, deflated and ignored. I wanted to tell her that unlike a cat, I come when called and am conversant in English.

But that is not the point, as cat lovers well know. Doctors have long known the therapeutic value of animal contact. People talk to pets not for the gossip value but because it relaxes and soothes the human. Besides, cat gossip would be boring for humans. It would be chiefly about good places to nap and stalking an insect for hours.

My point is that people who say they are the mums and dads of their pets make me ill, even if they are using those terms metaphorically. It trivialises parenthood - real parents do not buy their children in a shop, choosing only the cutest, healthiest ones.

There is one couple in my block who have taken cat appreciation one step further. They are cat feeders, people who put food and water out along the corridors.

I don't have a problem with what they do, mainly because I live on a high floor where rats do not go. I hope. Because the chief recipients of the feeders' generosity are large and well-fed rodents. They amble about the paths and grass verges, slow and well-fed like playground bullies, afraid of nothing.

The cats are smart enough to give them a wide berth. Keeping the area free of giant vermin is not their job, they seem to be saying, which leaves the door open for foreign cats to do the work at half the cost in kitty chow.

If animal activists could do something about the strays in the area, I am sure they would, and that solution would involve some kind of "no-kill" policy, which is their dramatic way of saying they do not believe in euthanasia.

I don't believe animals should have to die unnecessarily, but I don't believe that it is humane to keep them cooped up for a lengthy period either, possibly in conditions that are less than comfortable.

What would no-kill folks make of the rats in my neighbourhood, I wonder? Should they be trapped and then released to live out their natural lives on a sun-dappled farm? Or should each one be captured and spayed?

Or does the no-kill rule cover only cute, interesting or useful animals such as wild boar, rabbits, monkeys and stray domestic animals? That kind of species distinction would undermine the no-kill moral, I feel.

So what to do about the doggy poo? The small Spanish town of Brunete might have the answer. It was reported last week that undercover volunteers skulk the streets, looking for dog owners who let pets doo-doo where good pets don't. The volunteers strike up a conversation with the owner and slyly obtain the pet's name. Then, by looking up a pet registry at city hall, they find the owner's address. Instead of a notice and a fine, the town's management sends the owner a parcel marked "lost property". Inside it is the same gift the dog left on the street.

This method of punishment would probably work only once. And it is a lot of trouble to deliver a small dose of justice. But it is a measure my town council should consider, especially if they let me watch from a distance while the box is being opened.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on June 9, 2013

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