SINGAPORE- A five-year sterilisation programme to manage the stray dog population in Singapore was launched on Saturday (Nov 10) by Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, Mr Desmond Lee.
Stray dogs, or "Singapore Specials" as Mr Lee prefers to call them, have caused occasional "human-animal friction" as they evoke a range of reactions from people with concerns that vary from animal welfare to public safety and public health.
"Some care for them, and feed them out of compassion. Some are oblivious to them. Other people are afraid of them, and will press the authorities to take action," said Mr Lee who was speaking at the Happy Pets, Happy 'Hoodcarnival at Hillion Mall in Bukit Panjang.
To address the different concerns, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) has launched a nationwide initiative known as the Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage (TNRM) programme, which is a humane, scientific and sustainable method of managing the stray dog population, said Mr Lee.
The AVA developed the programme together with 11 animal welfare groups, with the aim of sterilising more than 70 per cent of the stray dog population over five years. There are about 7,000 stray dogs here.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) will lead the coordinating efforts in areas like trapping operations and providing sterilisation services at their clinic, which will be ready in the first half of next year (2019).
AVA also will provide funding to support animal welfare groups conducting sterilisation for dogs.
In addition, there will be a central pool of trappers animal welfare groups can tap and training for the groups and AVA staff with regards to the programme.
Previously, dog welfare groups conducted localised sterilisation programmes on their own, and the AVA programme will consolidate and amplify these efforts at a national level, said Mr Lee.
He said: "After sterilisation, the priority will be to rehome as many Singapore Specials as possible, where they will have shelter, food and vet care provided by their new owners."
Those that are unable to be rehomed will be released at suitable locations where they can be supported by responsible community feeders, he added.
Dr Siew Tuck Wah, 39, president of animal welfare group Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD) that is also involved in the programme, said the nation-wide initiative was welcomed.
Since 2014, SOSD has been conducting its own sterilisation programmes in certain areas of Singapore and Dr Siew said the funding and operational help from AVA would help scale-up their efforts.
"It's a whole mindset change from culling to a more humane method of sterilisation. This is of course better for the dogs," he noted.
"But this has to go hand-in-hand with rehoming and education to ensure that Singaporeans are more accepting towards these dogs."
During Saturday's event, Mr Lee also touched on the importance of responsible pet ownership.
"This goes beyond understanding the technicalities of animal health and pet care," he said, adding that it also involved being considerate to those who do not keep pets.
He said: "This is important in a small place like Singapore, where living spaces overlap and friction can easily occur between neighbours over their pet animals."
Community partnerships are also important for the sterilisation programme to be a success and will require partnerships between the animal welfare groups, veterinarians and responsible community feeders.
Mr Lee also said: "In addition, we need the patience, understanding and support of the wider community. You can help us by volunteering, or simply by spreading the word about the benefits of the programme."