By Yeo Jun Wei (17S03B) and guest writer Kong Pek Yoke (17A01C)
Dogs have been “man’s best friend” for thousands of years, and for good reason: they seem to touch our soft spot with their energy and boundless capacity for love. These lovely canines are our pets or help us with various tasks, seamlessly integrating with human society.
A quick look around can easily prove that Singapore is no exception. How many of us know someone who owns a dog?
Mr Ricky Yeo, president and founder of Actions For Singapore Dogs, says that Singaporeans have an “insatiable demand” for “cute cuddly [puppies]”. And according to a report by the Straits Times just this March, the number of licensed dogs have increased by 32% the last decade.
But okay, enough with the dry statistics. We love dogs, because they love us back – but do we deserve that love?
Behind the innocent facade of pleasant-looking, cutesy pet shops in Singapore are factories that routinely churn out these puppies at record speed – puppy mills.
Puppy mills are large-scale commercial dog breeding facilities where profit is achieved at the expense of the animals involved – the puppies and their mothers are kept in filthy, unsanitary and overcrowded conditions.
Puppy mills often do not spend adequate money on proper food, housing or veterinary care. As a result, the dogs suffer greatly. Worse, they do not allow puppies to properly socialise, leading to their abnormal development. In the US, hundreds of thousands of puppies are raised each year in such commercial kennels.
The dogs in puppy mills are often covered with matted, filthy hair, with rotting teeth and eyes with ulcers. They often get injured in fights that occur in the cramped cages, and many have lost their limbs, caught in the wire floors of the cages and cut off as they struggle to escape.
In these puppy mills, the mothers of the puppies spend their entire lives in these small wire cages. They are almost never allowed out, some never having touched solid ground or grass in their lives.
Very often there is no heat or air-conditioning in a puppy mill. In Singapore, puppies may “cook” on the wires of the cages in the heat.
Some dogs are so psychologically scarred from the mind-numbing boredom of being imprisoned in a small cage for years and years that they have developed repetitive habits like going round and round in circles for hours and hours or barking at the wall for hours.
These things happen, for real: a couple in Cherokee County, GA, were charged with 25 counts of animal cruelty in their operations of a puppy mill in 2014, and the owners of another puppy mill in Wicomico County were arrested, with all 310 of their dogs seized.
But these are foreign examples, you say – how could this be relevant to you, a Singaporean student living far away from these horrors?
As it turns out, these horrors may be closer to us than we think. According to Mr Yeo, “Almost every puppy sold on the market in Singapore comes from a puppy mill, where there is overbreeding of dogs with poor standards of hygiene and environment”.
Singapore is also no stranger to puppy mill scandals; numerous pet shops and puppy farms in Pasir Ris have been accused of breeding puppies in substandard living conditions, with some clear-cut cases of abuse having surfaced as well. For example, in 2010, a batch of more than 70 malnourished dogs were rescued from an abandoned puppy mill.
Sadly, Singapore seems to be especially vulnerable to this problem. Mr Yeo says that “Singaporeans are generally ignorant or apathetic about” this problem, and that “people in other countries seem to be more aware and educated about puppy mills and legislation is much tighter in other countries.”
It is easy to see why the issue of puppy mills can quickly take root. Given large numbers of affluent Singaporeans, demand for cute cuddly dogs would rise fast. Since breeding and selling puppies fall under Free Trade Agreements, the government would not take action to legislate against puppy mills, allowing them to meet these demands and thrive.
For example, organisations pushed for flyers and ads to be placed in pet stores, warning people against impulse buying, and encouraging them instead to do research about how their puppies were brought up. However, these suggestions were rejected when existing laws were reviewed by the Animal Welfare Legislation Review Committee.
Despite this, we can still do our part as citizens to put a stop to puppy mills.
Nonetheless, some Singaporeans may still insist on buying their puppies from a pet shop. There are some legitimate reasons why they may do this; here, we try to address some of their concerns.
I want a purebred dog of a specific breed.
It is still possible to obtain purebreds from adoption centres. However, if this is not possible (since purebreds are often adopted quickly), be responsible and informed.
Do your research and go to a reputable breeder. Buy from breeders who allow you to see the parents and how they are housed (ie. not pet stores – reputable breeders don’t ship their puppies to retailers to be sold to strangers). This means they show you where the dogs spend their time, explain the puppy’s medical history and give you their vet’s contact information, don’t have puppies available year-round, yet may keep a waiting list for interested people, asks about your family’s lifestyle, why you want a dog, and your care and training plans for the puppy.
I really want puppies, not older dogs.
Again, it is possible to adopt puppies. Furthermore, consider the reason why you might be looking for puppies; if it is really to achieve that feeling of having bonded with a dog for all his/her life, consider the possibility that a similar feeling can still be attained with an adopted dog, who often display an even greater capacity for love, especially if they have been shunned or even abused in the past.
Adopted puppies are unwanted and may have issues.
This perception that shelter dogs are unwanted and come with behavioural issues is false. Many dogs are given up to shelters due to a family circumstances and not because of their dog’s behaviour. It is also an easy way out for owners who bought dogs impulsively. Most shelter dogs would have had some form of training by the shelter, and you can easily find out about the character of the dog by asking the shelter staff.
What can we do to avoid buying puppies from a puppy mill?
- Be aware, and spread awareness.
- Just adopt, don’t shop. Lots of places hold adoption drives. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (http://www.spca.org.sg/) , Action for Singapore Dogs (http://asdsingapore.com/wp/), SOSD (http://sosd.org.sg/), Mutts & Mittens (http://www.muttsnmittens.com/) , Causes For Animals (http://www.causesforanimals.com/))
- Don’t trust: breeders who use pressure sales tactics, sellers who have many types of purebreds or “designer” hybrid breeds being sold at less than six weeks old, breeders who are reluctant to show potential customers the entire premises on which animals are being bred and kept, breeders who don’t ask a lot of questions of potential buyers.
- Don’t buy from the Internet.
- As an additional note, don’t support pet stores which are likely to sell puppy mill pups. Buying anything in pet stores that sell puppies supports the industry, too! Buy all your pet supplies—toys, pet food, kitty litter—from stores that do not sell puppies, or buy your pet supplies online from websites that do not sell puppies.
In a way, avoiding buying from puppy mills also benefits ourselves. Mill puppies often have health problems, since they grow in terrible conditions, do not get immunisation and are sold long before they should be separated from their moms and breast milk.
Most importantly, through a collective effort to be aware and actively boycott these mills, we can better tackle the issue at its heart.
As information has become more and more readily accessible, we just can’t pretend to ignore the darker side of our rapidly developing, capitalist societies. As individuals, it may seem impossible to effect change on issues halfway across the globe. But collectively, we can push companies to rethink their act, and bring some sorely needed attention to certain issues.
Ultimately, we all aim to give these noble beasts better lives and better homes. It is said that one can judge the character of a society by the way it treats its lesser beings and animals; in that regard, we still have much room for progress.
Mr Ricky Yeo is the president and founder of Actions For Singapore Dogs, a non-profit organisation with the mission to improve the welfare of stray and abandoned dogs in Singapore. (Taken from ASDSingapore)