By Victoria Barker
THE cats were found dehydrated, starving and severely emaciated, with brittle coats of fur and flaky skin due to malnutrition.
And there were not two, or even three, but 10 of them. The cats (one of which is pictured above) had been abandoned at a park in Tampines in June by a family who could no longer afford to care for them after the litter expanded to over 40.
Luckily, an eyewitness helped the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) track the culprits down. Earlier this month, the family was fined $1,000 for abandoning the animals.
The maximum penalty for the offence under the Animals and Birds Act is a $10,000 fine and up to 12 months' jail.
The Cat Welfare Society (CWS) and other animal-welfare groups are concerned that the problem of pet abandonment is becoming more prevalent here. If left unchecked, the problem will continue to worsen, they told my paper.
Said Ms Veron Lau, vice-president of the CWS, a non-profit organisation: "We receive alerts from our members on the ground almost every day, and these numbers go up during festive periods. It's a trend that has to stop."
There are no official figures available on pet abandonment, as there are seldom witnesses to such incidents.
However, the number of strays impounded by the AVA has declined steadily since 2004, when it picked up 4,050 dogs and 6,131 cats. Last year, it impounded 1,772 dogs and 2,681 cats.
Together with Zeus Communications and animal-welfare groups like Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), the House Rabbit Society of Singapore and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, CWS hopes to raise awareness on the cause at a film screening and panel discussion on Saturday.
Mr Ricky Yeo, ASD's president, said: "It's very common to see dogs just left out in the streets... If you go to outlying areas with low human traffic, such as Lim Chu Kang, you'll find many domesticated dogs."
The organisation receives about three calls daily from pet owners who want to give up their pets. Most cite reasons such as a lack of time and resources, or a change in lifestyle, for wanting to do so.
Mr Yeo added: "We do tend to come across dogs, especially pedigrees, which are past their prime...and owners are not willing to spend money on their medical treatment."
Earlier this month, for example, ASD was alerted to an incident in which a shih tzu, aged between 10 and 14, had been injured in a hit-and-run accident in the Yishun area.
"It had no serious injuries from the accident, but had a host of underlying ailments, like a huge stone in its bladder... The dog had no collar or microchip, but it's likely that it was abandoned," said Mr Yeo.
A common misconception is that it is humane to set such pets free, and that the animals can survive on their own.
Said Ms Lau: "We've seen cases where abandoned pet cats are so scared that they hide in drains and waste away... They no longer have the instinct to survive or defend themselves."
A change in the mindset that pets are disposable could help curb the incessant problem.
Mr Yeo said: "People are influenced by what they see in the media and in movies (and tend to buy pets on a whim). Pets are a long-term commitment and should be treated accordingly."
Pet lovers like administrative assistant Joanne Dass, 25, feel that pet owners should be more responsible. She said: "There are responsibilities which come with owning a pet.
If you can't give it the commitment it needs, then you shouldn't be getting one in the first place."
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