Debarking the truth

Debarking the truth

A bark can sometimes be worse than the bite.

So when the Housing Board's Ang Mo Kio branch posted a notice last week suggesting flat-owners could "debark" their unruly pets, it wasn't meant to be as insensitive as it sounded.

But outraged local animal welfare groups took to social media to voice their objections.

Yesterday, HDB clarified that the notice did not accurately reflect its stand.

"We agree it should have been handled more sensitively," said a statement from HDB, "and the notice has since been taken down. The notice does not reflect accurately the position we take."

The Ang Mo Kio branch had posted the notice, dated Aug 22, at the lift landing of Block 601, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5.

It was in response to residents' feedback about "dog barking nuisance in the middle of the night".

The notice had advised dog owners in Ang Mo Kio to ensure their pets were not disrupting the sleep of other residents, with suggestions on measures that could be taken if owners could not control their pets.

Ms Corinne Fong, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), responded in a statement last night that firstly, training collars are considered illegal in some countries and the SPCA cannot agree that it should be a valid choice.

She added that the recommendation to debark was "disappointing". Calling it "outdated and inhumane", Ms Fong urged HDB and the public to "put animal welfare first", and that there are humane approaches.

Dog welfare group Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), posted a lengthy message on its Facebook page, saying it "strongly object(s)" to the suggestion of debarking dogs, even as it agrees that consideration for one's neighbours is important.

"This is an extremely cruel and painful procedure of removing the vocal cords which can cause constant physical pain," the group said.

"Such recommendations should not be publicly put out without due advice from experts as it sets a wrong mindset that such solutions are ethical or safe."

Mr Ricky Yeo, an ASD spokesman who is also a dog trainer, said that most owners do not understand their pets, hence the incessant barking that starts when animals are neglected.

"It is just like when parents wonder why their child acts a certain way. They send the child for counselling sessions, not send them to jail or hit them.

"People must understand that the root of the problem needs to be identified before taking action - because it involves both the dogs and the families," he told The New Paper.


Mr Yeo added that in the worst case scenario, where a dog has to undergo debarking, there are consequences.

He said: "The dogs will continue to bark, but the difference would be that no one can hear these barks. The dogs will then turn into time bombs."

These dogs would experience pent-up anxiety that would cause aggression to both owners and strangers.

An HDB spokesman said they had received feedback from Ang Mo Kio residents, especially dog owners who found the debarking method objectionable.

It said in its statement: "We apologise for causing anxiety to dog owners.

"The notice had meant to seek the assistance of dog owners to help manage the issue of excessive dog barking at an Ang Mo Kio block, arising from complaints received...

"When residents complain about excessive dog barking, we have always advised and counselled dog owners to manage their pets' barking and behaviour through obedience training.

"Debarking should only be considered by pet owners as a last resort when all other measures, especially training, are ineffective and only if the dog owner considers it an option."

Most of the residents of Block 601 who spoke to The New Paper said they hardly hear incessant barking at night.

Madam Krishnakumari, 31, a housewife, said that although she is afraid of dogs, this problem can be resolved in a different manner.

She said: "If the owners take good care of them, they would not be barking much. I think it's like being a parent, because pets are the same."

Another resident was surprised that there have been such complaints.

The 50-year-old taxi driver, who wanted to known only as Mr Tan, said that in his 18 years living in the block, he has hardly been bothered by barking, even at night.

"It is natural for dogs to bark," said Mr Tan, who does not own a pet.

"I mean, it has the right to bark. How would people feel if they were asked to stop talking? I think it applies to the dogs here, too."

This article was published on Aug 29 in The New Paper.

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