Wearing shock collars, squeezing into cages: SPCA uses experiential tools to educate young people on animal abuse

Wearing shock collars, squeezing into cages: SPCA uses experiential tools to educate young people on animal abuse
Nine-year-old Isabel Kwok experiencing what it is like for animals to be caged as her sibling Adriel and SPCA volunteer Sabrina Ng look on.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE — The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) is enhancing its youth education programme to raise awareness of animal abuse among young people, in the light of a recent spate of animal cruelty cases.

It also made animal abuse a highlight of its annual youth engagement event — SPCA's Pawsome Pawty — on Saturday (May 27).

The education scheme, called the Youth Ambassador Programme, has drawn 375 ambassadors since it was launched in October 2022.

Besides attending educational programmes, these volunteers — aged between seven and 16 — currently also help out at SPCA's Sungei Tengah animal shelter and come up with animal welfare campaigns to raise awareness.

To expand the programme, SPCA will organise a youth animal welfare symposium in October to allow those above the age of 16 to engage in meaningful discussions surrounding animal welfare advocacy issues.

Its expansion plans also include bringing experiential activities like virtual reality simulation to schools, field trips to other animal welfare organisations such as the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, and inviting students to pair up with an SPCA staff member or volunteer to host a talk at their school.

SPCA executive director Aarthi Sankar said the animal welfare group was alerted to seven animal abuse cases that involved minors in 2022. This is a "stark contrast" to the previous two years when there had been only one or no cases annually.

She added that SPCA also attended to 511 cases of animal cruelty and welfare issues in 2022, which is a 44 per cent increase from 2021 and the highest recorded figure since 2020.

The Straits Times also earlier reported that SPCA has seen a "disproportionately high number" of cat abuse cases in 2023.

The society investigated 11 such cases from January to March. In comparison, it probed 16 cases in all of 2022 and 11 cases in 2021.

Ms Sankar added: "There is a pressing need for immediate action and comprehensive efforts to educate, raise awareness and instil a sense of empathy and respect for animals among young individuals.

"To effectively tackle this issue, we need the collective efforts of educational institutions, animal welfare groups, and relevant authorities to ensure our youth receive the guidance and support to develop a compassionate mindset towards animals."

To that end, SPCA's Pawsome Pawty also included a skit depicting irresponsible pet ownership and workshops on how to care for animals and be responsible cat owners.

SPCA also launched on Saturday the first edition of a series of workshops on responsible pet ownership and animal care that help children learn about various animal species. The first one is on cats and will expand to include dogs, small mammals, birds and fish later in 2023.

In December 2022, a cat died after a boy allegedly threw it off the 22nd storey of a Housing Board block in Boon Lay.

In April, a teenage boy was arrested after a video showing him trying to perform obscene acts on a tabby cat in Bukit Panjang went viral.

"Animal cruelty at a young age can be an indication of other deep-seated issues. Failing to address and rectify these behaviours can have far-reaching consequences, sometimes even perpetuating a cycle of violence and cruelty," said Ms Sankar.

"By intervening early and providing education on animal welfare, we have an opportunity to positively impact not only the lives of the animals but also the future trajectory of these young individuals."

Other initiatives at the event included simulating a fall from height from a cat's perspective, trying on shock collars that are used in animal training, as well as squeezing into a cage to experience how animals feel in a cramped space.

Ms Sharon Yan, who tried the simulation, said: "Taking the perspective of the cat on the parapet gave me a bit of the jitters, especially when I started 'plummeting' to the ground. It was an interesting and sobering way to educate people about pet safety."

The 41-year-old housewife, who plans to get a dog when her nine-year-old daughter is older, added that the simulation was not too graphic for her child, and that they also learnt other things at the event, such as the type of food that pets can eat.

Ms Chung Kah Yi, who took her two daughters aged nine and 11 to the event, said she found the experiential activities useful, as she learnt about new things, like shock collars being used to train animals.

"I brought my daughters here because I want them to know that it's not easy owning a pet and they can learn about things they didn't know about pet ownership," said the banker who is in her 40s. "I hope to reinforce the idea that they need to be responsible to own a pet."

Senior Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How, who attended the event, encouraged parents to not only get their children involved in educational programmes on animals but also lead by example by showing empathy towards animals.

Citing the example of how his son, who turns three this year, grows up with their two pet dogs, Mr Tan said: "How we treat animals, pets at home, animals outside the community, and even wildlife such as monitor lizards, snakes... (our children) learn from us."

The most important programme that parents need to be on is to show care and empathy, he said, and to lead by example and show the way through their actions and their words.

Ms Sankar said: "When children recognise that animals can experience joy, fear, sadness and pain, they are more likely to treat them with kindness and respect.

"It helps them understand that animals deserve to be treated with dignity and should not be subjected to unnecessary harm or suffering."

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This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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