New guidelines for dog adoption and training launched, but welfare groups want more ‘bite’ than bark
SINGAPORE – A new set of guidelines aimed at standardizing the dog repatriation process was launched on Friday (January 14), in a bid to promote ggreater transparency between prospective dog adopters and welfare groups.
The guidelines also recommend science-based methods for training dogs, including avoiding practices and tools that may cause animals pain and distress.
Animal welfare groups contacted by TODAY said establishing these guidelines is a positive but insufficient step. This is because these organizations are already putting into practice what is contained in the guidelines.
Instead, the groups would have preferred to see these practices enshrined in law so that those who violate them face the consequences.
In a briefing at the launch of the guidelines, Dr Chang Siow Foong, director of the Animal and Veterinary Service (AVS) professional and scientific services group, stressed that the recommendations are “not meant to be prescriptive”.
“It’s really about providing a comprehensive set of best practice recommendations. And these practices were actually discussed in some depth by the working group.
The guidelines were developed by the Rehoming and Adoption Workgroup (RAWG), led by Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State for National Development, and comprised of stakeholders including veterinarians, dog trainers and members of animal protection groups.
Supported by AVS, a cluster under the National Parks Board (NParks), it was formed in October 2020 following a high-profile case involving a dog that was adopted from a shelter and then euthanized by its new owners.
The male dog, Loki, was adopted by animal welfare group Exclusively Mongrels in December 2017. He later developed aggressive behaviors that led to several biting incidents, including those involving a child.
Loki’s aggression persisted despite the owner’s various attempts to improve his behavior, including sending him to training sessions for four months and giving him medication to ease his anxiety.
The dog was euthanized in April 2020 without Exclusively Mongrels being informed beforehand. This led to a backlash from the public as well as a lawsuit by the group against the owners, for what it called an “outrageous” violation of the adoption agreement which required the owner to consult with the group before take any action.
The lawsuit was dropped in November of that year after the two sides reached a settlement.
MORE CLARITY OF RESPONSIBILITIES
When launching the guidelines on Friday, AVS explained that the aims of the guidelines are to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders involved, as well as to develop community guidelines on dog repatriation and adoption practices and rehabilitation. .
This followed a series of focus group discussions as well as a public consultation involving nearly 4,000 respondents, 90% of whom were dog owners.
The final list put forth guiding principles that should be followed when adopting and rehoming dogs. These include:
- Animal welfare groups assess individual dogs for suitability for rehoming
- Transparency regarding dogs’ behavioral conditions, medical history and any special needs prior to adoption
- A robust selection process for potential adopters
Key clauses in adoption agreements should also be made transparent to potential adopters, the guidelines say, adding that each animal welfare group should develop its own policies based on the guiding principles.
The guidelines also define the specific roles and responsibilities of different parties throughout the pre- and post-adoption process. These parties include animal welfare groups or shelters, adopters, foster families, veterinarians and dog trainers.
MINIMALLY INVASIVE TRAINING APPROACH
Canine training and behavioral rehabilitation guidelines emphasize the need to assess all underlying behavioral and medical needs before developing any training program.
Dr. Timothy Chua, President of the Veterinary Association of Singapore, explained that it helps to improve the dog’s behavior as it would rule out any otherwise unnoticed underlying cause of the unsavory behavior.
“In addition to this, there are also possible medical interventions for behavioral issues,” he added.
Instead, the guidelines recommend the internationally supported “least intrusive and least aversive” approach to training the animal, facilitated by a process that begins with an assessment of health, nutritional and physical effects that can affect a dog’s behavior and eliminate triggers that can cause adverse effects. those.
There are also tips to help owners identify a qualified dog trainer.
IF ONLY THERE WERE MORE ‘COCK’
While acknowledging these guidelines as a positive first step, animal welfare groups who spoke to TODAY agreed they were insufficient, saying the stipulated recommendations had long been enforced.
Ms Magdalene Eng, Outreach and Fundraising Manager at SOSD Singapore, a volunteer-run organization dedicated to the welfare of street dogs here, said“SOSD wants to see these guidelines turned into law and that there is proper enforcement to ensure that these guidelines really have ‘bite’ and are not just ‘words’.
“SOSD would like to see the inclusion of the application of these guidelines.”
Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter said it has already put the recommendations into practice, with a heavy emphasis on meetings and home visits to ensure the best match for the dogs.
Its relocation committee said: “Adoption of the guidelines may not be implemented at all levels, as relocations have the choice to (use) selectively only parts of the guidelines only to meet their own needs. .”
Ms Aarthi Sankar, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said the guide provides more clarity as to specific responsibilities, particularly in adverse cases where an adopter decides to return a dog. after adopting it.
The SPCA already has a ‘robust’ adoption process, but Ms Aarthi said: ‘I think animal welfare groups have very different challenges, and sometimes very extenuating circumstances, in the way they do adopt their pets.
She’s seen complaints from adopters who say they weren’t told about certain conditions before bringing the dog home, and she added that’s where guidelines can help.
The SPCA hopes legislation and enforcement will deal with “recalcitrant people”, but Ms Aarthi acknowledged that this process will take time.
Mr. Kevin Neo, manager of Exclusively Mongrels, who had relocated Loki, wondered, “Where’s the legal bite for all this?
“So as much as animal welfare groups practice all the proposed guidelines, what if a wandering adopter decides not to, years after the adoption? Where is the recourse for the animal welfare group? »
The guidelines can be viewed on the NParks website.