Thursday, May 04, 2006

Doggie voter

Dear Herbie,

I don't know if anyone' s told you, but there's an election on. Now, I'm sure that it's just something that humans do, like go to school, drive tin cans and pee in private. However, this one involves you.

I'm sure you don't want to get involved. After all, why should you care? It's about stuff that other people do, like economic stability and Gomezgate and cost of living and upgrading. You're not a politician, a professional or an expert on finance, or economics. Surely they know better? They're paid more than your owner, they must know. Why should you know? It's complicated.

Because it's about you, Herbie. It really is.

One of the big issues right now is that the party in charge is the PAP, and they're the only party in charge. Some of the humans say that it's not right, and that there should be an opposition party that can act as a check on the government's power. The opposition is needed so that they can ask questions if they think that the ruling party is doing something silly or wrong.

There's something else that opposition parties do - they take up issues that the ruling party doesn't think are very important. Part of the reason they do that is because they believe that this means there are people who aren't being paid attention to by the ruling party, and so might be willing to vote for the opposition party if the opposition takes up their worries. That's why opposition is good for minority groups and causes.

That would be you, Herbie.

You're a minority, Herbie, you and your owner. There aren't that many dog owners in Singapore. So for some people, you are inconvenient. They don't want you to be around, or take up space. This means that they don't want you to have that dog run that you love so much, or be able to walk past a playground, or even live next to them. You're... messy. And difficult to deal with, because it's not what people are used to. It's much easier to just not deal with you.

They'd rather you didn't exist.

You know that. You've seen what happens to your animal friends, because the law and the majority of people - Chinese, Malays, Indians - don't care about them.

There was that mongrel puppy that you loved to play with, what happened to him? He was saved and brought home by the little girl next door. But because he was a mutt, he was about 2kilos too heavy by HDB regulations, and when the spiteful neighbours next door reported him, the family was told to either give up the dog, or give up the flat. He went to the SPCA, and never came out alive.

The terrier who used to play with all the kids in the neighbourhood ran out of the house one day. He was knocked down in front of his owner's little boy's eyes. The lorry stopped, but the driver only wanted to check his vehicle for blood. "Call the police? Hah, go ahead - SURE they come - it's just a stupid dog you weirdo." The police, of course, did not come.

The fluffball Maltese who died at a grooming accident, and the tearful owner was offered $80 compensation. The kittens that were found strangled all over a HDB estate, and the killer jailed for a mere 6 months.

Remember 2003, and the SARS scare? The government decided that in the name of assuring investors that Singapore was safe, they had to assure them that it was hygienic and clean. So Vivian Balakrishnan, then Minister of State for National Development, took charge and culled the stray cats. In the hundreds.

Because they might have spread the SARS virus, they claimed. Then they found it didn't.

Didn't matter. Stray cats were a hygienic nuisance, they said. And they continued.

It didn't matter that the Cat Welfare charity had invested tens of thousands into sterilising the stray cats, because the AVA had agreed to leave those alone.

It didn't matter that there was a retired old grandmother crying her eyes out when she realised that the cats she loved never came home.

It didn't matter that an old man who paid half his pension to feed the strays (and neutered them, and cleaned up after them so they wouldn't be a nuisance), was left on a park bench, one more anchor in his world gone.

It didn't matter that angry hawkers disagreed with cats being a nuisance at food places. They kept the rats away, they insisted, and the regulars liked having them around.

It didn't matter.

The cats were... troublesome. An uncontrollable factor. And besides, the majority of Singaporeans didn't like them, it was claimed. Perhaps it was true, Singaporeans wrote in to endorse the killing of the cats, since it was self-evident that having cats within 100m of a playground gave your kid asthma.

Dr Balakrishnan later declared that the cats didn't seem to have SARS, and that it probably wouldn't pass to humans. But the killings would continue:
"'Culling is a last resort,' he added. 'If we didn't have people abandoningpets,
if pets were properly sterilised, properly cared for, we'd have no problems with
strays." (Straits Times, May 31, 2003)

Then why were sterilised cats killed?

If so many stray cats are the problem, why not make it easier for people to adopt cats?
Dr Teo Ho Pin, then MP, apparently agreed with this solution:
Dr Teo suggested this solution: 'Animal lovers should go out and adoptstrays,
take them home, care for them and organise a programme to take them inas pets,'
he said. (ST, May 25, 2003 Sunday)

Well, that's a funny thing, Dr Teo, they already do. Of course, HDB people aren't allowed to legally adopt cats, and they form 80% of the population, so it's a touch difficult. And of course, your party members made it that even more difficult, when they turned down two separate appeals by the Cat Welfare Society to allow cats in HDB. This was around 10 months earlier. And your colleague, Dr Balakrishnan, who was complaining about the strays, help to turn them down. This is part of what he said:
Cats, he said, are not allowed as pets in HDB homes because of their penchantfor
screeching while in heat.He went on to provide this veterinary tidbit: 'Cats
caterwaul in post-coital agony, not post-coital ecstasy.' (Straits Times, July 9,
2002 Tuesday)

So Cat Welfare's attempt to solve the stray situation was foiled, by a reason that was somewhat bizarre, since sterilised cats don't screech. And 10 months later, you have a cat problem. So you kill the cats.

I don't know if Dr Balakrishnan ever apologised for his role in the killings. Maybe he did. Maybe not. Cats aren't important.

But you see, Herbie, that's what you get when you have a strong dominant party. They all think the same way. There is no one that can say, Stop, this is wrong. Because you don't question a fellow party member. That's not what a united party should do.

That's what an opposition party should do. To question the actions of the ruling party, and make sure that everyone is taken care of and listened to. To give minorities, such as yourself, a voice.

So that's why having an opposition is important for you. But either way, the election concerns you, Herbie. Because it's about you and your kind and your owners: it's about every dog and cat that died because someone just didn't like them, it's about every animal abuser that went unpunished because kittens just weren't important enough, it's about every single time someone called out "stay away from the big dog before he give you a disease or bite you." It's about your life.

And if the cat culling incident is anything to think about, it's not just your life, it's your right to live.


Disclaimer: I am in no way suggesting that an opposition party will be any better to animals than a one-party system. However, considering the current situation, I can't imagine it will get much worse. And if animal welfare is what you're interested in, then the elections are important for you. Because it's about choosing people that will come to affect your life, or even your right to live.

Think I'm crazy to link animals and humans? Go on. I don't care.

If [man] is not to stifle human feelings, he must practice kindness
toward animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings
with men. We can judge the heart of man by his treatment of animals.
- Immanuel

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the
way its animals are treated”.
- Mahatma Gandhi


At 5:37 pm, Anonymous Potongpasir girl said...

Applause! Thank you so much for voicing out the thoughts of animal lovers in Spore! i am casting a vote on behalf of my animals.

At 12:50 am, Anonymous a fellow academic said...

I love you and I don't even know your gender. Oh all right, I shan't be so melodramatic - I love your posts. I think they're brilliant. I followed the whole Vivian Balakrishnan debacle and my sentiments are totally in sync with yours.

At 12:12 pm, Anonymous gem said...

I absolutely love your blog. You're one of the best writers!

At 10:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A young nephew of my friend..will shriek..whenever he sees VB on the media..."Sar Mow Der!" ("Kill Cat Man!")
It will take a long time to wash the blood off..
The tears of so many caregivers during the SARS holocaust...will they ever dry up?


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