Speech by SMS Tan Kiat How at Pet's Day Out

Sep 3, 2022

A very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you for joining us at the 15th Pets’ Day Out. Pets’ Day Out has come a long way since we first organised it in 2019. We are very happy to have seen this event gain traction over the years, and we are excited to bring it to East Coast Park for the first time today. Pets’ Day Out is an important platform for the pet community to come together. Today, we are joined by many pet owners, animal welfare groups, veterinarians, and more. Here, all of us can bond over the joys of keeping pets. We can also share best practices for pet care and promote responsible pet ownership.

I would like to thank the Animal & Veterinary Service, AVS in short, as well as our community partners, for their strong support and effort – not only in organising this event, but also on our broader efforts to safeguard animal health and welfare.

In recent years, as more Singaporeans discover the benefits of keeping animals as companions, we have seen a steady rise in our pet population. For example, from 2019 to the first half of this year, the number of dogs licensed by AVS increased by 20 per cent, from 70,000 to 84,000.Pet owners often share that their pets provide emotional support, and are part of their families.

Importance of Strengthening Biosurveillance and Animal Health System Resilience

AVS has been working closely with various stakeholders to raise standards in the pet sector. This includes measures to strengthen biosurveillance and the resilience of our animal health system. Such efforts are pertinent to all of us, even non-pet owners, as they are crucial in safeguarding public health. For example, if a pet is diagnosed with an infectious disease, we need to be able to quickly trace the pet’s close contacts. This is especially important when the pet has contracted a disease that can be transmitted to humans, such as rabies. Similar to pets, free-roaming animals can also carry diseases. Since free-roaming animals are less likely to be vaccinated or managed for parasites, we need to manage these risks even more carefully. Hence, to protect public health and safety, as well as animal health and welfare, we will have to manage the animals in our community, whether they roam freely, or are kept as pets.

Existing Measures to Manage Pet Dogs & Free-Roaming Dogs

Over the years, AVS has improved our measures to manage pet dogs and free-roaming dogs.

In the past, pet dog owners had to renew their dog’s licence every three years. However, some owners neglected to license their dogs, or forgot to renew their dogs’ licences before expiry. Such instances would create gaps in our traceability system. Hence, in 2020, to encourage more pet owners to license their dogs, AVS introduced a one-time licensing regime for sterilised dogs. Since implementing this change, we have seen an increase in the number of dogs licensed by AVS. This has contributed to the robustness of our traceability system.

Furthermore, AVS used to receive substantial amounts of feedback related to free-roaming dogs. Members of the public were concerned about frequent sightings of these dogs, and shared feedback about barking, improper feeding and public safety concerns. To address this, AVS has partnered several animal welfare groups, and implemented measures to manage free-roaming dogs. In 2018, we launched what we now call the Trap-Neuter-Rehome/Release-Manage (TNRM) programme. The TNRM programme has helped us manage our free-roaming dog population in a holistic, humane, and science-based manner. In addition, to promote the rehoming of mixed-breed dogs in HDB flats, AVS runs the Project for ADOption and REhoming, or Project ADORE in short. Recently, at the previous edition of Pets’ Day Out, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of Project ADORE!

Since the launch of TNRM and Project ADORE, we have successfully rehomed over 2,000 dogs. In addition, since 2018, public feedback rates on free-roaming dogs have decreased by around 50 per cent.

This success would not have been possible without the strong support of our animal welfare group partners, veterinarians, responsible pet owners, and the community. Thank you for working together with us on this.

Rationale for Cat Management Framework

The efforts I just spoke about have started with dogs because, at the global level, most human rabies cases are due to dog bites. In Singapore, we are fortunate to have been rabies-free since 1953. However, we cannot take this for granted, as some countries in our region are still reporting rabies cases. Similar to dogs, cats can carry diseases of concern to people and other animals, such as rabies. We need to address this, because pet cats are a part of our families, while community cats are a part of our neighbourhoods. We appreciate the close interactions between cats and people, and we want to protect everyone in the long term. Furthermore, AVS has also been receiving cat-related feedback. For instance, some unsterilised pet cats caterwaul at night, and pet cats that are allowed to roam freely may soil common areas. Furthermore, food for community cats that is not cleared properly or responsibly may attract pests. Finally, we have also seen many cases of irresponsible owners abandoning their pet cats. We do take these offenders to task.

Existing Cat Management Measures

For all these reasons, AVS has implemented several measures to mitigate cat-related feedback and encourage responsible pet cat ownership. For example, since 2011, we have been managing our community cat population through the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme, or SCSP in short. Under the SCSP, AVS subsidises the costs of sterilising and microchipping community cats. With the help of our animal welfare group and veterinarian partners, we have sterilised an average of 4,200 cats annually for the past five years. I would like to thank the Cat Welfare Society (CWS), the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Causes for Animals Singapore (CAS), and Noah’s Ark CARES, for their active efforts in the SCSP.

In addition to running the SCSP, AVS has partnered the community to explore several other initiatives. For instance, in 2012, we piloted the Project Love Cats, which allowed cat ownership in HDB flats in Chong Pang. In 2018, we worked with the Cat Welfare Society to offer mediation services on cat-related issues, to resolve neighbourly disputes. More recently, at Marsiling, we have been partnering the Cat Welfare Society and grassroots leaders to manage pet and community cats, by engaging owners and caregivers on responsible ownership and caregiving. We also provided support with pet health checks, vaccination, and microchipping.

Proposed Cat Management Framework

We want to build on our existing efforts, and draw on the lessons learnt, to develop a holistic framework that can better manage our pet and community cats. We will develop this framework in close partnership with the community. We hope this framework will address the potential spread of diseases, and encourage responsible pet ownership and caregiving.

Broadly, we are proposing three strategies under this framework for pet and community cats, and we will be consulting the public on them. Let me share some ideas with you.

First, we are considering expanding the current licensing and microchipping scheme for pet dogs, to include pet cats. This would improve the traceability of pet cats, sothat we can respond to animal disease outbreaks more effectively, and better safeguard public health. We can also hold irresponsible cat owners to greater account if their cats are found to be neglected, abused, or abandoned.

With the proposed licensing scheme, AVS and HDB will also explore the possibility of allowing pet cats in HDB flats. We have heard many calls from cat lovers to allow this. We recognise that some residents would like to keep cats in their flats, while other residents may have concerns about the disamenities caused by irresponsible cat ownership. Pets can bring a lot of joy to their owners, but if they are not cared for responsibly, they can cause inconvenience to neighbours. As we carefully review our pet ownership policies, we will consult the public widely, and continue to balance the needs of the different segments of our community.

Next, given the success of the existing TNRM programme for free-roaming dogs, we are thinking of extending TNRM to community cats as well. This would allow us to better manage our community cat population more holistically, using a humane, science-based approach. Under the proposed TNRM programme for cats, we would build on our existing SCSP programme. AVS plans to work with animal welfare groups to microchip community cats to enhance their traceability, then sterilise them to keep their numbers manageable. Sterilised cats will be rehomed, or released back to the community, where many of them are already well-loved and well-cared for. We will also engage our community cat caregivers to care for these cats in a responsible manner.

Our final proposed strategy is to introduce new engagement and education programmes. We hope these programmes will promote responsible pet ownership, the adoption of cats, and responsible caregiving for community cats. For example, we are considering introducing an online course to teach new pet owners best practices for pet care. Such measures will help to protect the health and welfare of our pets.

As we begin consulting the public on our ideas, we would like to reassure you that we will be mindful of existing cat owners’ circumstances, and all new measures will be carefully studied and gradually implemented. For instance, if we proceed with the licensing of pet cats, we will explore ways to give households sufficient time to adjust to any licensing requirements, especially if they have multiple cats. We are also studying other measures to help households and stakeholders adapt easily to any changes we introduce. We will consider all suggestions you put forward.

AVS has started to engage some key stakeholders, such as animal welfare groups, on our initial ideas, and they have given us very useful feedback.

Launch of Public Consultation on Proposed Cat Management Framework

Today, I am pleased to launch a wider public consultation exercise to gather more views from the community. This consultation exercise is in line with the larger Forward Singapore movement. This movement will guide our next phase of nation-building, and help us build an endearing home for all Singaporeans

To kickstart our public consultation exercise, we are launching an online survey today. We will be accepting responses for this survey for the next two months, and I encourage all of you to share your views with us. We want to hear your thoughts on our proposed strategies, so please give us your suggestions. Over the next six months, do also look out for our community dialogues and focus group discussions. We will be reaching out to a diverse range of stakeholders, including animal welfare groups, community cat caregivers, veterinarians, cat owners, residents, and representatives of pet businesses.

All of us have a part to play in encouraging responsible pet ownership and community animal caregiving. We welcome your views and suggestions as we work together to improve our policies for cat management and welfare.

Thank you all for partnering us on this journey, and I wish you an enjoyable Pets’ Day Out today!