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Persevering for animal rights

Persevering for animal rights

Aneesa Alphonsus
January 3, 2012

Just like with most things, perseverance is the key to creating more awareness and having more consideration that animals have rights too, says an activist.

When one is asked about animal rights in Malaysia, the response would either be incredulity, puzzlement, cynicism or maybe even all three for good measure. Why? Because animal rights in Malaysia has been, for the best part of its existence, not adhered to nor practiced, with the exception of when it benefits certain quarters.

So when Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Deputy Minister Chua Tee Yong met with the representatives of four animal welfare organisations in the middle of December 2011, the light at the end of the tunnel seemed a little brighter.

The organisations present at this meeting were Malaysian Dogs Deserve Better (MDDB), Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), PAWS Animal Welfare Society Malaysia and Save a Stray (SAS), who collectively highlighted challenges faced in advocating animal welfare here.

The meeting came about after Chua read about MDDB's concern pertaining to the sale of cats and dogs at pet stores. In a letter to the ministry, the animal advocacy body asked that the authorities ban the sale of companion pets at pet shops because this would result in the increase in the number of illegal breeders.

Wani Muthiah, founder of MDDB is heartened at the meeting, saying that the ministry has been very responsive to the issues highlighted. She explained that pedigree pets can be purchased, but only through certified and responsible breeders and not from backyard breeders who do not pay emphasis on the quality of the sired animal.

During the meeting, Chua acknowledged the fact that the current situation has allowed some unscrupulous people to make money.

He said, "The government would look into the various issues pertaining to the welfare of companion animals such as cats and dogs. I would like to stress that the government would also look at how to progress toward inculcating animal welfare civic mindedness."

Chua added that an Animal Welfare Council has been formed and the ministry was engaging with all stakeholders involved. The council is chaired by minister Noh Omar.

Raking in 600% profit

According to Wani, pet stores make most of their money from the sale of pet accessories and food. Some even going as far so as to rake in a 600% profit for each item sold. An example of this is the dog collar which pet stores purchase for RM3 only, to sell it for RM14. The same is true for many of the other items such as toys and other recreational items for pets.

Economically thriving pet stores aside, to the question of how far has Malaysia come in terms of animal rights, she said that over the last year or so, there has been more prominence given to the cause.

"Where MDDB is concerned, we're not just about rescuing dogs. We do a lot of advocacy work and bring a journalist myself, I get to see how laws are made and passed. I would really like to see Malaysians develop more appreciation for dogs and maybe in time with the work that we do, change mindsets and bring about better protection laws for these animals," she said.

Wani opines that there should be jail terms imposed as well for animal cruelty cases. She shared that a decade ago in Ireland, there was the case of a council worker who was jailed for abusing some dogs left under his watch.

In the 1950s, Wani added, Malaysia imposed a RM200 fine for animal abuse cases. "This was a lot of money back then and the same fine in today's ringgit rate should be considered and implemented. But I am not holding my breath for that to happen any time soon. Even the domestic violence act took nine years to be passed," she added sardonically.

As to her hopes for MDDB in 2012, Wani shared that she would like to see the trap, neuter and release option for stray dogs be given a trial in selected areas.

"From here, we would be able to see clearer how efficient this system is otherwise we're looking at a bigger boom in the stray population. Putting them in dog pounds and then euthanizing them is not a particularly great solution. Dog catching has become such a big business. There was a month in 2010 when the Sepang Municipal Council caught 20,000 dogs. Dog-catchers are paid RM45 per dog. It's very stark when you look at numbers, dollars and cents and wonder what happened to ethics along the way."

Even so, Wani and the core group of 10 volunteers at MDDB are hopeful that the meeting with the ministry is a sign of better things to come for animals in 2012 and beyond.

"The fact that we are being heard is a good place to start on building a relationship with the relevant ministries and government officials. Just like with most things, perseverance is the key to creating more awareness and having more consideration that animals have rights too."

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