Friday 25 October 2013

Shanmugam weighs in on puppy's death

By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2013

LAW Minister K. Shanmugam has weighed in on an online controversy over a seven-month-old mongrel which was put down for aggression by its adopter of four months.

In a Facebook post yesterday, he said animal welfare volunteer Ada Ong, 35, who found Tammy a home with adopter Alison McElwee, "should get a lawyer to pursue the matter".

He was responding to online criticism of Ms McElwee for putting Tammy down. A veterinarian at The Animal Clinic had agreed to do it as the dog had allegedly bitten Ms McElwee and her children and "was aggressive" during examinations.

Negative sentiment intensified after Ms Ong, an assistant project manager, cited text messages and an adoption contract signed between the two, which specified that Ms Ong had to be notified if Tammy could not be cared for.

In his post, the minister said he had asked for a copy of the adoption agreement. "Ada also showed me the SMS exchanges between the adopter and herself, which seems to bear out what Ada says," he wrote.

Based on these instances, he suggested, in a subsequent comment on the post, that Ms Ong see a lawyer to "consider her rights (in relation to) the adopter, under the contract".

He also said he had suggested one who would help pro bono.

He added that Mr Louis Ng, executive director of animal welfare group ACRES, said that money for the legal action could be raised if necessary.

"I'm very grateful that the minister has stepped up to look into this matter and do something for our strays," said Ms Ong.

A call between Mr Shanmugam and Ms Ong was set up for Tuesday at his request, said Mr Ng. "Taking legal action will send out a strong message to make sure it doesn't happen again."

However, Mr Shanmugam also urged netizens to be careful "about making allegations against the vet" without having full knowledge of the facts.

He also emphasised that "the contract is between Ada and the adopter", and that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which released a media statement on euthanasia guidelines on Tuesday, was not commenting on whether Ms McElwee "was right or wrong in her actions, under the contract with Ada".

In the statement, the AVA also reiterated that the "arrangement between the rescuer and the adopter is a private matter", and parties should "settle the matter amicably".

Singapore Management University law associate professor Eugene Tan echoed the sentiment, saying the Law Minister's involvement was a "personal" one.

"This might be a way to take the case away from the public spotlight, and try to see whether resolving it based on contractual terms can provide a way forward," he added.

Mr Shanmugam added in a press statement last night: "I had been following the news on this matter. The SMS exchanges that were reported (between Ada and the adopter) made me think that this is a matter that should be looked at carefully.

"So I asked Louis (from ACRES) to contact Ada, and then spoke with her and Louis. I looked through the contract that Ada had signed with the adopter. I had some clear views on the contract and told Ada what I thought. I also asked her to get legal advice."

Ms McElwee and her lawyer declined comment.

Tammy's adopter disputes terms in letter from volunteer
By Audrey Tan And Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times, 6 Nov 2013

THE British woman who adopted a seven-month-old mongrel which she later had put down is disputing terms in the letter of demand issued by lawyers of the woman she got the puppy from.

In a seven-page response to the letter of demand, Ms Alison McElwee and her legal team from Stamford Law said on Monday that a donation to charities such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could be discussed.

It would, however, be "a donation in support of a good cause and not to satisfy any claim for damages".

Ms McElwee also said she would not give in to animal volunteer Ada Ong's demands for a written acknowledgement stating that euthanising Tammy was a breach of her obligations under the adoption form.

Doing so, said the letter, would "perpetuate the untruths" told at the "expense of Ms McElwee's reputation and the well-being of her family".

The puppy, Tammy, was euthanised on Oct 7, four months after it was adopted, as it had allegedly bitten Ms McElwee's children.

Ms Ong's Allen and Gledhill lawyers sent a letter of demand to Ms McElwee last Thursday for a $1,200 donation - $1,000 in damages and $200 for legal costs - to a charity of Ms Ong's choice and a written acknowledgement from Ms McElwee for breach of contract.

In her statement, Ms McElwee said she did not consider the adoption form a contract or that there was any "enforceable obligation".

Under the adoption form signed between both parties, Ms McElwee would notify Ms Ong if Tammy could not be cared for.

Ms McElwee also alleged that the text messages cited as evidence of the breach were "deliberately designed to (mislead) and give the false impression" that Tammy was euthanised despite Ms Ong's willingness to take the dog back.

She claimed Ms Ong had refused to take Tammy back as it was "too old to be re-homed" and had a "history of aggression" that could affect its chances for future adoption.

Ms McElwee also said the text messages falsely showed that Ms Ong had asked the McElwees to make "good faith" contributions to Tammy's future upkeep costs. Ms Ong had wanted to board Tammy completely at the McElwees' expense.

"Your client saw a grown (Tammy), with aggression issues, as our client's problem," the statement read.

"The only thing your client offered to do was to 'broker' the boarding."

When contacted, Ms Ong and her lawyers declined comment.

Tammy's adopter faces legal action from volunteer
By Audrey Tan, The Sunday Times, 3 Nov 2013

A British woman who adopted Tammy the mongrel and then had it put down for being "aggressive" is facing legal action from the animal welfare volunteer who handed the puppy to her.

Assistant project manager Ada Ong, 35, wants $1,000 in damages and $200 in legal costs from Briton Alison McElwee for breach of contract.

She said she is pursuing the matter to raise public awareness of animal welfare. If Ms McElwee complies, the $1,200 will go to a charity of Ms Ong's choice.

A letter of demand from her lawyers from Allen and Gledhill says that putting down the seven-month-old dog on Oct 7 was "clearly in breach" of Ms McElwee's obligations under an agreement signed between her and Ms Ong on June 1.

Ms Ong also wants a written acknowledgement from Ms McElwee that "it was inappropriate and in breach of (her) obligations under the pet adoption agreement to put Tammy down".

Ms McElwee has up to Friday to respond, after which legal proceedings will commence. Ms Ong's legal team is led by Mr Edwin Tong, an MP for Moulmein-Kallang GRC.

She was advised by Law Minister K. Shanmugam to take legal action after she showed him the contract and records of SMSes between her and Ms McElwee. The minister also helped her to get a lawyer to represent her.

Ms McElwee and her lawyer did not answer queries. She has previously said she put down the dog after it bit her four-year-old daughter and others.

The incident sparked fury online and shed light on adoption agreements being used by pet rescuers and animal welfare groups.

Action for Singapore Dogs said it has used them for 12 years.

While terms vary, these contracts include clauses to protect animals' welfare, such as requiring adopters to provide food, water and veterinary care.

Lawyers said parties are legally bound by them and "there is no need for a lawyer's involvement for such a contract to be legally valid".

Such agreements may soon become more comprehensive as animal lovers hope to make them "bulletproof".

A reinforced, five-page contract was circulated on Facebook last Friday by animal welfare volunteers. It included additional clauses preventing adopters from removing dogs' vocal cords or carrying out euthanasia "without prior consent of the (rescuer)".

While lawyers agree a detailed contract can "enhance the welfare and protection of the animal", it does not ensure a problem-free adoption.

"I fear the contract may result in fewer dogs being adopted because prospective adopters may not welcome the (rescuer) still having residual rights," said Singapore Management University law associate professor Eugene Tan.

Mr Chandra Mohan, partner at law firm Tan Rajah and Cheah, said: "Ultimately, there has to be compassion and public awareness in caring for animals to truly safeguard the welfare of the dog."

Lawyers to settle matter: Shanmugam
He says they should advise parties after euthanising of dog draws flak
By Maryam Mokhtar, The Straits Times, 28 Oct 2013

THE issue of Tammy, the "aggressive" seven-month-old mongrel put down by her owners, is now being dealt with by lawyers, Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

After weighing in on the controversy last week, he said that it "should be for them to look at and advise the parties".

Speaking to reporters at an active ageing carnival in Yishun, Mr Shanmugam said many people had written posts on his Facebook page about the issue.

"People know that I'm a sympathiser in terms of animal rights," he said.

"They sent a petition to me, lots of people have been writing to me, and I just set out the facts."

In a post last Wednesday, the minister said that animal welfare volunteer Ada Ong, 35, who found Tammy a home with adopter Alison McElwee, "should get a lawyer to pursue the matter".

He was responding to online criticism over Ms McElwee's decision to have Tammy put down earlier this month.

Explaining his post yesterday, Mr Shanmugam said: "Now, I am a lawyer, I have some views. I gave her my views. Of course, I don't want to go in public to say what my views were. Looking at the facts that she gave me, I felt that I should ask her to see a lawyer."

He added: "Right is right, wrong is wrong. Now that we have asked lawyers to look at it, I should not comment.

"But when I see something that is happening that I feel needs to be dealt with, I do my best to go in and help."

A veterinarian at The Animal Clinic agreed to euthanise the dog after it allegedly bit Ms McElwee and her children and "was aggressive" during examinations.

But professional dog trainer Ricky Yeo, who worked with Tammy for three sessions between July and August, said he had not detected "any signs of aggression during the training sessions".

Mr Shanmugam was speaking to reporters at Nee Soon GRC's Active Ageing Carnival yesterday. It was also attended by fellow Nee Soon GRC MPs Lim Wee Kiak, Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Lee Bee Wah and Patrick Tay.

More than 2,000 residents attended the event, involving a mass workout, brisk walking and dance performances.

There were also booths promoting interest groups, health and fitness tips and games.

Vet who put down mongrel followed protocol: AVA
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2013

THE veterinarian who euthanised seven-month-old mongrel Tammy had followed all protocol, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said in a statement released yesterday.

The authority was responding to the online furore on Facebook last week, as netizens criticised dog owner Alison McElwee for putting it down instead of returning it to the person she adopted it from.

But the AVA said the vet at The Animal Clinic had discussed other options, such as re-homing the pet, with Ms McElwee before putting Tammy down on Oct 7. Before that, the AVA said other vets in the clinic had witnessed the dog's escalating aggression, which reached a point where it could not be muzzled. Instead, Tammy had to be sedated for procedures that required more handling, the statement added.

The AVA said that aggression may be sufficient cause to euthanise a pet, as is the practice in Australia, Britain and America.

Stressing that only dogs of suitable temperament and health should be re-homed, it advised parties concerned to "recognise the adopter's good intentions when adopting the dog in the first instance". It said the ultimate decision to put down a pet is its owner's "responsibility and right".

Owner stands by decision to put down dog
She says it was not wanted back, but her text messages tell different story
By Audrey Tan, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2013

A woman who had her seven- month-old mongrel Tammy put down for aggression has defended her decision, claiming the person she got it from did not want to take it back.

Ms Alison McElwee, who was criticised for ignoring the rehomer's pleas to return it, said in a statement: "The rehomer suggested placing (Tammy) in a long- term boarding home" and "did not want to take (it) back".

She alleged that Tammy bit her four-year-old daughter and two adults.

Ms McElwee said the "difficult decision" was made after "considering the safety of (her) two young children and the quality of life Tammy would have in a long-term boarding home". Tammy was put down on Oct 7.

However, Tammy's rehomer Ada Ong, 35, dismissed Ms McElwee's claim as "impossible", citing texts and the adoption agreement signed by Ms McElwee on June 1.

The agreement obtained by The Straits Times states that Ms Ong had to be notified if Tammy could not be cared for.

Ms Ong said: "I said I'll take Tammy back no matter what. But as she was almost full-grown, I would have to board Tammy until a new home was found. She said she would discuss the matter with her husband before telling me when I can take Tammy back."

This took place in the first week of October. On Oct 6, Ms Ong sent Ms McElwee a text message asking if Tammy could be sterilised before boarding. There was no reply.

Ms Cathy Strong, founder of Animal Lovers League (Pets Villa) where Tammy was to be boarded, confirmed that Ms Ong had approached her.

"I only asked that the dog be vaccinated and sterilised first," Ms Strong said. "Why would Ada ask if she could board Tammy if she had refused to take her back?"

On Oct 8, Ms McElwee told Ms Ong via text message that she had found "somewhere" for Tammy and that "she left yesterday afternoon". She also said that the family "will not put (Tammy) in boarding, so we found her a new home". Ms Ong was then told to "leave it at that".

A worried Ms Ong made two trips to the McElwees' Clementi home on Oct 8 and 9 before discovering that Tammy had been put down days earlier.

She posted Tammy's story on Facebook on Oct 11, and it has since been shared 900 times.

The McElwees stated that they "regret the uproar this episode has caused" and are "concerned by the reaction from certain members of the public".

The statement added: "They ask that the public respect their perspective and stop threatening their and their children's safety - whether in person or online."

Animal activists, netizens vent
The New Paper, 17 Oct 2013

News of the death of seven month- old pup Tammy went viral after it was shared by almost 1,000 people on Facebook.

Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD), from which Tammy was adopted, had posted on its Facebook wall allegations from Tammy's re-homer about the adoption.

The unnamed re-homer claimed that Ms Alison McElvee had tried to return the puppy, but had not responded after being told that she had to pay part of the cost of having to board the animal until another owner could be found.

It was also alleged that they were told the puppy was put down only after they made a police report and police were called in during a confrontation with Ms McElvee at her home.

The news enraged animal activists and netizens, who took up virtual cudgels against the owner and the vet involved in putting down the pup.

'puppy murderer'

Some posted her photo online, revealing where she works and labelling her "puppy murderer", while others called for a boycott of the clinic. There was even talk of activists going to the woman's workplace to confront her and picketing outside the veterinarian's clinic.

Tammy's owner removed her Facebook account and was not at work when The New paper visited her office on Monday.

SOSD posted on its Facebook wall that while it encourages open discussion and freedom of opinion, it does not tolerate the use of racial slurs and threats.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals declined comment "until all the facts are known and clarified from all parties concerned".

An Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's spokesman said it is looking into the matter and liaising with the pet clinic and the relevant parties involved.

She said the decision to euthanise a pet is made by its owner after consulting a veterinarian, who must examine the animal and assess that euthanasia is necessary.

Ensuring Tammy did not die in vain
By Andy Ho, The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2013

THERE is a furore over a woman who had a veterinarian put down her healthy, seven-month-old puppy called Tammy.

Tammy was a stray taken in from an animal welfare group by Ms Ada Ong. Ms Alison McElwee later adopted the mongrel from Ms Ong and contracted with Ms Ong to return Tammy if she were to decide she no longer wanted it.

Ms McElwee said she had Tammy euthanised because it was aggressive and had bitten her family members. She did not inform Ms Ong beforehand of her intention to have it put down. The dog's death upset Ms Ong and many animal lovers.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam weighed in on the issue, writing on Facebook that he had looked at the contract and the text messages between the two women. He thought Ms Ong could sue Ms McElwee for breach of contract and "suggested a lawyer to her who will help her pro bono".

One issue that arises is whether the vet concerned did the right thing to put down Tammy. On this, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which regulates vets, said in a statement that a vet consulted about euthanising an animal must confirm ownership of the pet, examine it to assess if euthanasia is necessary and then advise the owner accordingly. So it would appear that a vet would not err if he complied with these rules.

There is another issue at the heart of the case, which was shocking to many: that vets can and do carry out "convenience euthanasia", even when the pet is healthy and adoptable or could be adoptable with reasonable vet care.

This is in fact the harsh reality in Singapore. Pet owners can pay vets to kill their companion animals whenever it is convenient for them, without having to show that the pet has an incurable health condition, or is suffering unbearably in a way that can't be alleviated with good vet care.

Current law and regulation permit owners to put down pets for convenience.

Should this be allowed to continue?

No, because companion animals should have the right to life. After all, they already have some rights, including legal protection from cruel, abusive or exploitative humans.

Under the Animals and Birds Act, any act of cruelty to an animal attracts a fine of up to $10,000, a jail term of up to 12 months, or both. These acts range from "the more commonplace acts of cruelty (inflicted upon animals)" in Public Prosecutor v Seah Kian Hock (1997) to "unnecessary suffering" by confining one's pet in a small place, as ruled in a recent case.

Singapore thus has anti-cruelty statute that protects animals from "unnecessary suffering" inflicted by humans. It thus seems strange that pets do not have protection from owners' callous decisions to have them killed for no good reason other than convenience. Surely being killed for no good reason constitutes "unnecessary suffering" or worse.

What then can be done to prevent animals from being killed on the whim of owners without also introducing too onerous a regulatory regime?

The AVA's rules that apply when pet owners ask for their pets to be put down in convenience euthanasia are "vague" and open to different interpretations, according to Animal Recovery Centre director Jean-Paul Ly. The criteria include "alleviat(ing) their suffering, or if they are aggressive". The wording allows for too broad an interpretation.

To protect animals from temperamental owners, why not introduce a new rule that prohibits vets from immediately killing owner-relinquished animals even when all AVA criteria are apparently met?

The regulator could require vets to wait a minimum of seven full days before putting the animal down. This gives the "condemned" animal the opportunity to be adopted.

The animals' details could be put on the AVA or other animal welfare groups' websites. Such a "cooling off" period might give owners time to rethink and animal activists time to re-home the creature.

This simple rule might have prevented Tammy's death.

Other animals could also be saved. Take, for example, healthy pets abandoned by owners who want to get rid of them and now make false claims to vets that they are ill or aggressive just to get them put down.

Or pets captured by people who are not their owners - such as irate neighbours or vengeful ex-lovers - and taken to the vet to be euthanised.

All these creatures may get a reprieve during this grace period if AVA adopts a new rule requiring a reasonable waiting period for vets before they carry out convenience euthanasia.

Such a new rule would do much to prevent unnecessary pet deaths. Already, many animals are being culled. The AVA relies on culling and other measures to deal with the 8,000-strong stray dog population because animal shelters have been full for years. The AVA had 2,400 stray dogs euthanised in 2011 and 2012.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals takes in 900 animals a month, so it runs out of shelter space quickly. Thus, it resorts to euthanasia for 82 per cent of them, though it doesn't reveal the actual numbers put down.

All in all, too many animals are being put down. And any instance of animal euthanasia that is solely for the convenience of owners is arguably unnecessary killing and extreme cruelty.

Stopping vets from immediately euthanising pets given up by owners, or abandoned animals, and mandating a seven-day period where they can be adopted, is one way of challenging the owner's presumed right to kill his companion animal.

If this move slowly changes the way people relate to pets, and helps pet owners become more responsible, then one good thing would have come out of Tammy's sacrifice.

Animal activists risk turning off pet lovers
Animal welfare is important, but cut out the online vitriol
By Chang Ai-lien, The Sunday Times, 17 Nov 2013

When 40-year-old Lisa Soh was thinking of adopting a mongrel from an animal shelter, the housewife was grilled by representatives on where she lived and her past pet history. She was told she would have to let them visit her home and talk to family members "for screening and spot checks".

She would also have to pay an adoption and sterilisation fee and sign a contract agreeing to take good care of her new pet.

"I know they came from a good place but honestly, I felt they were too intense. Was I trying to give a needy dog a home or were they doing me a favour? Then when I saw how previous adopters had been flamed online, it really made me think twice," she said.

In the end, she opted to adopt from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) instead.

Tensions have really boiled over since expatriate Alison McElwee had her seven-month-old adopted puppy Tammy put down last month, claiming the mongrel had become too aggressive.

Tagged a "puppy murderer", she was vilified by animal lovers who put her photos and personal information such as where she lived and worked online. Some made racist and disparaging remarks about the British woman and her family, and she was hounded into removing her details on Facebook.

The vet who did the deed was not spared either, with many swearing off the clinic's services, and some going so far as threatening to picket at its front door.

I am an animal lover. And like most animal lovers, seeing Tammy's sweet "spectacle-ringed" face in media reports, and then reading of her fate, brought tears to my eyes.

"What a shame," was my instinctive reaction.

But with the adopter and the dog's initial rescuer up in arms and telling two completely different stories, and now lawyers being drawn into the fray, it is hard to be totally sure of whether Tammy was a hapless victim or a disturbed and untrainable dog.

Animal lovers may have every reason to be incensed over the senseless death of a young dog, but it seems that the knee-jerk reaction of some activists is to bark and bite immediately after any perceived wrong-doing.

What's worse, this often happens even before the full story emerges and facts are established - mirroring general online behaviour where mostly anonymous netizens post with impunity when they might be far more hesitant to confront face to face.

There are plenty of examples to choose from.

In one case, for instance, a photo of a dog dragged by a dog catcher supposedly hired by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) went viral online. Checks later found the picture to be an image previously used in an article on dogs in China.

Even those within the animal welfare community have not been spared, and in-fighting among groups who have different ideas and opinions is common.

The SPCA, for instance, is often criticised for putting down animals it has no resources to take care of. Others have been slammed for being slow to rescue stray and abandoned animals picked up by the authorities.

Meanwhile, netizens continue to rant and Tammy's story went viral, with even Law Minister K. Shanmugam - a dog lover himself - being drawn in and recommending that the upset animal welfare volunteer consult a lawyer.

But in the end, all this may not do the animal crusaders any favours.

They risk losing hard-won respect if they persist with an overly adversarial tone and, more importantly, if they allow their passion to be perceived as over-zealous vigilante behaviour.

It would truly be a shame for these animal lovers to sabotage themselves and undo the good that the animal welfare community as a whole has done.

Because this community has come a long way since the days when its lone voice was the SPCA.

Indeed, it is one of the most successful and active citizen networks in Singapore. The AVA said it works with 11 registered groups. A handful of other unregistered groups have popped up in recent years as well. They focus on anything from conservation and education to finding homes for strays and abused dogs, exposing cruelty, sterilising cats and giving abandoned rabbits a second chance at life.

And that's not counting hundreds more individuals who feed, home and volunteer for the cause.

Many have hearts of gold, spending a huge chunk of their time and money on caring for animals. They will take time off work to save an injured animal, or spend nights in far-flung parts of the island feeding and rescuing strays.

It is also through the tireless rallying efforts of such people that bans have been lifted on larger dogs and cats in public housing, and sterilisation schemes for stray cats revived in place of culling.

Yes, when it comes to Singapore's furry denizens, love has no bounds for animal crusaders.

But the social media which serves them so well when it comes to sharing information and helping animals sometimes also helps fan unnecessary flames.

Condemning pet owners who are trying to give up their animals to proper homes, for instance, may encourage them to abandon the animals instead.

Some animal lovers, however, have chosen a softer approach.

Mr Derrick Tan, 32, who set up "Voices for Animals" to find homes for former breeding dogs, was among the first to work with dog breeders who sell pedigree puppies.

While many volunteer groups consider breeders to be the enemy, he chose not to judge. He made friends with them rather than storming their farms.

In this way, he has managed to get hold of and find homes for hundreds of dogs that otherwise might have faced a premature death when their prime puppy-producing days were over, or if the farms went belly-up.

But those who have crossed animal lovers have often paid the price. Some volunteers' blinkered passion for the cause has seen them crossing the line.

By cyber-stalking and harassing people not in tune with their beliefs, they risk putting off the moderate majority who would happily give a "local special" a home.

In the wake of the Tammy incident, even people who would never condone what happened to the puppy have said they cannot stomach some of the subsequent backlash.

Whatever the alleged wrongdoing, they say, retaliating with racist and derogatory remarks is never the way.

It would be more sensible to tone down, calm down, and let sanity prevail.

Or it's the animals which will pay in the end.

More teeth needed in pet adoption?
The case of euthanised puppy Tammy has prompted animal activists to propose tighter rules on adopting pets. But others ask if this is practical.
By Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 21 Nov 2013

IT IS an issue that can be overlooked in the well-meaning act of giving a stray dog a home, rather than forking out a big sum to buy one: the adoption process and its obligations.

The rights and obligations of taking in such a pooch are in the spotlight following the controversy over Tammy, the healthy, seven-month-old puppy that was put down by its adoptive owner last month.

Briton Alison McElwee euthanised the mongrel pup for being aggressive, claiming that the dog had bitten several people, including her four-year-old daughter.

The woman who initially rescued Tammy before giving her up for adoption, assistant project manager Ada Ong, said Ms McEl-wee had ignored her pleas to return Tammy. The Briton disputes this.

An upset Ms Ong has begun legal action against Ms McElwee for allegedly breaching their pet adoption agreement.

While lawyers for both parties debate the circumstances of the dog's adoption and death, animal activists and welfare groups have set their sights on preventing more "Tammys" from occurring.

The groups, and also independent pet rescuers, are looking at making their adoption agreements - signed between adopters and the groups - more stringent to better protect their charges.

Others, however, have called their efforts impractical.

Does the pet adoption process need to be reformed, and what is the best way to do it?

Pet protection now

CURRENTLY, most animal welfare groups conduct extensive interviews with potential adopters to ensure they are suitable to take in a pet. Questions include the adopters' working hours, their neighbours, and history with pets. Some groups even visit the homes to check that they are pet-friendly.

While some people may be turned off by the intrusive process, Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD) president Ricky Yeo said it helps pair adopters with suitable dogs.

Animal welfare groups and independent rescuers also use adoption agreements to set out owners' basic responsibilities.

While the documents vary, the terms usually require the adopters to provide food, water and veterinary care to the animals. Some also forbid adopters from giving away or abandoning their dogs without first notifying the group.

Ms McElwee's lawyers have disputed that the agreement she signed is a legal contract, but other lawyers disagree - parties are legally bound by the documents, they told The Straits Times.

Several animal welfare groups also conduct home visits for up to a month after the adoption to check on both pet and owner.

The groups reassure adopters that they can call them if the pets develop health or behavioural issues. If the owners insist on giving up the pets, "all they have to do is tell us, and the responsibility falls back on us", said Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD) president Siew Tuck Wah.

Laying down the law?

GIVEN the in-depth process, most people who do adopt are ready to take care of their pets, said the animal welfare groups.

But they cited several close shaves, with pets slated for euthanasia saved because the vets were friendly with the groups and notified them.

To stop pets from being put down possibly unnecessarily over behavioural issues, several groups said they will compare notes and see if their agreements should be beefed up. Both SOSD and ASD plan to explicitly forbid adopters from euthanising the dogs without notification. Some groups said they may run their agreements by lawyers and make it clear to adopters that the documents are legally enforceable.

After the Tammy incident, independent rescuers started sharing a stringent, lawyer-drafted agreement that spells out additional rules. These include not removing the dog's vocal cords to prevent nuisance barking and not euthanising the animal without the previous owner's consent.

Nine animal welfare groups have formed a euthanasia protocol for vets, The Straits Times reported last week. They have sent it to the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), which regulates vets, and the Singapore Veterinary Association.

Currently, vets have to confirm ownership of the pet, satisfy themselves that euthanasia is reasonable and advise the owner of various options before taking the final step of killing the pet. The decision, however, rests entirely with the pet owner.

The proposed protocol asks vets to carry out more specific steps before euthanising animals for bad behaviour. These include verifying that the animal has had basic obedience training and that a trainer has indeed failed to change the pet's aggressiveness.

Unintended consequences

THE desire to protect the animals is understandable. But a barrage of new, harsher legal clauses may be counter-productive.

ASD's Mr Yeo summed up the animal groups' dilemma: "A legal framework needs to be in place to prevent a repeat (of the Tammy incident). But we don't want to make the adoption process so legalistic that it scares people and puts them off adoption."

More stringent adoption contracts may make pet shop animals more attractive as they may not carry the same legal risks. This is despite the fact that dogs can cost thousands of dollars to buy compared to the usual few hundred dollars to adopt - which includes things like vaccination and sterilisation. While some pet stores also have agreements setting out basic care responsibilities, these are not compulsory.

The contracts' practicality is also limited. They may give previous owners recourse if something goes wrong, but they are likely to be useful only then. Most animal welfare groups and rescuers lack the manpower to ensure the agreements are adhered to over time.

Final checkpoint

ENLISTING vets may be more effective. They are well-placed as the last stop before the act of euthanasia, to carry out some reasonable checks. To verify that a trainer failed to change the animal, vets only need to ask the owner for the trainer's contact details and make a phone call.

When asked by The Straits Times, vets themselves had several recommendations. One who declined to be named said: "If a person comes to me and says the animal is aggressive, they must show evidence, such as a police report or injury photos.

"Even if the pet is aggressive in the consulting room, that's not enough. It could be the strange surroundings or the owner's presence causing the behaviour."

It seems reasonable to ask owners to furnish proof of injury or evidence that they tried to change animals, to show that the animals are not put down just for convenience.

Other ideas need more work. Ms Corinne Fong, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), said it did not support the proposed euthanasia protocol as some parts were "impractical".

She said: "How can you possibly guard against someone who lies and says he doesn't remember where he got the animal from? How does the vet verify this?

"If the vets contact the previous owners or re-homers and they object to euthanasia, are they going to take the dogs back unconditionally? Animal shelters are usually full. Will they make the adopters hold on to the animals while they find space? How long should the holding period be? These are not addressed in the protocol and need to be answered."

Mind the people

SOME people also painted a nightmare scenario: The pet turns aggressive, its previous owner refuses to take it back and trainers insist it can be rehabilitated with more sessions.

Should the owner be trapped with the animal then, and be on the hook to pay trainers more and more money or risk getting caught abandoning the pet?

Others point out that while many came to Tammy's defence, few seemed interested in the injuries it allegedly caused. Ms McElwee's lawyers described bites leaving "puncture wounds with blood".

A compromise could be limiting the number of rehabilitation sessions before taking the step of euthanasia. If an owner shows a vet, say, a receipt for recent training and the animal is still aggressive, that could be grounds for euthanasia.

Animal welfare groups and independent rescuers could also create a website where an owner with valid reasons can list the animal for adoption. If nobody takes it after a reasonable time, that could be another green light to put it down.

The state's role

IN THE meantime, the AVA is working on establishing a national microchip database. Since 1996, imported dogs have had to be implanted with a microchip, as do dogs licensed after September 2007. The national database will incorporate all existing registries such as private registry Pet Call, and those of animal welfare groups such as ASD and SPCA.

The measure is intended to discourage pet abandonment, but the AVA could go further and include information on ownership history. Vets could use the database to find "condemned" pets' previous owners, and check if they want the animals back.

The Straits Times had suggested - and some animal welfare groups backed - a one-week mandatory waiting period between the euthanasia request and procedure. Owners might change their minds or animal welfare groups could use the time to try to re-home the pet, such as listing it on a centralised website.

But if a pet remains aggressive, trainers are unable to change this and no new owner steps up, euthanising the animal may be necessary. People should accept this.

It is too late for Tammy. But perhaps some suggestions arising from her death, such as an adoption process with more bite, will lead to more humanity in caring for man's best friend.

** Puppy's death: Mediation brings saga to an end
By Audrey Tan, The Sunday Times, 16 Feb 2014

It took a 12-hour mediation session last week to finally bring closure to a five-month saga over whether Tammy the puppy should have been put to sleep.

Both sides - the woman who adopted the seven-month-old mongrel before euthanising it and the animal welfare volunteer who found it a home - agreed that re-homing the animal would have been a better option.

The saga first made waves when the volunteer, Ms Ada Ong, posted Tammy's story on Facebook on Oct 11 last year, four days after the dog was put down at a clinic in Clementi.

The post, shared more than 900 times, detailed how the puppy was euthanised despite Ms Ong's willingness to take it back.

Animal lovers were outraged that a healthy animal was killed. Ms Alison McElwee, the British woman who adopted the animal, said Tammy was aggressive and had bitten her four-year-old daughter and two adults. She came under attack online.

Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who is known for his love of animals, then weighed in though a Facebook post on Oct 23. He wrote how he had suggested to Ms Ong, a 35-year-old assistant project manager, to "get a lawyer to pursue the matter" after meeting her.

Both parties engaged lawyers, and last Friday, met at 9.30am to mediate the issue. The session ended only at 9.30pm.

A joint statement was issued yesterday by their lawyers, with both sides agreeing to disagree over what was said during a telephone conversation in early October to discuss Tammy's fate.

Ms Ong's recollection was that she had told Ms McElwee she was prepared to take the puppy, Tammy, back. But she needed time to find a suitable boarding place with the intention of finding it a new home.

But Ms McElwee said she remembered the likely outcome was "placing Tammy in a long-term boarding place" - something she did not consider humane.

The joint statement also said that Ms McElwee supported the work done by animal welfare groups, and she herself had participated in adoption drives. It was through such an event that she came to adopt Tammy.

"In hindsight, both parties agree that re-homing Tammy through Ada may have been the better option," read the statement. It ended by saying that there will be "no further comments" from either party on the episode.

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