Saturday 30 August 2014

HDB retracts notice asking residents to consider 'debarking' noisy dogs

HDB says it agrees the issue should have been handled more sensitively
Channel NewsAsia, 28 Aug 2014

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) said a notice put up in Ang Mo Kio, advising residents to possibly 'debark' their dogs if they make too much noise, does not accurately reflect its position.

The notice had listed debarking as one option, alongside obedience training sessions and training collars, to manage the problem of excessive barking by dogs, which HDB says, could become a nuisance to neighbours. It went viral on social media, with some animal lovers labelling the suggestion "barking mad".

In a statement issued in response to Channel NewsAsia's enquiries on Thursday (Aug 28), HDB said the notice has been taken down and apologised for the anxiety caused to dog owners.

"The notice had meant to seek the assistance of dog owners to help manage the issue of excessive dog barking at an Ang Mo Kio block, arising from complaints received. We agree it should have been handled more sensitively," the statement read.

HDB said when residents complain about excessive dog barking, they have always advised and counselled dog owners to manage their pets' barking and behaviour through obedience training.

"Debarking should only be considered by pet owners as a last resort when all other measures, especially training, are ineffective and only if the dog owner considers it an option," HDB stated.

An advisory on the website of the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority also says debarking surgery is a "solution of last resort".

Prior to HDB's confirmation that the notice was withdrawn, non-profit organisation Agency for Animal Welfare wrote on its Facebook page that it had written to the Ministry of National Development at 5am on Thursday regarding the issue. Hours later, it posted: "The AMK HDB notice has been removed. We thank MND Ministers of State, Mr Desmond Lee and Dr Maliki Osman for their swift and responsive wisdom and kindness".

Ms Corrine Fong, Executive Director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said the initial recommendation to debark dogs was "disappointing". In a statement released to the media, she called the debarking procedure "outdated and inhumane", noting that many veterinarians refuse to do the surgery on ethical grounds.

Ms Fong said the SPCA urges HDB and the public to always put animal welfare first in resolving communal problems.

Dog disturbances: HDB suggests 'debarking'; animal rights group posts 'strong objections'
Channel NewsAsia, 28 Aug 2014

An animal rights group has voiced "strong objections" to a Housing and Development Board (HDB) suggestion that dog owners who are unable to keep their dogs from barking should consider surgically "debarking" their pets.

The HDB notice, issued by its Ang Mo Kio Branch on Aug 22, referred to a "dog barking nuisance in the middle of the night at Blk 601, Ang Mo Kio Ave 5". It called upon dog owners to consider one of three options: Obedience training sessions; training collars to control and modify the behavior of their pets; or debarking the dog through surgery.

"A dog barking excessively can become a nuisance to your neighbours. It is the owner's responsibility to ensure that your dog does not disturb others," read the HDB notice, which referred dog owners to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) website.

The AVA website said the debarking surgery is a "solution of last resort". It stated that debarking is a surgical procedure performed by a veterinarian in which a section of a dog's vocal cords is removed to reduce the volume of its bark.

"Debarking does not eliminate the sound of the bark completely. Sometimes the dog can also regain its bark should the vocal cord regenerate," AVA stated.


In response, Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD) posted on its Facebook page that while it agreed with the premise of HDB's letter that consideration for neighbours is "paramount", it "strongly objects to point #3 of 'debarking your dog through surgery'".

ASD said: "This is an extremely cruel and painful procedure of removing the vocal chords which can cause constant physical pain. A dog also barks when it is in a stressed or anxious mode, and not hearing the dog does not mean the dog is in a stable state of mind. That can lead to further behavioural issues such as aggression and separation anxiety.

"Such recommendations should not be publicly put out without due advice from experts as it sets a wrong mindset that such solutions are ethical or safe."


Dr Lee See Yang, president of the Singapore Veterinary Association (SVA), told Channel NewsAsia that it does not track the number of debarking cases as "this is not a routine surgical procedure and usually performed by veterinarians only if all other medical treatments like using sedative drugs or procedures like positive training or a change of environmental condition fail".

Still, he said the association believes there is a drop in trend for owners to seek this form of medical treatment for pets.

"This procedure is very uncommon these days as more pet owners are educated and understand animal welfare and ethics issues. Moreover, pet owners also understand that debarking is not a total cure of this animal behaviour issue," he added.

The SVA president said pet owners usually request for debarking because the dog has an underlying behavioural issue, which affects their normal lifestyle. Other reasons could be complaints from neighours, or as an alternative to adoption or euthanasia.


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