Singapore ends TNR program amid SARS panic

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  June 2003:

SINGAPORE–“More than 70 cat lovers gathered at a five-star
hotel yesterday to remember the 700 cats who were culled recently,”
the Singapore Straits Times reported on June 9.  “The special
80-minute session,  which included song and flower tributes,  and a
minute’s silence for the dead animals,  was organized by the animal
welfare and rescue movement SOS Animals,”  founded by Sandy Lim.
SOS Animals claimed to have rescued 60 cats from the
purported culling,  and was raising funds to build a shelter for them.
Another Singapore group,  the Animal Lovers League,  founded
by Cathy Strong,  approached the Singapore Agri-Food & Veterinary
Authority with a proposal to build a sanctuary capable of keeping
2,000 to 3,000 cats–which she believed could be done for $173,000.
Earler,  Strong proposed evacuating as many as 2,000 cats to
the Noah’s Ark shelter in Johor,  Malaysia.  Noah’s Ark founder
Raymond Wee responded that his shelter was already filled to capacity
with 320 cats and dogs,  while the Johor Veterinary Services
Department said that feral cats from Singapore would not be accepted
in Malaysia anyway.

The four-acre Ericsson Pet Farm boarding kennel in Pasir Ris,
Singapore,  housed 300 cats on May 23,  but had 500 just four days
later,  with another 100 on the way.  Owner Eric Lim was charging
panic-stricken cat rescuers $5.00 per cat-day,  a third of his usual
Driving the frantic effort to find places for cats were
reports that the Singapore Centre for Animal Welfare was
exterminating TNR colonies in response to SARS.
“Almost 100 stray dogs and cats from the Pasir Panjang
Wholesale Centre were killed when the center was closed for 15 days
in April,  after three cases of SARS were linked to it,”  wrote Ben
Nadarajan of the Straits Times on May 21.  But Centre for Animal
Welfare chief Madhavan Kannan told Nadarajan that the Pasir Panjang
cats were killed as part of a routine removal of cats from a
food-selling location.
“Our stand is that there is no evidence that SARS can affect
dogs and cats,”  Madhavan said.
Cat Welfare Society president Lynn Yeo was unconvinced.
“This could escalate to the culling of thousands of cats,”  she told
NewsAsia reporter Farah Abdul Rahim two days later.  Yeo explained
that the Cat Welfare Society had spent $60,000 in recent years to
sterilize about 5,000 cats whose lives might now be in jeopardy.”
“We have been receiving numerous calls from volunteers about
[sterilized] cats being removed from their habitat,” confirmed
Singapore SPCA executive officer Deirdre Moss.  “These actions are
sending out the wrong message.”
Reports about dog-culling began circulating parallel to the anxiety
about cats when Metta Cattery volunteer Sharon Siow told Tor Ching Li
of NewsAsia on May 22 that “the Jurong Town Council was seen loading
five vans with stray dogs to be put down a few days ago.”
“Everything is as normal,”  Madhavan still insisted.  “We are
still putting down an average of 10 stray cats and dogs each per
day.”  But Minister of State for National Development Vivian
Balakrishnan eroded Madhavan’s credibility at a May 24 press
conference,  admitting that a cull was underway.
“It’s a public health concern,”  Balakrishnan declared to
Tracy Quek of the Straits Times,  adding “There should be no strays,
cats,  dogs or vermin near or in food establishments,  markets,  or
any other place where food is sold or handled.”
Balakrishnan told Quek that the Agri-Food & Veterinary
Authority had suspended its five-year-old feral cat sterilization
program,  after fixing 10,000 of the estimated 80,000 feral cats in
Singapore,  “because it had not met its objective of reducing the
overall problem of strays,”  while complaints about feral cats
continued to come at the rate of about 5,000 per year.
However,  to see any reduction at all in a population of
80,000 cats,  it would be necessary to sterilize 70%:  56,000.
On May 27 Grace Chua and Sherwin Loh of The Straits Times
reported that “The AVA has intensified its daily culling of stray
cats,  even sterilized cats,  from 35 before last Friday to more than
45 now.  While the link between domestic animals and SARS has not
been shown,”  Chua and Loh explained,  “the AVA said that for
environmental and public health reasons town councils are helping to
round up stray cats,  especially around hawker centers and markets.”
The Straits Times noted on May 30 that demoralized Cat
Welfare Society TNR volunteers were no longer taking cats to private
veterinarians to be sterilized,  as they formerly had.
“What’s the point now?” asked volunteer Corinne Goh,  35.
“We’re not getting any assurance that the strays we sterilize and
care for will be spared.”
Added the anonymous Straits Times reporter,  “Stray dogs are
not being spared either.  About 16 are put down each day,  but there
has been no increase,  unlike for cats.”
Despite the many indications that cats and dogs might have
been targeted due to the SARS panic,  however,  it was not clear from
the available data that either cats or dogs were actually being
killed in higher numbers than in past years.  What was clear was that
more people were noticing the killing.
Killing cats at the rate of 45 a day for an entire year would
produce a toll of 16,425,  compared to a typical annual toll of
between 10,000 and 13,000,  between the Singapore SPCA and the AVA.
Killing dogs at the rate of 16 a day for a year would bring a toll of
5,840,  about half again the average of the past six years–but it is
routine for animal control agencies all over the world to handle up
to 50% of their total volume of animals from April through July.

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