Castaway dogs trouble Malaysian conscience

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2009:
PULAU KETAM, Malaysia– Striving to rescue more than 150
dogs who survived being deliberately marooned on a remote swampy
island in the Straits of Malacca, the Malaysian animal charities
Furry Friends Farm, Selangor SPCA, and Save A Stray had among them
caught just a few dozen in a month of effort as ANIMAL PEOPLE went to
press–but they had stimulated awareness of surgically sterilizing
dogs wherever television, radio, and online media reach in the
Malay language, including Singa-pore and Indonesia as well as
Malaysia.
The Pulau Ketam dog rescue showed promise of expanding into
the beginnings of a regional Animal Birth Control program, modeled
after ABC successes in India. Malaysian Department of Veterinary
Services director general Abd Aziz Jamaluddin told Lestor Kong of The
Star that the department will send 10 veterinarians to Palau Ketam to
sterilize dogs on June 27-28.


“Pulau Ketam residents had trapped and dumped the dogs on the
island since early March,” reported Shoba Mano of The Star, “with
allocations allegedly provided by Klang municipal councillor Tee Beng
Lee. In late April, animal activist Sabrina Yeap read a Chinese
newspaper report where independent animal rescuers complained of dogs
being abandoned on uninhabited islands off Pulau Ketam, near Port
Klang. Shocked, Yeap shared her concerns with fellow activist and
blogger, Terence Victor Smith, better known as TV Smith. He
immediately went on an expedition to investigate the matter.”
Smith, an active blogger, relayed word of the dogs’ plight
to the outside world on May 2, 2009. Smith is no relation to the
British punk rocker of the same name. “Unfortunately, I am not as
talented,” Smith told ANIMAL PEOPLE. Yet the rock star probably
never sang a message that resonated as far, as fast, as Smith’s
posting.
“The Pulau Ketam villagers have been rounding up all the
dogs on the island and shipping them to a deserted mangrove island,”
Smith began. “I met with the village head, and was shocked to hear
that they did not even consider how the unfortunate dogs would
survive. Friends Daniel Tang and Sabrina Yeap,” the Furry Friends
Farm founder, “accompanied me on a reconnaissance trip. We
chartered a boat. As we approached the island, I was thinking we
would only see bones and carcasses. Poisonous snakes abound on the
waterlogged island and the mud and sand will swallow you when you
walk on it. The first dog we saw managed to wag his tail feebly upon
seeing us.”
This dog, photographed perching in a tree, became the
poster dog for the Furry Friends Farm rescue effort.
“According to local fishers,” Smith said, “the starving
animals resorted to cannibalism. They ate the carcasses of the fellow
castaways who didn’t survive. They were so desperate that they swam
to nearby kelongs,” the floating platforms used as homes and
workplaces by local fishing families, “only to be chased away. Many
weaker dogs died in the water. We enlisted the help of a couple of
Indonesian workers from a nearby kelong. They will also try to feed
and trap the remaining dogs where possible.
“Boat hire is expensive there,” Smith observed. “It is a
tourist area. Rescued dogs cannot be transported on the regular
ferries. Almost nobody will lift a finger to help without a fee,”
Smith found. “The locals are already shaking their heads in
disbelief that outsiders want to save the animals they so casually
discarded. We need their co-operation to help save the unfortunate
creatures,” Smith concluded. “We also hope to educate the islanders
on better treatment of animals. It would be an impossible mission if
we didn’t win their hearts.”
Word of the dogs’ plight had circulated through Malay media
for about a month before reaching Smith.
“The news that Pulau Ketam residents had placed some 312
stray dogs on three nearby deserted mangrove islands sparked a public
outcry,” reported the Malay Mail. “The villagers defended their
actions as their last resort to try to overcome their stray dog
problem. There were about 2,000 strays on Pulau Ketam,” the Malay
Mail said.
“Heat is on us now”
“The heat is on us now,” Pulau Ketam politician Pua Kin Lok
said, “but we can’t wait until the dogs start eating us before we do
something. We’re doing this on our own because the government has
not come up with a better solution. We have had at least four cases
of children being attacked by dogs. It is very scary for us,
especially at night.”
“The dogs, who lived below the stilt houses, would come up
to the wooden platforms [supporting the houses] during high tide,”
wrote Edward Rajendra of the Malaysia Star. “Pulau Ketam village
head Cha Keng Lee said most residents felt that the move to send the
animals to the nearby islands would resolve the stray dog problem.
The uninhabited island would also offer more space to the dogs, he
said.”
“Our aim was not to be cruel to the dogs. But we strongly
feel that the stray dog problem must be solved,” Lee told Rajendra.
“When the dogs come up to the platform, they defecate all over.
Sometimes they also bite the children.”
The Pulau Ketam islanders “meant to be kind, as they were
uncomfortable with the way stray dogs were exterminated by local
council staff,” said Wani Muthiah of the Star.
Responded K. Sri Dhammaratana, the Buddhist chief high
priest of Malaysia, “It shows that they lack compassion. To
abandon dogs on an island which has no food and water is
unacceptable. They have forgotten that these dogs are living things.”
Five days after Smith and Sabrina Yeap began their rescue
attempts, and began trying to mobilize to do more, five Selangor
SPCA and Save A Stray personnel visited the marooned dogs, taking
nine reporters with them. They caught just two dogs.
Their involvement, beginning after Smith and Yeap had begun
international fundraising to hire more boats and help, generated
some initial suspicion. Yeap worked for the Selangor SPCA before
starting Furry Friends Farm, and there was friction about the
parting of the ways. Awkward cooperation developed as the rescue
proved to be a longterm project.
“We need more help in terms of funds and support,” said Save
A Stray founder Jacqueline Tsang. “These dogs are foragers, not
hunters. They cannot live here even if they learn to hunt. Many
will die. We are here to educate the people and inform them that we
need to neuter the dogs.”
“To date, more than half of the 300 dogs left on one of the
islands, Pulau Tengah, have died from starvation or dehydration,”
the Malay Mail reported on May 7. “On the furthest island, Pulau
Selat Kering, dogs were found to be attacking and eating each other.”
“The dogs were so frightened at the sight of a big group of
people that they fled deeper into the island,” wrote Rajendra. The
dogs remained deep among the mangroves as the incoming tide covered
much of the island surface.
The Selangor SPCA and Save A Stray set up feeding stations,
as Furry Friends Farm had, to try to win the dogs’ trust. Diving
instructor Pamela “Pumpkin” Lim C heng Yoke became the on-site
director of rescue. Volunteers Marjorie Gabriel and Karin Lee built
four “food pontoons,” consisting of platforms attached to empty oil
drums. The “food pontoons” kept the food above water even at high
tide, and gave the dogs a relatively dry resting place.
Among them, the three groups rescued only five dogs during
their first week of attempts, reported Wani Muthiah of the Star.
They were more successful in their second week. Furry Friends Farm
caught 15 dogs and the Selangor SPCA caught 13.
The rescuers had hoped to get support from the Klang
Municipal Council, after the council reportedly promised Furry
Friends Farm legal adviser that help would be forthcoming. “We want
the council to provide us with boats and dog catchers to make the
rescue mission easier and more cost-efficient,” Fernandez told the
Star. “But they are not being helpful at all.”
Blogged Smith, “Those responsible for dumping the dogs are
still sitting on their ass and not doing anything to help despite
offering to do so. We have no choice but to work with the killers at
the moment, as only they know where the dogs were dumped.”
Despite frustration with the council’s inertia, the Selangor
SPCA hoped that the official involvement would lead to “long-term
sterilization and education efforts on Pulau Ketam within the next
three months. A dog population census/survey needs to be carried out
to obtain a more accurate figure for the population, currently
estimated at 1,500-2,000 dogs,” the Selangor SPCA web site
recommended. “An area of approximately 2,000 square feet needs to be
located on Pulau Ketam for a temporary neutering clinic, as well as
a holding and post-operation facility.”
According to the Selangor SPCA plan, “Sterilization will
target pet dogs first, then community dogs and strays. Community
dogs and strays will be vaccinated, treated and neutered before
being returned to their original location or moved back to the
mainland for rehoming,” in a “collaborative effort between animal
welfare groups.”
Prior to the sterilization campaign, the program
participants would “arrange for an educational talk for the
residents, to highlight the importance of neutering to curb the
number of dogs on the island, as well as dispel any myths or
misconceptions they have about neutering.”

Contact:

The Furry Friends Farm Rescue Mission Secretariat:
<dogrescue.pk@gmail.com>; telephone +601-2378-3730 or
+601-2320-8090. Rescue updates are posted at
<www.mycen.com.my/rescue>.
TV Smith: <tvsmith@mycen.com.my>.
Sabrina Yeap: <yeapwen@yahoo.com>.
Selangor SPCA: <enquiries@spca.org.my>; <www.spca.org.my/>;
603-4256-5312; Jalan Kerja, Ayer Lama, 68000 Ampang Jaya,
Selangor Darul Ehsan.

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