Strays: A problem that won’t go away

National 4 minutes, 33 seconds

BELAIT

A QUICK survey of public opinion on stray dogs in Brunei leaves a polarising mix of emotions, with not many solutions tabled and even less action taken in assuming responsibility.

Belait is no stranger to the problem of strays. Last week, a group of homeowners from Kg Pandan approached The Brunei Times to express their concern over the presence of strays – many of which appeared sickly – camped out on their porches or below their houses.

“The strays have not acted out aggressively, but they are very persistent in visiting our homes,” said a homeowner who asked not to be named.

Another pointed out that their homes, under the National Housing Scheme, were designed with the bottom floor vacant and without traditional fencing, allowing strays to roam around unhindered.

“There is really nothing in place to prevent them from coming onto our property. We fear using aggressive tactics against them, as we cannot predict how they may retaliate against us,” she said.

The mother of three, who is contemplating calling the enforcement's hotline, was especially concerned that her children together with their neighbours who enjoy playing outside on weekends, are coming into close contact with the strays.

In March, the Kuala Belait and Seria Municipal Board issued a circular reiterating that dog licences were mandatory and needed to be renewed annually.

This was in response to complaints about dog menace causing inconvenience in the district.

Various conditions, including the requirement of dogs to be leashed when outside their owner's residence, were also mentioned. All dogs found to be without a licensed badge, could be “impounded or destroyed” by the state.

With many taking to social media to debate the circular, Chairman of Kuala Belait and Seria Municipal Board Hj Ali Matyassin clarified that the circular was not punitively aimed at culling strays, but served to reiterate provisions already existing under the country's Dog's Act, last revised in 2012.

“The dog licence, which has to be renewed annually for dogs to be kept as pets is not new. It has been in place for several years already as specified under the Dog’s Act,” he said.

All dogs above three months old require a licence which can be obtained from the Municipal Department in Kuala Belait. The process is simple, quick and owners would be given a special tag which their dogs would need to wear, he said.

The chairman has yet to outlay a specific plan to deal with strays, but encouraged the public affected by the problem to call the board's enforcement hotline at 3330780.

Ada Ang, co-founder of local NGO Care and Action for Strays (CAS), said the proliferation of stray animals can be narrowed down to irresponsible ownership and uncontrolled breeding.

“Stray animals, like dogs and cats, are not naturally found in the urban environment we live in. What has caused the problem of strays to spiral out of control, is people taking in animals as pets, letting them breed, and then simply abandoning them,” she said.

Additionally owners who let their unneutered pets roam freely also contribute to the cause.

“On top of this, if you have improper waste disposal, then you will have a full blown problem of strays on your hands,” she said.

Ada observed that prior to the modernisation of the Sg Akar land fill, at least a hundred strays frequented the area. After the site was converted into a transfer station and its operations upgraded to manage waste in an “integrated” fashion, the presence of strays dissipated.

She said a true, lasting solution to reducing the stray population requires a combination of immediate remedial action, backed up by legislation and enforcement from the government, with society also assuming responsibility.

“Pet ownership is not something that should be taken lightly. As practised in many developed countries, it should be strictly regulated, with incentives offered to owners who spay their pets, and for those rearing with the intention of breeding to be subjected to costly licences,” she said.

Knee-jerk responses, like calls for widespread culling have proved inefficient in other countries.

“Culling does not address the root source of strays, as it doesn't consider the environmental causes that lead to a stray population. It doesn't punish those who have abandoned animals indiscriminately either, or allowed them to breed unchecked with no intention of keeping them as pets.”

The spaying of strays as a remedial measure can have lasting effect in reducing their population, if backed by legislation and enforcement on pet ownership, owners who assume responsibility and proper waste disposal.

Ada, individually and later with CAS, has led Brunei's only Trap, Neuter and Release project for a decade but insufficient funds and manpower have limited its wide scale application.

“To spay one stray dog is a timely and costly process. We build trust first through repeated feeding over many weeks, capture them, then bring them to be neutered,” she said.

Over the past decade, Ada has led the neutering of at least 1,000 strays across this period, during which the cost of neutering a dog at private clinics has remained arround $180.

CAS, which is privately funded, has been in talks with government authorities over running a mobile spaying clinic, which could dramatically raise the number of strays neutered in a day.

Ada who remains hopeful over the collaboration with the government said: “It will take some time (talks with authorities). But it is a cause CAS is passionate about, and something we view as worth fighting for.”

The Brunei Times