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When will Church walk an extra mile for animals, most vulnerable of creations?

By Jay Ihsan* 

Ruskin Bond, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Flannery O’Connor, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Lord Byron, Gertrude Stein and Freddie Mercury – each one of them had a deep affinity for animals.
Then there is the Bible which says “all animals are created by God and sustained by Him. God placed the care of animals into human hands.”
The Bible’s call has unfortunately fallen on deaf ears, as my experiences attest.
When I some years back urged a church-going neighbour to spay her three cats, she replied: “My husband said cats are not priority.”
So I offered to pay for the procedure. Reason being I could not bear knowing the cats’ were eventually abandoned with their kittens because they “are not priority”.
When a Malaysian lawyer Rajesh Nagarajan in May this year challenged the Animal Welfare Board to disclose its activities since its formation seven years ago, the handful of support he received was from individuals who care and respect animals.
Rajesh and his team filed the discovery suit against the board after it remained defiant in not revealing its undertakings using the Official Secrets Act 1972 as a cover.
Why would an Animal Welfare Board scramble for protection under the OSA 1972 if no wrongdoing had been committed? By the way, this is not the first for Malaysia that funds meant for animal welfare have been embezzled by those entrusted with it.
The Animal Welfare Board is a statutory body under Parliament, established under Section 4 of the Animal Welfare Act 2015. It is responsible for monitoring establishments, providing education on and promoting animal welfare, as well as advising ministries on matters relating to animal welfare.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court has since ordered the board to reveal its activities, bringing some relief to a worried Rajesh as little was known about the Animal Welfare Board.
Back to the Bible. It has much to speak of animals. Yet, when it was time to lend support, the biblical analogies found no takers, not even with the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM).
(CFM was formed 1985 and is an ecunemical umbrella body in Malaysia that consists of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, National Evangelical Christian Fellowship and Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia).
The CFM instead promptly issued a statement on Aug 30, the eve of Malaysia’s 65th independence day, requesting that prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob not rush into holding the next general election. The federation cited various reasons but nothing that concerned animal welfare and rights.
Was speaking up against the Animal Welfare Board’s refusal to come clear on its pursuits not important for CFM? Or is animal welfare too insignificant an agenda for the federation?
The Bible speaks of some 120 species of animals with sheeps and goats given most prominence. The Noah’s Ark message needs no introduction.
So it is puzzling when the church appears to have lost interest in preserving the Bible’s concerns about animals, leaving it instead to individuals to do their bit to defend animal rights?
When the world struggled to make sense of life during the 2020-2021 Covid lockdown, did CFM remind Malaysians, creed and beliefs regardless, to care for street/community animals in whatever way possible?
How many churches, temples, gurdwaras and mosques in the country diligently remembered and continue to place bowls of water outside their gates to allow cats, dogs and birds to quench their thirst and in the process set an example for house owners and business premises to also do so?
How often do sermons in churches and other places of prayer touch on love and compassion for street animals and the need to speak up against animal abuse?
It was an eye opener for me when one hot evening in my overzealousness I ran up to a nun for consent to feed a street cat outside an unoccupied convent. She instead very sternly told me to do no such thing there.
That I was stunned is an understatement. A former student of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus mission school, I held the belief that safety, care and compassion were synonymous with nuns and vice-versa.
But my recent encounter with some of the nuns have left me aghast.
One morning at 5.30am as I was out for my walk, I heard the desperate cries of a kitten coming from the nuns’ residence/convent. I sought permission to look around their garden for the kitten but did not find any.
As I stepped out and looked inside the drain outside the convent, I saw the terrified kitten. I removed my shoes and got down the drain to rescue it.
Did the drama elicit any response from the nuns? No. They simply got into the car and drove off.
After three failed attempts, I contacted the fire brigade for help. They came soon after and managed to scoop up the kitten.
The nuns remained indifferent to the kitten’s fate. None bothered to enquire, just as they were unperturbed about the two dogs belonging to their neighbour, the Good Shepherd Catholic Seminary (GSCS), who were again left stranded outside, this time throughout one wet cold night. It was only after I alerted the police did the seminary buck up and become vigilant in ensuring both dogs remained safe indoors.
It will always baffle me as to why the nuns here remain unwilling to walk the extra mile for animals, the most vulnerable of creations? Has the church been inflicted with the ‘couldn’t care less” malaise notorious among Malaysians?
Or has the ‘I, me, mine’ narcissism crept into the church? Must the clergy and nuns be “assigned” to reach out to hungry, thirsty or sick street animals? This unlike their counterparts abroad who have no qualms bending over backwards to save or care for animals.
Whatever may be the case, my respect for nuns and church has since slipped out of the window.
I wonder though - had CFM been vocal about animal rights and the need to keep them safe, would the nuns have reflected compassion towards the terrified kitten and given GSCS an earful on keeping their dogs safe?
The federation instead in its August 30 statement hankered on the Malaysian Family propaganda, a brainchild of current prime minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Do animals not feature in a “family”, Malaysian or not? Why did CFM make no mention of the need to take the Animal Welfare Board to task for failing to stay transparent and accountable in its endeavours and encourage Rajesh to strive for the truth?
Are animals, especially those who call the streets their home, not worthy of being part of the “Malaysian Family”? Need they “convert” and offer alms to houses of prayer to justify being loved?
Meanwhile, will CFM, clergy and nuns carry on with what they have been doing all along – look the other way when an animal pleads for help?
What about the Bible's call to be the "voice for the voiceless?" Proverbs 31:1-9: "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
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*Freelance journalist based in Malaysia

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