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Every life is precious: religious beliefs have no place in blindsiding people to harm animals

 By Jay Ihsan 
“Our human language is full of indications of how much dogs mean to us. Somebody who is not favoured to win is an “underdog”; a book that’s well worn is “dog-eared” and why is a “bitch” the most humiliating thing you can call a woman?” – Shirley MacLaine, American actress
Social media platforms are cautious when articles touch on religious sentiments. But when virtues like compassion and mercy, extolled by religions, are no longer revered in the face of dastardly committed abuse against animals, does taking a knock at such preachings and teachings merit a rebuke?
Every voice make a difference when it comes to highlighting ill-treatment. Yet, when houses of prayer that supposedly propagate unconditional care for the living look the other way, silence is no longer deafening. It says everything.
When Malaysia was rocked by the collapse of an apartment block in 1993 which left 48 people dead, rescuers relied on dogs to sniff out dead bodies.
More recently, on December 16, 2022, a landslide in Batang Kali, Selangor, left 30 campers dead while 61 were rescued but not without the tireless efforts of four trackers dogs from the Fire and Rescue Department’s K9 unit.
The four canines, Blake, Lady, Grouse and Pop were felicitated with the “Golden Performance” medal for their efforts by the government.
But why the bias when it comes to honouring dogs who help save lives and the discrimination against canines who lead a challenging life on the street?
This never-ending coldness towards street animals by Malaysians left the London-based Mayhew Animal Home and Humane Education Centre apalled at the suffering of street animals in Malaysia, both at the hands of the public and the authorities.
Mayhew was reported to have said it was very disappointed with Malaysia's lack of respect for animals.
That was more than a decade ago. The mistreatment faced by the street animals in Malaysia has never stopped.
Years ago a concerned citizen wrote in to a news portal about the horror of witnessing a dog being abused at the Kepong Central KTM station by the Kuala Lumpur City Hall workers who tied the dog to a grille and shoved a piece of wood down his throat.
The dog was bleeding and was surrounded by its faeces. The council workers were the least affected by their bestiality as they got busy sprucing up the area to facilitate a visit by a cabinet minister.
On September 21, 2022, a man killed a dog by shooting it with a bow and arrow near a condominium in Wangsa Maju in Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur.
A 23-second video shows a man clad in jeans and black jacket aiming a bow and arrow before releasing several shots.
He can be seen squeezing through parked cars and motorcycles in search of street dogs.
As he releases a final shot before the video stops recording, a dog can be heard yelping.
The video ends with the image of a bloodied dog lying on the road, with an arrow in its mouth.
Animal activists were enraged. But religious authorities, temples and churches as usual played tone deaf. Joining them is the country’s prime minister Anwar Ibrahim who promised to put human well-being first but gave no thought to animal rights.

Animal well-being not priority

Had Anwar put his foot down when it comes to animal exploitation and abuse, the Kuala Langat Municipal Council (KLMC) would know better than to continue acting cruelly towards dogs in its pounds.
Pictures of skeletal dogs in pounds managed by KLMC went viral recently. It left the Malacca chief minister, Sulaiman Md Ali, horrified and who promptly demanded an audit involving all pounds managed by the four local authorities in the state to safeguard the welfare of street dogs and cats.
“It’s not the way to treat God’s creations,’ Sulaiman decried.
KLMC in a bid to wriggle its way out of this latest cruelty against animals committed claimed the emaciated dogs under its care were fed everyday. So why did 14 of the dogs die?
It would serve KLMC well to remember a case several years ago where it was as culpable then for killing nine pedigree dogs without any veterinary assessment.
Sulaiman is not alone in bemoaning the abuse by KLMC. A state ruler’s wife who is the royal patron for Stray Free Selangor was as upset and called for procedures at animal shelters under the care of Selangor municipal councils to be revamped and updated.
Must animals be starved or beaten to death before cries of disbelief are heard? Has the society and those who uphold dogmas that espouse care for the voiceless no shame in turning a blind eye when animal rights are being violated?
Know that the prodigal “too little too late” is an anathema when it comes to protecting lives, both animal and human. Know too that saving lives is not a game of russian roulette left to those “interested” in doing so.
It will be a sad day indeed when animals are "celebrated" because they risk life and limb life to safe a human life, be it at home or at the battlefield? Are animals not deserving of love, compassion and affection otherwise?
Should catastrophes and wars be the uncanny platform for dogs to prove their worth? Are they of no value if they roam the streets for some food, water or affection?
On December 24, 2022, I sat through a 75-minute long Christmas eve mass at the St.Francis Xavier church in Malacca. The parish priest, Moses Rayappan, regaled the congregation with animal tales, engaging in amusement rather than concern and benevolence for the voiceless.
Likewise, the “Clergy Christmas Greetings from the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur”, an almost nine-minute long video shared on YouTube failed to give any thought to the voiceless.
Animated Christmas messages came from Archbishop Julian Leow, Reverend Clarence Devadass, Reverend Patrick Boudville, Reverend Mitchel Joseph, Reverend Peter Anthoney, Reverend Dominic Tan, Reverend Albet Arokiasamy, Reverend Gregory Chan, Reverend Bonaventure Rayappan, Reverend Philip Tay, Reverend Gerard Steve Theraviam, Reverend William Michael, Reverend Michel Dass, Reverend Michael Teng, Reverend Vincent Thomas, Reverend Surain Durai Raj and Reverend Michael Chua.
Archbishop Julian spoke of the less fortunate, charity and reaching out minus any thought for the voiceless. Sadly, none of these reverends had the foresight to preach love, empathy and grace for animals in their Christmas message.
Not surprisingly, the Social Communications Ministry of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur too neglected any word about keeping the welfare of the voiceless close to our hearts.
Evident enough that the biblical proverb 31:8-10 “speak out on behalf of the voiceless and for the rights of all who are vulnerable. Speak out in order to judge with righteousness and to defend the needy and the poor” warrants a revisit.

Benevolence for street animals missing

Thankfully, popular chef Niall Harbison was kind enough to remember that animals, especially those living on the streets, are deserving of attention and love and much more.
Harbison went on to fete 100 street dogs to a sumptuous Christmas feast in Thailand.
"Street dogs around the world have a hard life. But this group of 100 here in Thailand today were made feel very special. I was up at 4.30am to cook them the finest meal of their lives and people have been sending me toys from all over the world so I saved them up for today. Most of these dogs have never seen a toy in their lives," wrote chef Harbison in the caption of the video.
"Medicines, vet trips and daily nutritious food are much more important but just like humans I think sometimes dogs just need to have a special treat and enjoy themselves. I think it's a day they'll never forget," he added.
His act of kindness touched so many hearts - the video viral on Instagram Reels, having garnered over 4.6 million views and 319k likes.
"Literally crying after this video. Great job," said one user in the comments section. "Thank you so much for doing this!"
One man's caring thought for the voiceless has touched millions of hearts. Like Harbison, there are those who take it upon themselves to feed street dogs and cats regularly and without expecting anything in return.
Has humanity stooped so low when caring and feeding street or community animals is relegated to 'whoever cares to do so"?
When most people are only too happy to walk the extra mile to buy their favourite food but find it a nuisance to leave a bowl of water or food for street animals, it is time religious virtues be questioned.
Similarly, when a Catholic church (St.Peter’s Church) is only too excited to flaunt on its Facebook page the juxtaposition of a full moon with the cross but finds it undeserving to make any mention of the voiceless under its care, it is undeniable compassion holds little meaning for the virtuous.
Maybe Malaysians could do well by understanding the importance of mercy from India’s industrialist Ratan Tata. His unreserved endearment for dogs, pedigree regardless, is legendary in India. In fact, a special kennel has been built for street dogs at the global headquarters of his Tata Group in Mumbai.
So when a Ratan Tata makes news for his deep affection for street dogs, should he be praised given his privileged background or scoffed at for being a 'show off"?
The truth is Ratan Tata’s tender-heartedness is beyond laudable for the one reason –he long ago understood that this is one precious virtue that can make or break a life.

Don’t get blindsided by religious taboos

For a country that prides in having the longest and tallest of buildings, it is a shame that Malaysia fails to strike a chord between what matters – the living or the inanimate?
For the longest time, Malaysia’s meek Animals Act 1953 provided a paltry fine of RM200 or a six month jail sentence to animal abusers.
It was in 2005 when Sheena, a German shepherd dog was left to die by her irresponsible owner of seven years, Lien Chong San, after he shifted house.
Lien’s neighbour had telephoned the Department of Veterinary Services three times but the department did nothing to save Sheena.
The dog starved to death. As for Lien, he got off with an insulting RM100 in default of two days' jail.
It was said that since 1953, only two or three animal abusers were jailed and that too not exceeding two days. To appease animal activists, the government passed the new Animal Act 2006 but not a single provision of the Animal Ordinance 1953 was changed.
In 2005, a dog had to be euthanised after suffering excruciating neglect. Its guardian was fined RM100. In 2011, a woman who tortured and stomped kittens to death was fined RM400. In 2012, a person who poured boiling water on a street dog was fined RM200.
In 2012 also, owners of a cat hotel abandoned care of 150 cats resulting in the felines suffering starvation and dehydration. The perpetrators were fined RM6,000 for 30 counts of cruelty and neglect and given three months in prison.
This marked the first time an animal cruelty case had made its way to the High Court and the “appropriate” sentence meted out for animal cruelty.
In 2013, a woman was sentenced to one year in prison for killing her employer's dog.
Malaysia passed a new Animal Welfare Act in 2015 after animal activists pressed for stronger animal welfare legislation. This led to the increase in fine for cruelty from the RM200 to a penalty between RM20,000 and RM100,000 and or three years in prison.
In 2014, Malaysia received a C out of possible grades A, B, C, D, E, F, G on World Animal Protection’s Animal Protection Index. That Malaysia showed no improvement and was again given a C grade in their 2020 rankings says it all.
The Animal Act 1953 gives the veterinary authority and the police the power to arrest without warrant any person caught abusing an animal as stated under Section 44.
A police officer may also stop in a street or public place and examine any animal if he has reason to believe an offence has been or is being committed under Section 44 i.e. the animal is being abused or tortured.
Does the provision made available by the law translate into reality? Rarely.

Religious taboo no excuse to harm animals

In 2014, a flash flood in the town of Kajang left 40 dogs under the care of Malaysia Independent Animal Rescue (MIAR) dead after they drowned in their cages.
Did the Veterinary Services Department (VSD) come down hard on MIAR for negligence and claims of the dogs at the shelter were stolen? No.
MIAR office bearers were fighting deregistration by the Selangor Registrar of Societies (RoS) after it was revealed that shelter president T. Puspa Rani had embezzled funds meant for the shelter animals to support her drug addiction.
Did this news give the then Malaysian government sleepless nights worrying just how many more animals were crying to be saved? Not at all.
Was Puspa Rani blacklisted from setting up any more shelters or having access to animals? No. Did the VSD take cognisance of this tragedy and do the necessary to protect animals in pounds/shelters? No.
When I personally lodged a report with the Department of Veterinary Services in December 2022, I was however forbade from making public the outcome of my complaint. Why the move to silence complainants?
The Malacca Veterinary Department’s (MVD) Amran Zainal Maniam who visited the Good Shepherd Catholic Seminary in Malacca where the dog, Jackson, is kept, made no effort to reveal pictures taken of the dog and its surrounding to placate my concern. To MVD, it is yet another complaint coming its way given that Jackson is walking on all fours and eating and has space to “exercise” hence all is well.
That which matters most ie. Jackson’s psychological welfare is no where on MVD’s radar. That Jackson’s mate May, an otherwise healthy dog, died made no difference to MVD.
A resident in Malacca who cares for abandoned cats refuses to have anything to do with MVD. Reason being MVD had wrongly prescribed medicine to one of his cats resulting in its death.
Baffling that in the face of so much abuse against animals, VSD director-general Dr Norlizan Mohd Noor dare conclude that enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, which took off on July 1, 2017 (thanks to the 2012-2020 NAWSP) is a commendable achievement.
In May last year, Norlizan went on to say that VSD would enforce regulations cited in the 2021-2030 National Animal Welfare Strategic Plan (NAWSP), including one relating to pet or animal abandonment.
He said the Animal Welfare Code of Practice (KAKH) introduced previously was not legally binding.
The NAWSP, which was launched in April 2022 is a continuation of the 2012-2020 strategic plan, aim being to solidify enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act 2015 and other laws and improve the welfare and well-being of animals.
“Without the act, welfare development would be difficult because special legislation and implementation are required. For instance, statutes are needed to conduct surveillance and investigation, as well as prosecute,” Norlizan had said.
Could Norlizan explain how did the Kuala Langat Municipal Council not consider the legal repercussions before starving dogs at its pound to death?
The rhetorics by VSD are not acceptable and need to stop. Until and unless animal well-being becomes a priority for the government, cruelty to animals is here to stay.
Similarly, if religious taboo blindsides officers from carrying out their responsibilities, no reason then for them to stick around at the expense of the animals safety.
Religious blindsiding is anathema. Spare animals such repugnance.

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