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The Big Read in short: When pets are no longer just pets

This week, we look at how more Singaporeans are forging closer bonds with their pets and some of the challenges they face. This is a shortened version of the full feature, which can be found here.

WHY IT MATTERS

The number of dog licences in Singapore has increased from about 70,000 in 2019 to about 87,000 in 2022, said Animal & Veterinary Service’s group director Jessica Kwok.

The authorities require only dog owners to apply for a licence.

According to an Euromonitor International report, the pet dog population in Singapore is around 114,000 in 2023, up by almost 3 per cent from 2019.

The pet cat population hovers around 94,000 this year, a jump of almost 10 per cent compared with 2019.

Pet owners told TODAY that they see the animals as more than just pets — the emotional bonds forged have left them feeling more like parents to their furry, feathery, and sometimes scaly pals.

However, “pawrents” and pet advocates said that despite more people having pets and growing more attached to them, there remain some gaps in the pet ecosystem in Singapore pertaining to workplace policies, public transport and pet care services. 

THE BIG PICTURE

Their love for their pets has seen some pet owners going all out to provide the animals with the finer things in life.

For Ms Trina Liang, beyond the time spent in helping Max, her Singapore Special, open up to humans, she also has one small indulgence for the dog — its wardrobe.

The 52-year-old, who works in the finance industry, has about 50 neckerchiefs for Max. They cost about S$5 each, with Ms Liang going to Spotlight store to select the cloth before getting them individually tailored at Far East Plaza.

This treat is small for the amount of love Max has given Ms Liang, a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) board member.

For Ms Emmanuella Quek, 51, a full-time pet-caretaker who has two cats, aged 15 and 18, and a five-year-old toy poodle, pampering and caring for her pets “is all worth it”. 

She once spent more than S$17,000 on medical expenses for her French bulldog, which had since died.

When asked why she did it, Ms Quek said she had to give her dog a fighting chance to survive.

“Just like a child. Would you just put them to sleep because they are sick? With animals, it’s the same, you should not give up.”

The owners’ love for their “furkids” has sparked an industry of luxurious services for pets, such as palliative care, therapy, funeral services and daycares.

RehabVet, established in 2019 to provide rehabilitation services for animals, said demand for its services has grown by 400 per cent since 2020.

A lawyer also told TODAY that he has seen growing interest in estate planning among pet owners, and has completed two such plans involving pet care last year.

THE BOTTOMLINE

Even as their attachment to their pets have deepened, “pawrents” said they still face some challenges.

They cited concerns about medical bills, lack of stronger regulations around some pet services and having to rely on crowdfunding for blood transfusions to save their pets’ lives in a medical emergency.

Pet owners like Ms Nicole Kow, 37, for instance noted that it can be hard to find someone to trust their pets with. She, for one, always checks reviews and asks other “pawrents” for recommendations.

While rules for pet boarding companies were tightened in 2021, the death of pets while under the care of some pet services have pet owners hoping for more stringent rules across the board.

They also noted that public transport options for pets are limited, and that some taxi drivers turn them away.

One pet owner also recounted how when she lost her dog in 2021, her colleagues were snickering as she tried to work while grieving.

One human resource expert told TODAY that as people humanise their pets, it is not unexpected that some may seek compassionate leave to grieve for their pets’ deaths.

Member of Parliament for Nee Soon Group Representation Constituency Louis Ng said that while Singapore lags behind some countries in being pet friendly, there is hope for further progress.

Some suggestions the animal advocate has brought up previously include an animal polyclinic to provide cheaper healthcare for pets and banning certain procedures that have been recognised as animal cruelty in some countries around the world, such as declawing and debarking.

Speaking to TODAY, Mr Ng raised other potential regulations to improve pet welfare here, such as ending “convenience euthanasia”, where animals are euthanised without other training or healthcare options considered.

However, he noted that some suggestions can be difficult for the Government to implement due to the tight fiscal budget it has to work with. He also noted that there are “religious reasons” that must be taken into consideration.

This is where non-governmental organisations have stepped up. SPCA for one has a community clinic that provides subsidised treatment.

Just last month, the organisation offered its first of 10 free pet health screening for low-income households for 2023.

On a brighter note, some pet owners are happy to see further moves towards making Singapore a more pet-accepting nation, such as allowing Housing and Development Board dwellers to own bigger dogs and possibly cats too, should a public consultation by AVS this month produce the result that animal lovers are rooting for.

Ms Liang, Max’s owner, called on animal lovers here to do their part by adopting “the many animals that need homes at the SPCA”.

“We (must) also be prepared to be the forever home for our animals,” she added.

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