BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Brunei is still facing roadblocks finding a lasting solution to the increasing number of stray animals.

Local NGO Care and Action for Strays (CAS) believes that strays make up about 10 per cent of the Brunei population and will continue to increase if inaction persists.

“With our population of about 400,000, we are looking at 40,000 strays,” said CAS Co-founder Ada Ang.

“This is a significant number which grows every day. We need to take necessary measures to control the stray population before it gets worse.”

CAS had floated the idea of mobile clinics as an effective way of tackling uncontrolled breeding in Brunei. The NGO held talks with the government to open a mobile clinic as early as 2016.

Mobile clinics would allow the spaying or neutering of pets to prevent the number of strays from multiplying.

“We only need three to four mobile clinics. If they run simultaneously daily, we’d be able to neuter a lot of animals including pets. Within a year, we can bring down the stray population drastically.

“If this continues and if everyone neuters their animals, in five years, we would have zero stray population in five years,” Ang added.

A stray cat with mange roaming around the streets. May 17, 2019. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

However, some pet owners are not keen on sterilising or neutering as they are seen as inhumane and cruel.

Over the years, CAS has encountered people who rejected the idea of neutering, which involves the removal of an animal’s reproductive organs.

“It is only when their animals start to multiply in numbers they can’t control that they finally gave up and realised that there are solutions,” said Ang, who has neutered over 1,000 animals with CAS.

She says pet owners should neuter their animals when the need arises, along with getting vaccinations, vitamins and nutrients.

“By taking these necessary steps, you reduce the risk of having disease as well as strays around.”

Islamic perspective on neutering

Islamic scholars are divided over the issue of neutering, with some believing neutering as permissible in Islam but not encouraged.

Dr Md Hilmy Baihaqy Hj Awang Yussof of local volunteer group Strayholders said it is important to respect the opinions of local religious authorities and scholars who may have different opinions on spaying and neutering.

“There’s no doubt that spaying or neutering is one of the ways to control the stray population but some may see it as cruel.

“According to scholars, if there is no urgency to spay or neuter then it is not allowed. However if it’s due to strong reasons such as health or environmental factors and is mudarat or harmful, then it is permissible,” he added.

The public relations officer of Strayholders said caring for animals is part of Muslims’ act of devotion towards God.

“In Islam, it is important to treat animals with as much love and care. We are also prohibited from harming them regardless of whether or not they are considered as najis or unclean.”

A man feeds an emaciated stray dog. Photo: Courtesy of CAS

A group of teachers started Strayholders in 2017 to encourage love and care towards stray animals and change public misconceptions.

The group formed during the second cohort of the government’s Young Executive Programme and has since been doing workshops called “Binatang dan Taharah” at schools across the country to advocate for the care of strays.

“During the workshops, we found that many hesitate to help certain animals because they are seen as unclean but we must remember that they too have feelings and deserve our help and love,” says Dr Md Hilmy Baihaqy.

He advised the public to use gloves or any protective garment when necessary during rescues and to thoroughly cleanse afterwards.

“Rescuing these animals and cleansing yourself will only take a couple of minutes but the reward of seeing them free from pain will be felt for a lifetime.

“Islam also encourages the importance of clean surroundings. Hence by taking measures to reduce the stray population, we are creating a cleaner environment not just for the animals but for ourselves,” he added.

Dr Md Hilmy Baihaqy giving a talk at IGS College on animal welfare from an Islamic perspective. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

Responsible pet ownership

Irresponsible pet ownership and uncontrolled breeding have been blamed for the surge in strays.

Another way of addressing the problem of strays is to ensure pet owners do not abandon them and prevent pets from breeding out of supervision.

Noor Amal Azirah Hj Azlan, leader of Strayholders, says responsible pet ownership is important, especially if owners are reluctant to neuter their pets.

She believes pet owners can help control the stray population by not letting their animals breed out of their supervision.

Strayholders Assistant Leader Darryl Tieng Woo Siong said owners can do so by restricting certain areas for their pets to roam freely.

“You can allow your animals to roam freely around your residence but just make sure your gates are closed.

“This may sound like we’re restricting their movement but it’s only because we’re usually occupied with other things while we let our pets play, so it’s easy to miss these things,” he added.

An abandoned dog left at the side of the road was eventually rescued by CAS. Photo: Courtesy of CAS

For cases of animal dumping, Tieng said the public need to be aware that pets or domestic animals cannot survive in the wild compared to strays.

“Domestic animals need humans to survive because they are already used to that lifestyle compared to strays that are used to living in the wild.”

These animals have no ability to go into a jungle or empty space to scavenge for food, he said.

“They will come back to areas that have human beings because we are their source of food. This was one of the biggest things that we also learned.”

He encourages owners to put their animals up for adoption instead, rather than risking their lives.

Ang added that she was against the idea of setting up an animal shelter because it would encourage more people to abandon their pets.

Shelters fill up quickly, she said, and become overpopulated.

“It’s going to be worse because people wouldn’t neuter their animals and once it gets out of control, they would end up dumping them right at the doorstep of the shelter.”

Adopt, don’t shop

CAS believes that one sure way of reducing the stray population is adopting animals instead of buying.

The NGO, which has been helping strays for almost a decade, rescues an average of over 600 animals every year. Some of the animals were released after receiving vaccinations or treatments, with some kept for adoption.

“More than half of these animals are re-homeable with different personalities someone is bound to look for. They really need homes so we hope the public can look into adopting them,” says Ang.

CAS co-founder Ada Ang with some of her rescue dogs. Photo: Hazimul Wa’ie/The Scoop

Prospective adopters will be screened through an interview with CAS.

The interview will ask applicants about their family background, whether they have children and reasons for adopting an animal.

The NGO would then advise which animals fit the criteria, shortlist and bring the chosen animal to the applicant’s residence.

Just like human beings, animals require a suitable environment to function properly. A poor environment is likely to lead to poor health, stress, inappropriate behaviour and failure to thrive.

“Once we arrive, we’ll spend a few hours there to see how they react to the environment, observe the interaction with the adopter and see if it’s compatible or not.”

The adoption process takes one to two weeks, with the NGO doing follow-ups with the owners to check if any issues arise.

Ang says the NGO receives returns from adopters which are mainly due to incompatibility.

“Some adopters also want a cuter or better looking animal which most of the time, doesn’t fit their environment or needs.

“We are trying to change this perception and raise awareness that compatibility matters for the comfort and safety of the animals. Strays are also animals that need love and care.”