Animal welfare

stray dog with pups. Picture: SUPPLIED

Some people know the sign (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)) out front in Walu Bay, others may just notice it now with this article – but here is some of what happens behind that sign and that bamboo wall.

SPCA and animal welfare organisations of various sorts, and under various names all originated as a place of refuge for animals neglected and/or abused. They are a cornerstone to providing temporary refuge for these animals, providing veterinary care and most importantly neuter so that they do not reproduce.

They are a cornerstone for educating the public about animals, particularly domesticated animals.

They are a cornerstone to doing something about the injustices of abuse and neglect in the way of influencing legislative efforts. SPCA Fiji Islands started in 1953 and like in many parts of the world was an introductory pathway for animal care and veterinary services. Many overseas NGO shelter organisations only provide veterinary care for the animals at their shelter.

Here in Suva, and at other NGO organisations such as PASH in the west, we offer basic veterinary medical and surgical care for anyone who needs this assistance for their animals.

Other sources of veterinary care are very much lacking, but happily we have seen the existence and growth of private veterinarians for the general public, mostly concentrating on our small companion animals (cats, dogs and guinea pigs for example).

Ministry of Agriculture continues to be the primary source of veterinary care for livestock animals, along with various specifically designated veterinarians and volunteers.

Since its inception, SPCA has been instrumental in facilitating volunteer veterinarians who have provided a range of services from assisting with spay/neuter clinics to the complex variety of other needs by animal owners such as skin consultations, wound treatments and routine medical care.

Volunteers, in particular, are invaluable in providing outreach spay and neuter surgeries for community clinics.

With proper mentoring and supervision, recent local veterinary science graduates will be able to assume many of the roles the volunteers have provided and much more. By the same token, they will be able to disseminate invaluable information on the care of all our animals and provide basic veterinary care when allowed by licencing authorities.

What about the animals housed at SPCA – where do they come from?

SPCA provides shelter (a temporary home) for animals in need.

The shelter is not a permanent home – anyone who visits will understand that immediately. Some of these animals are homeless and wander the streets searching for food and shelter.

Some of these animals are turned in to SPCA by the public, collected by our SPCA transport or trapped by other agencies.

SPCA does not have the personnel nor resources to drive around the streets and collect animals, but relies on the public for assistance in locating where these animals can be picked up.

Other animals are surrendered by owners because they cannot be cared for at their home anymore – reasons include death in the family, move to residence not favourable to keeping pets, move out of the country and other reasons. Some are born at the shelter if the mum has been turned in to the shelter.

Are all animals on the street homeless?

Sadly, no. And those owned animals participate in the behaviours which give the homeless dogs a bad reputation. Owned animals turned loose for the day or night to roam the streets comes home for a meal and shelter, while the homeless dog suffers abuse, hunger and being cold and wet. If owned animals are not neutered – particularly males – they contribute to the terrible stray population.

Some of the owned animals get turned in with terrible injuries such as motor vehicle accident, cane knife attack, poisoning or hot water burns to name a few reasons.

SPCA suggests the ideal situation is no street dogs or at least as few as possible and only in select areas where they can be cared for by community members. Ideally, all owned dogs are kept on your property and not allowed to roam.

Designated areas for exercise similar to dog parks overseas and leash walks should be the preferred methods of any dogs off their own home property. Higher licencing fees for dogs not neutered should be a goal.

Unneutered male dogs roaming the streets are contributing to the problem of stray dogs. Owned dogs purposely bred should have an even higher kennel fee. Changes in fees and regulations come about when the public as a whole seems to be contributing to the problem – even while they complain.

What happens to dogs turned in to SPCA?

Please note SPCA does not breed or sell puppies or dogs – they all arrive here homeless in some way, shape or form.

They get adopted out which is sometimes called rehomed – often with a fee. At SPCA these dogs go through processing – records are generated which gives information on who is turning the dog in, what area they came from and other pertinent information as can be obtained.

The stray dogs collected from the street usually do not tell us their history so that becomes a blank space.

This information is confidential and only used for internal decisionmaking. An initial medical evaluation determines if any injury or disease is treatable or manageable – unfortunately, severe injury can lead to a decision of euthanasia (humane death). This decision is not arrived at lightly and becomes necessary when there is limited space or resources to care properly for an animal which might become a life-long invalid.

The staff members at SPCA believes strongly in quality of life. The animals get onto a deworming program to eliminate intestinal parasites commonly called worms.

They are treated for external parasites. Common ones are fleas, ticks and lice. Simple medical conditions are treated. Before the puppy or dog goes to a new home – adopted or rehomed – a neuter surgery is performed to stop this animal from contributing to the unwanted population. If vaccine is available, the puppies in particular receive vaccination.

All of this medical program is based on the availability of the medication and resources.

Meanwhile, the puppies and dogs are housed in as safe and comfortable environment as possible with as much socialising as possible. Socialising helps transition to a new home and family. All of this care SPCA would like to see in all our owned animals.

Attitudes and acceptances make or break even the best program. If the public does not understand what it means to neuter their dog, if they do not understand how this participates in reducing the street and stray dog populations, or if they just do not care, then we have a never-ending problem.

Based on the ever increasing populations presented to SPCA in the last couple of years this problem is worsening.

The government can only go so far in producing legislation – the public must individually do their part then as a whole community the results will be seen. SPCA is here to help but cannot carry the entire burden of stray and homeless dogs. The stray dog problem is a people problem much the same way pollution is.

What else is done behind that bamboo curtain?

Fundraising to help as many homeless animals as possible. Neuter or desex surgery to reduce as many stray dogs as possible. Collecting supplies and food – every little bit helps from newspapers, old towels, food and cleaning supplies.

Raising awareness of the reasons for stray animals, the reasons for cruelty, the solutions to the problem, and to acceptable care of animals. SPCA is an organisation of like-minded people who have various roles, but all with the combined goal of preventing cruelty to animals.

This starts with providing information on animal care, veterinary services, and ‘birth control’ or neuter.

We consistently attend to reports of cruelty and to provide education on what constitutes cruelty. We encourage you to make an appointment to bring your puppy or kitten, dog or cat for checkup and consultation on how to care properly for them

. The first six months of their lives require the greatest effort which, if done properly, can lead to years of enjoyment with your animal companions.

The veterinary staff members can advise on these and other things, such as what medications to give or not to give; what to feed, when and how much; what behaviours to watch for that tell if your animal is healthy or sick; first aid and when it is needed, and much more.

SPCA is an organisation of animal care, animal welfare and veterinary care. We provide people with the opportunity to find a wonderful dog or cat companion while finding a home for a stray.

We would love to see the day when very few animals are without a home, and the kennels at SPCA hold more cobwebs than dogs.

• DR JO OLVER is a doctor of veterinary medicine with SPCA Fiji Islands. The views expressed are the author’s and do not reflect the views of this newspaper.

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