[UPDATED on Friday, 29 August: Adding statement from HDB]
The Housing Development Board (HDB) has apologised for and withdrawn a notice advising dog owners to "debark" pets which cannot keep quiet.
"We apologise for causing anxiety to dog owners," a spokesperson for the HDB said in a statement released on Thursday night. "We agree it should have been handled more sensitively, and the notice has since been taken down."
The statement added that the notice does not reflect accurately the position that HDB takes on debarking dogs. "Debarking should only be considered by pet owners as a last resort when all other measures, especially training, are ineffective and only if the dog owner considers it an option," it said.
HDB's actions come after dog welfare groups in Singapore responded in anger on Thursday to the notice issued by its Ang Mo Kio branch, which advised dog owners to “debark” their pets if they are having difficulty keeping them from disturbing their neighbours at night.
"The debarking procedure is outdated and inhumane, one that destroys an animal’s central means of communication merely for human convenience
," said Corinne Fong, Executive Director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Singapore.
Fong called the HDB notice "disappointing" and added that obedience training was the key to teaching a dog acceptable social behavior.
“We strongly CONDEMN debarking, even as a last resort, to stop a dog from barking,” wrote nonprofit Exclusively Mongrels Limited in a post on its page.
“This is against the order of nature and is considered animal cruelty,” it added, while encouraging fans to share their feedback on the notice with the Ang Mo Kio Town Council.
Dog welfare group Action for Singapore Dogs posted a lengthy message with a photograph of the notice, saying it “strongly object(s)” to the suggestion of debarking dogs, even as it agrees with the premise of the letter, being that consideration for one's neighbours is important.
“This is an extremely cruel and painful procedure of removing the vocal chords which can cause constant physical pain,” the group said. “Such recommendations should not be publicly put out without due advice from experts as it sets a wrong mindset that such solutions are ethical or safe.”
Fiona Foo, founder of Hope Dog Rescue, also told Yahoo Singapore that debarking is a procedure widely considered to be animal cruelty, and that not all vets in Singapore are willing to do it.
"Incessant barking can be corrected," she said. "The owner just needs to put in more effort to correct the behaviour."
She also pointed out that if a dog is barking, it usually points to factors like neglect, abuse, separation anxiety, hunger or thirst. "(In any of those circumstances,) The owner should consider rehoming the dog, as it is not fair for the dog to be left alone for so many hours," she added.
The notice, dated 22 August, was posted at the lift landing of Block 601, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, seemingly in response to feedback from residents about “dog barking nuisance in the middle of the night”.
“We wish to remind all dog owners to take proper care of your dog and ensure that your dog does not cause any nuisance by barking incessantly,” the notice reads, before suggesting three measures: taking the dog for obedience training, using training collars to “control your dog and modify its behaviour”, and “debarking your dog through surgery”.
According to information on the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s website, debarking is "a surgical procedure performed by a veterinarian, in which a section of a dog's vocal cords is removed to reduce the volume of its bark."
Resident Shawn Boo posted a picture of the notice on his Facebook page on Wednesday night.
“Definitely I am quite shocked and disgusted by the third suggestion,” he told Yahoo Singapore. “I am a dog owner myself and I do not think our furkids deserve such treatment. The person who wrote this notice should reflect on his actions and not make such a blunder again.”
Boo, who is 26 and has lived at Block 601 all his life, added that he has never once heard dogs barking in the middle of the night.
Neither has his friend and neighbour, Lim Wei Ling, a trader, who has lived on the other side of the same block for the past 16 years.
“I honestly have not heard any dogs barking,” she said. “Even if there is, it’s not the unbearably loud and persistent kind. We get random dogs barking in the day, but I don’t think there is any ‘in the middle of the night’ like what the poster said… so I’m not sure who the target audience (of the notice) is.”
Boo said he found the notice posted at the lift landing of Lim’s side of the block.
His friends immediately reacted in shock and anger to his picture of the notice, calling HDB’s suggestion of it “inhumane” and “disturbing”.
Overnight and on Thursday morning, the photo was shared widely on Facebook, with many leaving comments in outrage as they shared it.
Other individuals have said they have written letters expressing their concern to HDB’s chief executive officer Cheong Koon Hean, with one user, Lorna Khoo, calling it “cruel and unusual punishment”, asking for the letter to be withdrawn and for an apology to be issued.