Why is pet adoption so strict in Singapore?

More falling incidents and return cases are causing animal welfare groups to increasingly tighten pet adoption criteria

Why is pet adoption so strict in Singapore? (Photos: Getty Images)
Why is pet adoption so strict in Singapore? (Photos: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE - While adopting a pet can be seen as an act of compassion, recent years have seen the adoption criteria in Singapore become increasingly stringent.

This shift is primarily driven by a collective commitment to ensure the well-being of animals, and to promote responsible pet ownership.

What other reasons are driving the need for such stricter criteria?

Yahoo Southeast Asia had a chat with the the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and animal welfare groups, on why the standards of pet adoption have been rising.

Rising jumping and falling incidents

May Ngu, head of rehoming at SOSD Singapore, said that in the last few years, more adopted dogs have allegedly been prone to jump off balconies and kitchen window ledges out of anxiety and nervousness.

“Many of them are genetically anxious due to the experiences their mothers had during pregnancy, and having to fend for themselves in the wild previously,” she said.

According to her, at least five dogs have died from such incidents between 2020 and 2022.

In response, animal welfare groups have changed their policies with stricter guidelines, to prioritise pet safety. Adopters have to show substantial effort that prevention measures can be in place to protect the lives of these dogs.

As such, animal shelters may lose potential adopters on a case by case basis, due to the inability to grille the house or install window restrictors on high floor units.

According to the SPCA, there are about six to eight cases of cats falling from height each week. In response to such incidents, its executive director Aarthi Sankar told Yahoo Southeast Asia that criteria such as meshing of windows and gates is a "non-negotiable" for adopters residing in HDB flats.

For animal welfare group, Purely Adoptions, the willingness to cat-proof a home is a key deciding factor in approving cat adoptions.

In effort to reduce the number of falling incidents, the group conducts house visits to "physically see" proper cat proofing, such as cable-tying all four corners of meshing, and observing the general outlook of the family.

Shelby Doshi, a volunteer who helps with cat adoptions, said that certain prospective adopters are unwilling for such visits to be conducted, and deny face to face contact, which she deems is a "red flag".

Other limitations to pet adoption include landlords prohibiting rental units from adopting, and some condominiums not allowing permanent structures like nettings and grilles to be built.

Ngu pointed out that home size does not determine whether or not one would make a great adopter.

"A lot of people have the mindset that because they are living in a HDB or condo that can be relatively small, it is not fair for these big dogs to live in smaller houses."

She begs to differ, citing instances of adopters residing in studio apartments or one-room flats, who have proven to be exceptional caregivers.

Conversely, individuals residing in more spacious houses or landed properties have, at times, returned adopted dogs when they found it to be inconvenient.

Reducing return cases

Dog return cases has also been on the rise in recent years, said Ngu. "We are seeing a number of return cases where families that have adopted dogs nine to 10 years ago, and are looking to return the old dogs, because they have become an inconvenience to the family."

As such, volunteers at SOSD are getting stricter with the adoption criteria, to avoid return cases of adopted dogs.

"We are heartbroken for senior dogs that are returned to the shelter after knowing a comfortable home environment for the past 10 years. It's difficult to find future adopters for senior dogs, something we hope more adopters can be open to. Senior dogs make wonderful companions too," Ngu said.

Through pre-adoption briefings conducted online over Zoom, the group hopes to educate the public that senior dogs can also make great pets.

SPCA has also noticed the trend of puppies being surrendered after a few years of adoption. A commonly cited reason is that the adopter is no longer able to manage the dog’s behaviour.

To reduce such instances, the association has also had to make their adoption counselling process more stringent. Sankar said this is to ensure a good fit between the adoptive family and their pet.

The counselling process helps prospective adopters understand the pet's long-term needs, make a serious commitment to send the pet for training, and ensure they are ready for the challenges that pet ownership entails.

A lot of return cases of adopted cats have also been reported by Purely Adoptions. This usually occurs when newly married couples who have previously adopted cats, decide to have children, and become unable to care for the cats, said Doshi.

Changing behaviour of stray dogs

The temperament and behaviour of stray dogs that SOSD currently cares for has also changed. Ngu said that the dogs are "not as friendly" as those a few years ago.

In effort to lower the population of stray dogs in Singapore, the Animal and Veterinary Service launched the "Trap-Neuter-Release-Manage" (TNRM) programme in 2018. While it has been effective in tracking, sterilising, rehoming and adoption of friendly dogs over the past few years, animal welfare groups are left with stray dogs that have evaded the traps for years, and are skittish, shy and nervous around people.

At the tail end of the TNRM project, these dogs are unable to be neutered, and birth puppies that develop behavioural issues and quirks similar to that of their mothers.

"They generally don't like to be petted by people and they take a much longer time to warm up to humans," Ngu said. "They are bound to be fearful. They really do take a much longer time to warm up, and learn how to be a domesticated pet."

This makes it harder for animal welfare groups to find a home for the dogs, as interested adoptees tend to prefer young and friendly dogs.

Nurturing the dogs also requires kindness, patience, and a lot of positive reinforcement. As such, adopters might struggle to fully tame the stray dogs and assimilate it into a home environment.

Finding a forever home for the animals

Ngu said that guidelines are to ensure safety throughout the pet's lifetime. The stricter adoption criteria works as "double-edged sword", weeding out responsible caregivers from less committed ones.

"It gets more expensive to care for dogs as they get older, as they have more medical issues, and require frequent visits to the vet," she added. As such, adopters have to consider their readiness for lifestyle changes and ability to commit financially to their pets' eventual needs.

Ngu also shared that Singapore Specials are generally not great with children, especially with feisty kids who may scream, run around and be very loud.

"Children can be rough and may not be able to read warning signs or give the dogs space, which could potentially lead to biting incidents," she explained

For Purely Adoptions, stricter criteria works as a "filter system" to deter impulsive adoption, and help find genuine adopters for the best interests of the dogs. Its stringent interview process includes questions on housing type, lifestyle, main caregivers, ability to factor in costs of the pet, and future plans such as family planning.

Other considerations include whether they have an existing pet, pet allergies, the presence of young children in the household, and if they are willing to pay an adoption fee of between $150 and $200, said Doshi.

Usually, less committed adopters are likely to drop out, because they are unwilling to go through the tedious process, or refuse to pay the adoption fee.

Doshi added that the criteria has always been strict, but the matter is gaining more publicity than before due to social media and more online complaints.

While adoption might be a "cheaper option" than buying for some, Jamie Goh, a volunteer from Purely Adoptions, said that the commitment level is the same.

"It is easy to forget that the essence of adoption is to give an unwanted pet a forever home."

Where to adopt a pet in Singapore

If you are interested to adopt a pet, you may visit the Animal and Veterinary Service' (AVS) guide on where to adopt a pet.

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