Friday, February 02, 2007

A good rebuttal on the call to ban cats & dogs in HDB.

2 February 2007
ST Online Forum
Writers' strong views on cat/dog ban in HDB flats worrying

I find the views of those like Mr Heng Cho Choon, 'It's not only the cats - dogs too must be banned' (Online forum, Jan 31), and Mr Peter Kuan, 'Why HDB should ban cat and dog ownership in flats', (Online forum, Jan 25), all too worrying.

Should they have their way, visually-handicapped Singaporeans who get by with the help of guide dogs and who live in HDB flats would have to find alternative accommodation.

From my research, a total of no fewer than seven articles on the usefulness of guide dogs to the visually-handicapped were published in Singapore's mainstream media, alongside the praise heaped on a multitude of government agencies for taking the proactive move towards making Singapore the best home for all.

While guide dogs are obviously suitably chosen and trained to very strict standards for their task, it seems rather inconceivable to Mr Heng and Mr Kuan that pet dogs can also be obedience-trained.

In addition, contrary to HDB's statement that 'cats are not allowed to be kept in HDB flats as they are nomadic in nature and difficult to be confined in the flats', the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) asserts otherwise.

According to AVA's 'Cats as Pets' brochure (available on the AVA website): 'Cats do perfectly well in a confined environment so long as all their basic needs (that is, food and water, shelter, a comfortable living environment and veterinary care) are provided. This is quite contrary to the popular belief that cats can only be happy and contented if they are free to wander outdoors.

Given that AVA is the veterinary authority in Singapore, it would appear that HDB officials are ill-informed.

Of course, objections to the HDB ban on cats (and Mr Kuan's proposed ban on dogs) are multi-faceted and cut across a range of issues.

One objection is that pets cause too much noise. Another, that cats and dogs dirty the environment.

While neighbourly concerns do need to be taken into account, I find that those who advocate such a measure as drastic as a ban on pets in public housing silly.

In the multicultural public-housing environment that Singaporeans have lived in for years (and will have to continue to do so); in the land-scarce polity that the Government wishes to pack more people into; in the proactive measures that government agencies have taken towards Mr Kua Cheng Hock who has lobbied for more than 20 years for guide dogs to be allowed, surely learning to accommodate another's differing way of life ought to be seen as a valuable lesson in empathic understanding?

If no, then well, here's just one more snippet from AVA's website:

'It is a misconception that pets cause asthma. Asthma is a genetically inherited condition... Recent studies also show that children living with a dog or cat at home are less likely to develop asthma. This research supports the current thinking among allergists that exposing a child to dust, animal dander and other allergens at a young age will help him build up immunity that will reduce the chances of him developing asthma.'

In other words: Are Singaporeans - in always wanting to ban this or that; in always expecting the Government to take the high-handed route; in wanting the Government to nanny them to the grave - simply a tad too pampered?

Soo Kwok Heng
Victoria, Australia