Can one person make a difference in managing stray animals?

Committing to handling strays in your neighbourhood can be daunting, but even small individual effort contributes to big impact.

Committing to handling strays in your neighbourhood can be daunting, but even small individual effort contributes to a big impact. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

Jessie Wong began feeding strays on her own when she was a teenager. Fast forward more than 20 years later, she and about 20 other volunteers work together running a small-scale halfway home for dogs looking to be rehomed.

The 44-year-old full-time flooring professional explains that it all began for her with the simple act of feeding strays at strategic points to gain the animals’ trust.

As she consistently did this over the years, she noticed that other people began leaving food at the same feeding points. And eventually she bumped into them and they formed a network of feeders. This network eventually pooled their resources and began delegating the legwork to cover ground more effectively.

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Volunteer Yeap Boon Seong at a designated feeding point in Subang Jaya. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

“I didn’t plan for it to be a big group of us, but everyone had different experiences that benefited everyone else in the group and it kept growing,” Jessie says.

By some stroke of luck, a volunteer that joined the group incidentally had a vacant house in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur, which was offered up to serve as a base of operations for the group, where they could temporarily house stray dogs that needed special care or were about to be adopted.

The group decided to cap the capacity at ten dogs, to prevent the barking from being a nuisance to the neighbours. What ended up happening was that some of the neighbours began offering help, which expanded Jessie’s network even further. The neighbours offered to foster dogs in the case of an overflow at the house. So the capacity grew from ten to 15.

“Everyone has a threshold level to how much they can be involved for something like this. But if everyone just puts in what little time they can commit, it adds up to a big collective effort,” she says.

Since the utilising of the house, the rehoming of dogs began to speed up and saw the rehoming of over 80 dogs in the past six years. It adds to the group’s total, which Jessie estimates to be the housing of over 200 dogs collectively over the past 20 years.

Volunteer Yeap Boon Seong at a designated feeding point in Subang Jaya. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

“For me, I feel no individual should live their life in fear and starvation. I don’t even go looking for these strays, they are all around wherever we go. So we’re just trying to ease the suffering to the best of our available resources,” she says.

She adds that the simple act of identifying locations for feedings is the best way to start any form of care for strays even in your neighbourhood, because its an easy and strategic way to gain the trust of stray cats and dogs in an area to eventually bring them in one by one for spaying and neutering to control the stray population from multiplying.

It’s a popular method recognised universally by a few similar names; trap-neuter-return, trap-neuter-release, or trap-neuter-release-manage.

Utilising Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR)

TNR’s application, as a formalised system, was first documented in the 1950s, being used by animal activist Ruth Plant in the United Kingdom. In 1991, Italy introduced a no-kill policy for stray cats and dogs and employed TNR as part of a humane stray management method, with the city of Rome especially recognised globally for its census of cats and network of volunteer feeders. Several local governments in Canada also practise TNR, with many cities involving local government agencies and resources.

The use of TNR is seen as not just the humane option, but also the more effective alternative to the culling of strays.

Studies have shown that the catch-and-kill method to handle strays only create territorial vacuums that will be filled up by surrounding animals that will repopulate the area, theoretically making it an endless cycle.

In countering that, TNR efforts involve the gaining of trust of strays, taking them in for neutering or spaying, and then returning them to their original locations to be managed with regular feedings.

20 million unnecessary births prevented

TNR is also not a foreign concept here in Malaysia, where proactive organisations also practise it in cooperative efforts with the respective local councils.

From 2003 to 2015, Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) ran a joint effort with SPCA Selangor to run a low-cost, high volume spaying and neutering service in DBKL’s Setapak temporary pound.

Throughout that period, 41,609 stray cats and dogs were neutered before the dissolution of the programme.

That is estimated by SPCA Selangor to be a prevention of potentially more than 20 million unnecessary births of unwanted animals.

What you can do in your neighbourhood

Last year, SPCA Selangor looked to revive these efforts and started a new initiative based in the Klang Valley called Stray Free Selangor, which among others, is aimed at providing a high volume spaying and neutering service to the public.

Between March (when Stray Free Selangor was launched) and December 2017 alone, a combination of 1,092 stray dogs and cats were brought in to their new setup in their own headquarters in Ampang Jaya.

The state of Selangor also launched the Selangor Neutering Subsidy (SENS) programme in 2017 in cooperation with the PAWS Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) to encourage the neutering and spaying of animals in general.

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One way Jessie would like to make it easier for factories to adopt strays as guard dogs is to provide affordable modular kennels that can fit different factory spaces. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

Some organisations provide rental of equipment for trapping and transporting of animals to feeders who are capable of bringing strays in for neutering and spaying. And there are also organisations like TNRM Malaysia and Under One Woof  that provide assistance in trapping, especially if the feeder is confident of the trust developed with the stray.

While many of the more obvious efforts online seem heavily centralised in the Klang Valley, there are many networks you can tap into in other states, and a great place to start would be an SPCA centre, so here is a full list you can use as a reference.

So there are plenty of avenues for not only advice, but resources that an individual can turn to once they’ve done something as simple as feeding, even if you don’t have the same network of support Jessie and her friends have developed over two decades.

Jessie’s plans for rehoming even more dogs

As for now, Jessie and one of her volunteering partners, Yeap Boon Seong, are looking to increase the scale of the rehoming they handle.

They plan to spearhead an initiative of identifying factories and offices that could adopt nearby strays as guard dogs.

“We plan to find ways to make it easy for these factories and offices. There is the mutual benefit of a safe home for the dogs and the added security the dogs provide the buildings,” Boon Seong says.

Boon Seong explains that one of the ways they would like to make it easier is by providing affordable modular kennels that they hope would be able to scale to fit different factory spaces.

Jessie and Boon Seong with former stray Georgie at the team’s base of operations in Kuala Lumpur. — Photo by Wong Yok Teng

“If one factory can adopt five to eight dogs, then ten factories would already be rehoming 50 to 80 dogs,” Jessie says, calling it her wishful thinking.

“Some factories near the places I feed have shown interest because they benefit very much from a minimal commitment,” she adds.

“It shows that everyone has something to contribute on any level.”

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