IT was a dumb idea from the beginning. The Selayang Municipal Council (MPS) rightly deserves the bashing from many Malaysians for its inane dog-catching competition.
The council may have good intentions by holding a contest with prize money to reduce the number of unlicensed mongrels in the district but the whole exercise was certainly ill conceived. To put it bluntly, it was insensitive and cruel.
The media first started reporting the competition as a Klang Valley metro news item but it soon generated into a national controversy as the angry public made protest calls to newspaper offices.
The MPS had offered residents at least RM11,000 in cash prizes if they could catch up to over 150 stray dogs within six months to solve the stray dog problem in the area.
Its president Zainal Abidin Azim said the competition was introduced as it had received about 80 complaints about stray dogs every month, adding that despite catching 200 stray dogs every month as part of its animal control management, the problem had remained unsolved.
Under the competition, residents were required to deliver the dogs alive with photographs of the captured animals as proof while the council would provide tools for these bounty hunters.
The first prize winner would walk home with RM15,000, the runner-up RM13,000 while the third-placed winner RM11,000. The MPS also offered RM20 for each stray dog caught as an incentive to the dog-catchers.
Mongrels may not be the top choice of many serious dog owners but animal lovers cannot accept untrained residents going around the neighbourhood nabbing these canines.
These hunters are not just hurting the animals but may even endanger themselves because these stray dogs could become vicious and attack them in defence.
Last week, common sense finally prevailed when the MPS called off the competition following a meeting between state executive councillor Datuk Tang See Hang, Zainal and animal rights groups and pet owners.
Tang, who had earlier launched the ludicrous competition, said the decision had to do with safety concerns expressed by various groups that untrained hunters could hurt themselves.
The MPS has now agreed to work closely with the SPCA and other animal rights groups to ensure that dogs are handled and caught by trained personnel. The council will also be strict on irresponsible pet owners who abandon their pets.
Without doubt, there must be an effective programme involving the MPS and the SPCA to reduce the number of stray dogs in the district because no one wants to come into contact with wild or sick dogs.
But such competitions, as dog handler and professional groomer Noraini Rozaiti Mahmud said, would inherently attract over-zealous residents and this “could result in someone getting injured and the dogs being blamed and crucified for attacking a person”.
Many dog owners are also worried that this competition would reinforce the perception, if not prejudices, among some people that dogs are bad, dirty and deserve to be killed.
Dogs are regarded as pets, if not family members, by most of us. But their role as animal companions to the elderly, sick and particularly the blind has not been given due recognition. For many of the elderly who stay alone, these furry animals have become their only source of joy and loyal companion.
Some of us take for granted these intelligent animals and only realise their crucial role as rescuers during earthquakes, even in countries that forbid ownership of these animals for religious reasons. It is during such emergencies that these four-legged rescuers have to be flown in to save human lives.
Dogs have now been used by enforcement agencies to sniff out pirated DVD manufacturers, something unheard of previously. Anti-drug agencies have long relied on dogs to nab traffickers at airports.
Children who are given dogs as pets learn the meaning of responsibility and affection early in life. And when their pet dies, they experience grief. These are lessons in life that the young learn.
What the MPS and the SPCA can do is to work together to tackle the problem, including paying professionals to nab these dogs.
The residents in Selayang should be encouraged to neuter their dogs to stop the growing number of these animals.
It is not just dogs that the council should worry about – stray cats and crows that rummage rubbish bins are unsightly, and some kind of control is necessary to keep the district clean.
Irrespective of our religion, it is important we show that animals are God’s creatures and should be properly treated.
What kind of message are we sending when we adopt inhumane and barbaric measures to clamp down on creatures we deem unwanted and wild?
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way animals are treated.”