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Animal lovers petition for review of Sungei Tengah shelter designs

SINGAPORE – Likening the authorities’ new housing facility for animals at Sungei Tengah to “concentration camps”, an online petition urging the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to review the design of the facility for animal shelters and pet farms has garnered over 1,400 signatures since Wednesday (Sep 13).

Likening the authorities’ new housing facility for animals at Sungei Tengah to “concentration camps”, an online petition urging the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to review the design of the facility for animal shelters and pet farms has garnered nearly over 1,400 signatures since Wednesday (Sept 13). TODAY file photo

Likening the authorities’ new housing facility for animals at Sungei Tengah to “concentration camps”, an online petition urging the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to review the design of the facility for animal shelters and pet farms has garnered nearly over 1,400 signatures since Wednesday (Sept 13). TODAY file photo

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SINGAPORE – Likening the authorities’ new housing facility for animals at Sungei Tengah to “concentration camps”, an online petition urging the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) to review the design of the facility for animal shelters and pet farms has garnered over 1,400 signatures since Wednesday (Sep 13).

The authority, however, said stakeholders were consulted during the design and construction stages and changes were made after feedback, such as the redesign of the initial individual kennel layout for communal kennels.

Ms Josephine Lim, a regular volunteer with various shelters, started the petition after coming across photographs of the Sungei Tengah facility. Taken during a site visit by Lily Low Shelter, these photographs depicted rows of double-storey buildings, with windows sited close to the ceiling, under construction.

“The new structures look just like concentration camps with small windows built at 1.8m from the ground,” said Ms Lim, a 50-year-old sales director. “How depressing will the shelters be without a well-ventilated environment?”

She added that sheltering animals or breeding animals “in such cramped quarters” was undignified and inhumane.

Last November, the AVA announced that it would be building a new facility for animal shelters and pet farms at Sungei Tengah by the end of this year. The space would be rented out to operators at Loyang and Seletar, whose leases are expiring in the coming months.

At that time, the AVA said that there would be sufficient room for the animals – estimated to be around 6,000 to 7,000 - owned by the nine animal welfare groups, 29 pet farms and several independent shelters there.

Following a site visit to Sungei Tengah last month, Ms Lily Low, who runs a shelter for cats at Pasir Ris, voiced concerns about the poor ventilation on Facebook.

“Ventilation of our new shelter is terrible. I had difficulty breathing. I felt faint,” she said. Her current shelter, which has been home to 160 cats and three dogs rescued from the streets for the past decade, has a wire mesh design, with sunlight streaming in and air circulating freely.

Speaking to TODAY earlier this week, Ms Low, 48, said: “Over at the new facilities, it’s all covered up. The windows are so small. Can you imagine the stench?”

The lack of space around the compound and inside each unit was also an issue for her. By siting the buildings close to each other, a virus outbreak could be difficult to contain, she said.

Furthermore, the 104 sq m space – roughly the size of a five-room flat - offered by the AVA was too small to accommodate all her animals. She said: “They’re making me a hoarder.”

Animal Lovers League co-founder Mohan Div, 52, had similar concerns. The 15-year-old shelter for nearly 500 cats, dogs, tortoises and rabbits will also be moving from Pasir Ris to Sungei Tengah.

“Our building hasn’t been constructed yet. But from what we see, there’s poor ventilation (at the other buildings). Presently, we have open concept farms. The new space given is very small, so there’s a real compromise (of) the animals’ well-being.There’s a claustrophobic feeling,” he said.

For one dog shelter, the move will mean downsizing to a 450 sq m space – one-tenth of their current site at Pasir Ris. But in land scarce Singapore, this is “as good as it gets”, said Save Our Street Dogs (SOSD).

In a Facebook post on Friday (Sep 15), SOSD said: “The Ministry of National Development (MND) is building the premises, with space allocated for animal welfare - and we move in and pay rent. This is much better than the original plan, where animal shelters had to bid for land, and build our own premises - an undertaking which would have cost millions.”

Referring to the petition, SOSD felt that rather than rapping the authorities for poor design, operators should work with them to make the best of limited resources.

“On this point, AVA and MND have reassured us that we are free to conduct renovation works to make the place better after we take over the units. For example, the problem of poor ventilation can be improved, by creating larger windows,” said the group.

Being close to other shelters had its perks, the group noted. For instance, animal welfare initiatives can be more easily implemented and groups will have more synergy.

In response to media queries, the AVA said that a census had been conducted in November last year to ensure that there would be sufficient space at the new facility to house the affected animals, and the allocation of units at the new facility was based on those population numbers.

The authorities tried to adjust the design and layout “as much as possible” given constraints such as land availability. Dog runs and a pavilion will also be built.

“During the engagement sessions, we received requests for lower walls to allow for better ventilation. We have designed the units to facilitate natural ventilation and comply with the building code of practice,” said the AVA.

As for the design of the facility, the AVA said that the floor to ceiling height is 2.5m, and most walls are 1.5m high, with the remaining 1m covered by wire mesh.

Only the fire escape-facing wall on the first floor will be 1.8m high to comply with the fire safety code. The remaining 0.7m for this wall will be covered by wire mesh.

Some stakeholders wanted air-conditioning, while others requested exhaust fans, noted the AVA. Power points have been provided so that fans or other ventilation can be added to each unit.

Stakeholders had also highlighted that the initial individual kennel layout was not suitable. “In response to this feedback, we redesigned the space for communal kennels instead. We also provided a fenced-up kennel in non-commercial units to address concerns about animals jumping out of the kennels,” said the AVA, adding that units kennel partitions will also be allowed for some operators.

In terms of rental fees, animal welfare groups and independent shelters will pay rental based on “cost recovery” while commercial pet establishments will bid for units based on a reserve price.

While the facility was initially slated for completion end this year, the timeline will be pushed back due to additional earthworks and and will only be ready in stages from the end of this year till the middle of next year. Operators will be given short-term lease extensions till then.

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