SINGAPORE: Volunteers have started evacuating close to 100 animals from an improvised pet shelter at Farmart Centre in Chua Chu Kang.
Their caregiver, Ms Pauline Chin, died of an asthma attack on February 22.
The volunteers said many of the orphaned animals needed medical attention. The critically ill have been sent to the vet, while the rest are being evacuated in batches to various shelters and individuals for adoption.
Volunteers said there are close to 50 cats, 38 rabbits, four guinea pigs, and at two dogs.
It is uncertain how long the animals have been sheltered at Farmart, but Ms Chin had been renting the space for the past 10 years.
Several shops away from the shelter, Ms Chin owned a shop selling birds, at the back of which she kept the rabbits and guinea pigs. The back of the shop was also her bedroom.
Reporters were not allowed into the rabbit shelter, but volunteers who were given access said conditions inside were far from satisfactory.
"It’s dirty and smelly... Most of the rabbits need medication. Some of them already have scabies." said Ms Jackie Fang, a volunteer with the House Rabbit Society.
Tenants said Farmart Centre has been suffering from a chronic state of pet abandonment, and Ms Chin was singlehandedly caring for those left behind by their owners.
Ms Chyanne Koh, a friend of Ms Chin, said 80 per cent of the animals were abandoned by their owners.
Ms Koh said: "They just leave them outside her shop, or they’ve been let go outside her shop. By the time she comes out, she will have no choice but to bring them in for shelter, food and water."
After Ms Chin’s death, abandonment at the centre continued — a batch of more than 10 hamsters, mice and rabbits were the latest victims left near her shop in the early hours of Saturday morning.
A committee tasked to review animal welfare law in Singapore has recently called for harsher penalties for animal abandonment and abuse.
"I’d feel that public education is much more important. People need to be taught, you know, how bad is abandonment. Whenever you bring a pet home, you should treat it like family," said Ms Fang.
Authorities have fined Ms Chin four times since 2003, for keeping more than the approved number of animals, but the problem did not stop.
Veron Lau, president of the Cat Welfare Society, said: "In a complex case like this one, where it involves an animal lover, we hope there had been a mediation and engagement process brought in earlier, so that the caregiver could have received the help they needed, the support they needed, before the situation spiralled."
The two dogs have been claimed by their owners, while the cats and rabbits will be treated and sterilised before they are put up for adoption.
Volunteers said more than 100 people had shown up at the shelter asking to adopt the animals since news of Ms Chin’s death broke in late February.
"We’re heartened to know so many people cared for the cats and wanted to help them," said Ms Lau. "But on the flip side, it also attracted a lot of breeders who wanted to capitalise on this situation to get animals for breeding."
The Cat Welfare Society is running the first adoption drive for the Farmart cats at a roadshow in Toa Payoh Hub on March 16 and 17.
The rabbits are not ready for adoption, said the House Rabbit Society, as they still show signs of illness. The society is currently seeking fosterers to care for the rabbits in the meantime.
The Agri—Food and Veterinary Authority is monitoring the case closely.
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