Smuggling cases turn spotlight on the underground pet trade
Three attempts foiled in less than a month; welfare groups fear more may be getting past checkpoints
Crammed into tight spaces and deprived of food and water, they are hidden in vehicles and driven across the Causeway from Malaysia.
Sometimes, they are even drugged as they make the journey in the deep of night or early in the morning to maximise the odds of getting into Singapore illegally.
Making this treacherous journey are prized pets such as dogs, cats and birds that are delivered surreptitiously to their new owners here.
These animals are smuggled in as their Singapore owners want to pay less for them, skip the necessary health checks and paperwork or even land their hands on breeds not available here.
This underground pet trade has come under the spotlight as the authorities recently foiled three cases in less than a month.
They foiled an attempt to smuggle 12 puppies on Dec 11, and caught another man with 40 birds on Dec 21. In another case, a man stuffed four live kittens down his trousers in a misguided attempt to bring the animals across the Causeway on Jan 2.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) said last week in response to queries from The Straits Times that there were 12 cases of smuggling involving non-exotic pet animals last year. There were 10 cases in 2017, and 13 in 2016.
The top three most common smuggled non-exotic pet animals – referring to animals that the AVA allows owners to keep as pets here – are dogs, cats and birds.
But animal welfare groups said it is likely that more smugglers make it past the checkpoints undetected.
When ST posed as buyers to speak to sellers who claimed they could bring i n puppies from Malaysia, one Malaysian seller claimed he has smuggled more than 80 puppies across the border since he started selling his puppies about six years ago.
Another seller offered to sell a Malaysia-bred mini Pomeranian for $800, with an additional $1,300 to deliver it in Singapore. Local retailers can sell the same breed for more than $4,000.
The seller, known as Ms Tan, said she has sent over dogs – “too many to count” – to Singapore through an agent, who takes home the $1,300 delivery charge.
She said she sends the puppies over illegally as “the legal way is too complicated”.
Other sellers from Malaysia said their middlemen can charge around $400 to $600 for bringing in a single pet to Singapore.
All four sellers ST spoke to did not elaborate on how the pets are shipped in, but said they would be delivered safely.
Customers may be offered refunds or exchanges if their pets die while being transported, according to one seller’s “terms and conditions” seen by ST.
According to the document, sending a pet over to Singapore could take as long as three weeks.
Buyers who opt for such smuggled pets might end up with sickly and poorly bred ones.
AVA said the main concern with smuggled dogs and cats is rabies, which can be transmitted to humans by the bite of a rabid animal. The health status of such smuggled animals is unknown, it added.
Importing animals without an AVA permit is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of $10,000 and a jail term of up to one year.
Such smuggling is motivated by high prices of pedigree pets here.
Pet lovers say certain breeds of pure-bred puppies and kittens can fetch more than $6,000 here. They include labradoodles – a mix between a labrador and a poodle – and Bengal cats.
Smugglers thus see an opportunity to try to undercut the market, said Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD) president Ricky Yeo.
While smugglers may come from many countries, Mr Yeo and others said it is likely that many come from Malaysia, given its proximity to Singapore. With the favourable exchange rate, smuggling is a highly lucrative trade, said Mr Yeo, as sellers can bag thousands in Malaysian ringgit from selling a single animal.
Wildlife consultant Subaraj Rajathurai said pedigree pets are becoming a status symbol.
“Some go for the best quality breeds of dogs or cats to showcase their wealth. Sometimes, waiting for the right documentation through the proper channels may take a while, and they go for shortcuts,” he said.
As sellers breed these animals solely for the sake of profits, they may not care much about the animals and have poor breeding methods, resulting in their animals being sick or genetically flawed, said ASD’s Mr Yeo.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people still have the ‘where can I get it cheapest’ mentality, not realising that it’s not a product you can chuck away when you no longer want it,” he said.
Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that smuggled animals are often heavily sedated for long hours, and hidden in small spaces with little breathing space.
“These unacceptable practices do not take the welfare of animals into consideration,” he added.
On what more can be done, dog shelter Save Our Street Dogs’ president Siew Tuck Wah said the public needs to know how cruel the process of smuggling in animals is.
“The public also needs to know that there is always the option of adopting rather than buying a cat or dog, so that the demand for the illegal puppy trade will not be created,” said Dr Siew.
Added Dr Gill: “As long as there is a constant demand for pedigree pets, there will be a supply.”
Birds that a man tried to smuggle into Singapore on Dec 21. Dogs, cats and birds are the three most common smuggled non-exotic pet animals.
Facebook posts advertising a toy poodle and a munchkin cat for sale. Importing animals without an AVA permit is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of $10,000 and a jail term of up to one year. Buyers who opt for smuggled pets might also end up with sickly and poorly bred animals.