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

The Straits Times - - TOP OF THE NEWS - Cara Wong and Lim Min Zhang cara­[email protected] [email protected]

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.”

PHOTO: AGRI-FOOD AND VE­TERI­NARY AU­THOR­ITY

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.

PHO­TOS: SCREEN­SHOTS FROM FACE­BOOK

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.

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