Importance of Public Education on Animal Welfare in Developing Countries
Sivagurunathan, DVM, BSc, MBA
Animal Medical Centre
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Understanding Asia

The income per capita for developing countries in Asia in the early 70s were in estimation of 1/10th in comparison to developed countries in the west. Economics being the guiding factor for any enterprise and privately owned veterinary practices were rarely seen.

Families were focused on sustaining their needs rather than their wants. The public, hence did not regard veterinary care as a priority...although many people at that time had adopted pets from the streets. These pets were kept entirely for utility purposes i.e., dogs to guard properties and cats to rid off rats.

On the other-hand people who owned pedigree pets were more profit-orientated with their various breeding practices and hence welfare was not a valued consideration at all.

And because of the local scenario that ridiculed the veterinary profession, the veterinarians themselves took a defensive stand and approached the science with secondary and not primary health care in mind. Like any snowballing effect, the morale of most veterinarians was low and the self-image of the profession was relinquished.

Due to the array of religious, traditions and Asian customs, compassion towards animals was expressed through their own believes and taboos. On a positive note, this was primarily the strong binding force that had slowly flourished the companion animal industry in years to come.

A major setback in the Asian veterinary context was the sheer incoordination and unilateral thinking among the various local veterinary associations. Each with their own direction, interests and philosophy could not simply consolidate their ideas to develop the industry together to improve the image of the profession in the eyes of the public.

In retrospect, Asian veterinarians had played a more active role in livestock production than in companion animal medicine and hence the difficulties and constraints were a massive hurdle in their pursuit towards the essence of the veterinary profession ...animal welfare!

The Paradigm Shift

The whole scenario changed in the late 60's in Japan, when the veterinarians decided to make routine trips for continuing education in the USA, thus bringing back with them new philosophies to modernize the traditional practices in Japan. Within a period of 20 years most practices in Japan had prioritized client education in animal welfare. In doing so the human animal bond-interaction was sown and pets became part of the family.

Similarly, other Asian countries went through much economical boom in the 80's creating a dire need for changes in tandem with the dynamic shift in the rising number of pet owners in urban settlements. Within these countries the industrialization process also witnessed the conversion of many suburbs into satellite towns where more houses and condominiums graced the skyline.

To a certain extent this development coupled with the stress of city living had encouraged smaller families and pets took up a place as a member of the family. Like any equation of supply and demand, there was a great demand for pets and their accessories. As a result many ill equipped pet retailers and puppy mills flooded the market. This made the task for promoting education animal welfare more daunting.

However even today, commitment towards animal welfare is still not very evident in most developing countries primarily because of the lack of public awareness, regarding responsible pet keeping. With the accessibility of mass media and the Internet, information is readily available to a concerned owner whom had much unanswered questions about their pet. This makes the role of a veterinarian more holistic especially when he not only treats but also educates his clients with the necessary facts to avoid any confusion and misinterpretations during client contact, for the benefit of his patients. With more research and development constantly undertaken in the field of animal behaviour, veterinarians are now solving more behavioural problem than previously experienced. This will certainly be the key to carry the veterinary profession into the forefront of animal welfare.

THE MALAYSIAN CONTEXT

I came to practice in 1972 in Kuala Lumpur when animal welfare was neither seen nor heard! Within 20 years we managed to consolidate a national veterinary association namely Veterinary Association Malaysia (VAM) to streamline our national professional activities and creating affiliated smaller groups in their specialized interests such as Small Animal Practitioners Association of Malaysia (SAPAM) and the Malaysian Equine Veterinary Association (MEVA). Through this body we advocated continuing education for veterinarians, as well as maintaining minimal acceptable standards of practice advocating professionalism in our services. Animal welfare initially championed by welfare bodies like SPCA and PAWS, who were solely focused on rescuing animals from the streets and addressing animal cruelty publicly. Realising the importance of public and client education and changing the attitude of people towards animals, the Malaysian National Animal Welfare Foundation (MNAWF) was formed in 1998 and became affiliated body of VAM.

Mission Statement

To promote a caring Malaysian society through creating awareness and a balanced approach to animal welfare for the well being of animals and mankind.

Tag Line

Love All Life.

Objectives of the Foundation

1.  To generate awareness and responsibility of all residents in Malaysia on Animal Welfare as part of the policy of creating a caring Malaysian Society.

2.  To develop strategies and programmes to promote animal welfare through the Malaysian National Animal Welfare Council (MNAWC) (under the patronage of the Minister of Agriculture), public agencies, institutions, private bodies and organizations.

3.  To undertake projects that will promote understanding and the practices of animal welfare as part of daily life of residents in Malaysia.

4.  To disseminate information on animal welfare through various media to the public, schools, community centers and other target groups.

5.  To collect and generate funds to undertake animal welfare projects.

6.  To establish linkages with other institutions locally and internationally in matters associated with animal welfare.

MNAWF Activities to Promote Public Awareness on Animal Welfare

The Malaysian Minister of Agriculture officially announced the formation of the MNAWF at the 25th anniversary of the Animal Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur in December 1997.

In order to promote animal welfare successfully through the public various community projects were set up independently by the MNAWF to educate the public. Here below are some of the many projects carried out by the foundation since 1998 which have proven to be a stepping stone to our objectives.

1. School Programmes

The first hurdle we faced in organizing such a fete was to get the Ministry of Education to understand our objectives clearly. By initiating an appreciation for animal welfare at a young age we build a caring society for the future. An introduction was done on pet education programmes through modules presented by us to the schools. These modules involved pet care guidelines, educational videos, art, drama, field trips to farms and national parks as well as interschool competitions on assay writing. These schools responded well with these interactive programmes and what had initially started with 5 schools had extended to 10 schools.

2. Family Programmes

A first talk from the foundation to the public was on 'Responsible Pet Ownership' presented by a member at a 'Cat Festival' program to educate the public on the subject and in the hope that people will stop the irresponsible practice of 'dumping' or discarding unwanted pets at markets or waste disposal sites which has resulted in an abundance of stray animals. In addition, a program themed "Children & Pets" was organized at the Malaysia International Pet Expo 2002 (MIPE) as part of our school pet education program aimed at promoting interaction between children and pets and responsible pet ownership. The foundation together with the newly formed Beautiful Chicken Association organised a 'Beauty Pageant' show. The objective of the foundation was to change the mindset of the beautiful chicken owners to accept the chickens as companion pets rather than keeping them for 'cock fighting'. This was indeed successful as many beautiful chicken owners became members of this association and were educated on responsible pet ownership.

The foundation partook in the Equestrian Training Center of Perak Turf Club's 'Horse Riding Camp' in January 2000 by providing educational videos such as "Early Learning", "Understanding Horses" and "Safer Horsemanship" was played to educate the riders. This became a family event that had highlighted a more compassionate side of the equine industry in Malaysia.

A National Animal Welfare Week was launched where several live presentations with animals were organised to provide insight on how animals are utilized to assist humans and in particular, the therapeutic effects of animals on humans. Participants included the Police Dog Unit, Feline Society of Malaysia, Malaysian Cat Club, Malaysia Kennel Association, Bivai Special Dogs for the Disabled, Cheshire Welfare Home and Selangor Polo & Riding Club for the Disabled. During this week two special souvenir first day covers were issued by the Post Malaysia to commemorate this National Animal Welfare Week.

3. Public seminars

During the epidemic of Nipah Virus disease in Malaysia, the foundation came forward to educate the public by organizing a public seminar on "Nipah Virus Disease-Discovery & Threat" presented by a member in June 2000. This provided a timely informative update to the members and public on a new emerging disease (then) which had adversely affected the country resulting in the loss of human lives and massive culling in the porcine industry.

A conference to commemorate the World Animal Day was organized in November 2000 with the theme "Pets & People". The conference was very informative and interesting with local experts from various fields expressing the 'Power of love', explaining the 'Animal-assisted therapy', discussing on 'Coping with grief from loss/death of pets' and sharing on how to become a 'Responsible pet owner'. This conference was opened to the public giving them an opportunity to receive more information on these subjects.

In conjunction with the 12th Federation of Asian Veterinary Association (FAVA) and Veterinary Association Malaysia (VAM) Congress in August 2002, the Foundation organised a free seminar entitled "Human-Animal Interaction-The Bond" for congress delegates and members of the public. The seminar was well received by the public and press and further strengthened the role of MNAWF in public education.

4. Campaigns and Legislation

MNAWF was among several organizations that urged City Council of Kuala Lumpur for a discussion pertaining to its new ruling on the restriction on the number of dogs to be kept per household and the increased dog-licensing fee. This was the first official dialogue between the city council and the non-governmental organizations that ended up on a positive note and set the initial drive to curb the vast numbers of strays in residential areas.

The Foundation supported a six-month low cost spay/neuter campaign organized by City Council of Kuala Lumpur. This campaign was launched to commemorate the World Veterinary Day. This campaign was also supported by the Department of Veterinary Services, Veterinary Association of Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia, Small Animal Practitioners Association of Malaysia, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Malaysian Kennel Association. The foundation took the lead on public awareness and education during this campaign through posters, forms and leaflets.

Among other issues discussed were the sensitive religious issues concerning Muslim pet owners such as customs opposed to spay/neuter of pets. The foundation sought clarification through the Islamic Religious Council (JARIM/FATWA), which was then produced in the form of posters to be displayed in all veterinary and public centres. This was probably the most critical step taken in changing the publics mindset on strays

5. Training the trainers

A Canine Behavioral Training Seminar and Workshop was organised conducted by Ms Terry Ryan, a world leading animal behaviorist and trainer. The objective was to help people understand canine behaviour better and equip them to train their dogs more effectively. Disobedient, uncontrollable dogs can be a nuisance or menace to everyone and it is an owner's responsibility to teach his pet 'right from wrong'. With proper training a dog would be a well-behaved and disciplined member not only of the home but neighbourhood and community. It also prevents owners from abandoning their pets because of problem or uncontrollable behaviour. Because of the popularity of this program the foundation decided to organize it annually for the public.

MNAWF also publishes quarterly newsletters with informative articles for the members. These newsletters are also updated in our website. Periodically, we contribute articles to the local newspapers as part of awareness programme on pet keeping..

As a member of IAHAIO the foundation benefits co-operating with like-minded organisations from around the world to promote research, education and sharing of information about human-animal interactions and the unique role that animals play in man's well-being and quality of life.

The foundation's website was launched in October 2000 to create worldwide awareness. The website address is www.mnawf.org.my.

Although many of these projects have been a great success there are still much to be done in Malaysia and in other developing countries. The human-animal bond is a vital tool that can be used to educate the public in creating a caring and responsible society. Not only will this improve and further develop the self esteem of the veterinary profession albeit, creating a set of standards that will form a benchmark in every aspect of the veterinary industry.

As Mahatma Gandhi once quoted: The state of development of a nation can only be judged by the way their animals are treated.

Speaker Information
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Dr. Sivagurunathan, DVM, BSc, MBA
Animal Medical Centre
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


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