Some people are familiar with the (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA)) sign in Walu Bay, others may notice it now with this article – but here’s some of what’s going on behind that sign and wall of bamboo.
The SPCA and animal welfare organizations of all kinds, and under different names, are all originally a place of refuge for neglected and/or abused animals. They are a cornerstone in providing temporary shelter for these animals, providing veterinary care and most importantly sterilizing so they do not reproduce.
They are a cornerstone of public education about animals, especially pets.
They are a cornerstone for doing something about the injustices of abuse and neglect in the way of influencing legislative efforts. The Fiji Islands SPCA was established in 1953 and, as in many parts of the world, was a gateway to animal care and veterinary services. Many overseas NGO shelter organizations only provide veterinary care to the animals in their shelter.
Here in Suva, and in other NGOs such as PASH in the west, we offer basic veterinary medical and surgical care to anyone who needs this assistance for their animals.
Other sources of veterinary care are sorely lacking, but fortunately we have seen the existence and development of private veterinarians for the general public, focusing mainly on our small pets (cats, dogs and guinea pigs for example).
The Department of Agriculture continues to be the main source of veterinary care for farm animals, with various specifically designated veterinarians and volunteers.
Since its inception, the SPCA has been instrumental in facilitating volunteer veterinarians who have provided a range of services from assisting with spaying clinics to the complex variety of other pet owner needs such as consultations wounds, wound care and routine medical care.
Volunteers, in particular, are invaluable in providing outreach spaying and spaying surgeries for community clinics.
With proper mentoring and supervision, recent local veterinary science graduates will be able to take on many of the roles that volunteers have provided and much more. Likewise, they will be able to disseminate valuable information about the care of all our animals and provide basic veterinary care where permitted by licensing authorities.
What about animals housed at the SPCA – where do they come from?
The SPCA provides shelter (a temporary home) for animals in need.
The refuge is not a permanent home – anyone who visits it will understand that immediately. Some of these animals are homeless and roam the streets in search of food and shelter.
Some of these animals are turned over to the SPCA by the public, picked up by our SPCA carriers, or trapped by other agencies.
The SPCA does not have the staff or resources to drive down the streets and pick up the animals, but relies on the public to help locate places where these animals can be picked up.
Other pets are abandoned by owners because they can no longer be cared for in their home – reasons include death in the family, moving to an unfriendly pet-sitting residence, moving out of of the country and other reasons. Some are born at the shelter if the mother has been reported to the shelter.
Are all street animals homeless?
Unfortunately no. And these property animals participate in the behaviors that give homeless dogs a bad name. The possessed animals left free day or night to roam the streets come home to a meal and shelter, while the homeless dog suffers from abuse, hunger and cold and dampness. If possessed animals are not neutered – especially males – they contribute to the terrible wandering population.
Some of the possessed animals come with terrible injuries such as a car accident, a cane knife attack, poisoning, or hot water burns, to name a few.
The SPCA suggests that the ideal situation is that there are no street dogs or at least as few as possible and only in certain areas where they can be cared for by members of the community. Ideally, all owned dogs are kept on your property and not allowed to roam.
Designated areas for exercise, similar to dog parks abroad and on-leash walks, should be preferred methods for all dogs off their own property. Higher license fees for unneutered dogs should be a goal.
Unneutered male dogs roaming the streets contribute to the stray dog problem. Purpose-bred property dogs should have even higher kennel fees. Changes in fees and regulations happen when the public as a whole seems to be contributing to the problem – even if they are complaining.
What happens to dogs surrendered to the SPCA?
Please note that the SPCA does not breed or sell puppies or dogs – they all arrive here homeless in one way or another.
They are adopted, which is sometimes called repatriation – often for a fee. At the SPCA, these dogs undergo processing – records are generated that give information on who hands over the dog, what region it is from, and other relevant information that can be obtained.
Stray dogs picked up from the street usually don’t tell us their story, which becomes a blank space.
This information is confidential and used only for internal decision-making. An initial medical evaluation determines if an injury or illness is treatable or manageable – unfortunately, a serious injury can lead to a decision of euthanasia (humane death). This decision is not taken lightly and becomes necessary when space or resources are limited to properly care for an animal that could become disabled for life.
SPCA staff members strongly believe in quality of life. Animals follow a deworming program to eliminate intestinal parasites commonly known as worms.
They are treated against external parasites. The most common are fleas, ticks and lice. Simple medical conditions are treated. Before the puppy or dog goes to a new home – adopted or rehomed – neutering surgery is performed to prevent that animal from contributing to the unwanted population. If the vaccine is available, the puppies in particular receive the vaccination.
This whole medical program is based on the availability of drugs and resources.
During this time, puppies and dogs are housed in as safe and comfortable an environment as possible with as much socialization as possible. Socialization eases the transition to a new home and family. All this care that the SPCA would like to see in all the animals we own.
Attitudes and acceptances make or break even the best program. If the public doesn’t understand what neutering their dog means, if they don’t understand how it helps reduce street and stray dog populations, or don’t care, then we have a never-ending problem. .
Based on the ever-increasing populations presented to the SPCA over the past two years, this problem is getting worse.
The government can go no further in producing laws – the public must individually do their part, and then, in the community as a whole, the results will be visible. The SPCA is there to help, but cannot bear the full burden of stray and homeless dogs. The problem of stray dogs is a human problem just like pollution.
What else are we doing behind this bamboo curtain?
Fundraising to help as many homeless animals as possible. Sterilization or de-sex surgery to reduce the number of strays as much as possible. Collect supplies and food – every little bit counts from newspapers, old towels, food and cleaning supplies.
Raising awareness of the reasons for stray animals, the reasons for cruelty, solutions to the problem and acceptable animal care. The SPCA is an organization of like-minded people who have various roles, but all with the combined goal of preventing cruelty to animals.
It starts with providing information about animal care, veterinary services, and “contraception” or sterilization.
We routinely attend to reports of cruelty and provide education on what constitutes cruelty. We encourage you to make an appointment to bring your puppy or kitten, dog or cat in for an examination and consultation on how to care for them properly.
. The first six months of their life take the greatest effort which, if done correctly, can lead to years of enjoyment with your animal companions.
Veterinary staff members can advise on these and other points, such as what drugs to give or not to give; what to feed, when and how much; what behaviors to monitor to know if your pet is healthy or sick; first aid and when needed, and much more.
The SPCA is an animal care, animal welfare and veterinary care organization. We offer people the opportunity to find a wonderful dog or cat companion while finding a home for a stray animal.
We would love to see the day when very few animals are homeless, and SPCA kennels hold more cobwebs than dogs.
• DR JO OLVER is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with the Fiji Islands SPCA. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of this journal.