Have a heart, don’t let them stray

Izah Azahari

With a growing population of stray animals nationwide, Brunei has seen more cases coming to light on their mistreatment, especially stray dogs, making it difficult to raise awareness and advocating better animal treatment.

The Bulletin recently spoke with Fyza of Fyza Shelter, along with her two volunteers – Mirei and Shelly – on stray animal treatment based on their experiences.

When the shelter opened in 2014 rescuing several cats, Fyza said she and her volunteers shared the same compassion for strays.

Originally part of the Sejahtera Community – a group of passionate animal lovers in the Brunei-Muara District who volunteer to care for strays – Mirei, who was previously a volunteer for Care & Actions for Strays (CAS) to feed strays when she lived in Seria, said they had branched out to do their own animal  welfare work.

Mirei said she would like for every single non-governmental organisation (NGO) that strives to save strays to work with each other, as everyone’s resources are limited, and what one person lacks in resources, the other can make up.

“Everyone has different resources, so we should gather to see where we can help for the welfare of the strays,” said Mirei. “We want it to improve. We don’t want to see strays dying on  the streets.”

Fyza added that they work as a group, each covering different locations. Shelly, who began voluntary work in 2008, said she was not a part of any NGO. She previously set up a shelter in Kilanas, but after it caught fire seven or eight years ago, she had to give away all her strays.

“It’s extremely hectic and tedious to maintain a shelter in Brunei,” she said.

Fyza said that most shelters are set up near dumpsites, government lands within the jungle or even on someone’s farm. Mirei said that when people found out where an animal shelter is, they would dump animals at the site or near the shelter’s location.

“People don’t care. They would place animals inside a box by the side of the road, so that when shelter volunteers pass by, they would see them,” said Mirei. “If the strays aren’t taken, there’s a high chance of them getting run over by a car, so of course we can’t leave them there. We always end up taking the strays.”

Shelly said this is the reason shelters do not disclose their locations or feeding grounds. One has to account for the resources, along with medical bills and outbreaks such as distemper and parvo, which make it harder to segregate the animals once it happens.

They believe several pet owners irresponsibly dump animals, especially when they are sick.

The shelter has several volunteers, but Mirei said the work is tough as everyone has a day job. Saving strays cannot be a full-time job as they also have to make a living.

“We also have a feeder and a rescuer in Tutong, but there aren’t many there,” said Fyza.

On rescuing stray animals, Fyza said many in Brunei aid those who notify them via social media. She said rescuing them is not a problem; the issue is deciding where to
place them.

As people often contact them for help, Mirei said it gets difficult doing it alone. Especially when it comes to transporting them, rescuing several strays at a time can be quite a task.

“Once we’re done helping with the rescue, where are we going to keep them? If they have health problems, who’s going to shoulder the vet bills?” added Mirei. “Helping them is easy – it’s what comes after that is difficult as nobody will help you financially.”

Shelly said it is rare for people to want to adopt strays. Those interested look into the breed and whether the stray is male or female. She added that there is a tendency to adopting male strays instead of females because they don’t want to spay the animals.

The group shared that they always try to raise awareness on animal welfare, but how many people listen and comply is still in question.

“Sometimes when we spread awareness, not many people really want to listen, thinking ‘it’s not my cup of tea’,” said Mirei.

Shelly added that for these people, taking care of strays is a burden as they have their own children and family to think of.

“We can’t influence that many people,” said Mirei, proposing the establishment of a government-owned animal shelter and the initiative to set up rules for dog owners to register their pets for a sum larger than BND5 to help pay for wages and maintaining
the shelter.

“It should also be made compulsory for dog owners to spay, neuter and vaccinate their dogs after registering or face a hefty fine. Otherwise, things will go out of hand,” she said. “The government could ask each person in Brunei to pay a dollar into an animal welfare fund. Even if it’s half of the population you’ll still have BND250,000, which can help a lot of stray dogs, and it doesn’t even have to be every month, but maybe just every quarter of the year.”

Mirei added that all strays must be caught and spayed or neutered, and only then will the population of stray dogs decrease. The group agreed that it is very upsetting to see the spike in animal abuse cases, noting that there is a law against it and that it should be taken seriously.

“People need to be more responsible and more compassionate, even if they don’t like dogs. Don’t harm them. If you don’t like them, leave them alone. If you don’t feed them, help them. If you don’t help them, ask for help. At least don’t harm or kill them. They’re also living things. It’s just that they are walking on four legs,” said Mirei.

A new group has also been set up on social media called StraysKu Ceria BN, aimed at promoting awareness on stray animals in Brunei.