Coronavirus: Healthy rabbits abandoned amid fears

SINGAPORE – After a quiet quarter last year, the House Rabbit Society Singapore saw three cases of rabbits being abandoned near the void decks of Housing Board flats last month.

While rescued rabbits usually look neglected, with matted fur or visible injuries, the three appeared to be “relatively healthy”. The rabbit welfare group told The Straits Times the rabbits may have been abandoned by their owners due to fears that pets can carry the coronavirus.

Despite reports that a Pomeranian dog had tested a “weak positive” for Covid-19 in Hong Kong, the intergovernmental World Organisation For Animal Health, headquartered in Paris, maintains there is no evidence to show that pets can play a role in the spread of the virus or can fall ill from it.

Ms Jessica Kwok, the National Parks Board’s (NParks) group director of community animal management, said pet owners should continue to care for their pets while adopting good hygiene practices. “There is no need to restrict their movement. If pets are observed to be unwell, owners should take them for veterinary treatment.”

She added that the Animal and Veterinary Service, which comes under NParks, does not condone pet abandonment and will look into all feedback on animal welfare or cruelty, including pet abandonment. If found guilty of abandoning or failing in their duty of care towards their pets, first-time offenders can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to 12 months, or both.

Experts say staying close to pets amid social distancing can help people in a number of ways.

“Animals are very attuned to your body language and tone of voice,” says Ms Stasha Wong, 28, the animal-assisted activities coordinator at Healing Paws, a volunteer programme that takes dogs on visits to places such as hospices and children’s homes.

“They comfort us just by being there. When you’re having a bad moment, the tactile sensation of running your fingers through your dog’s fur or listening to your cat purr can be very calming,” she says.

Dr David Shapiro, 52, a psychologist at private practice SACAC Counselling, says: “Caring for anything – be it a plant, fish, hamster, dog, cat or bird – can give a person a sense of purpose and validate their worth.”

However, potential pet owners should not buy animals on impulse. SPCA’s executive director, Dr Jaipal Singh Gill, 37, says: “Pets provide a great source of comfort, but, of course, we don’t want to promote the adoption of pets during this difficult time just for that purpose. A pet is for life.”

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