On September 13, Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg performed the ground-breaking ceremony for a new shelter in Kuching to house stray animals.

The state government had allocated a 0.8-hectare piece of land at Sungei Tapang to the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA), which plans to construct a state-of-the-art animal centre costing RM5 million.

SSPCA currently operates a shelter on a 0.6-hectare site at Jalan Penrissen but is overcrowded with 500 cats and dogs. The new shelter will have a veterinary centre, boarding facilities for pet animals, neutering and pet-grooming services, plus a café.

As it is only 7km from Kuching International Airport, adding a petting zoo could easily turn it into a tourist attraction. Passengers leaving for the airport earlier will have time for a short detour to have a meaningful close encounter with cats in Kuching aka Cat City.

A constant stream of tourists can ensure the shelter remains spick and span. Many visitors, especially children, will find holding a cat therapeutic but those used for petting must be cleaned and disinfected. The sight of cute fat puppies can also tug at the heartstrings of many.

But some people can be deeply touched by underdogs in the form of a lame dog or cat, or those blinded in one eye, or one so sick it is about to put to sleep. They may cough out a generous sum to pay for the animal’s upkeep for the rest of its natural life.

Handicapped animals can make up in spirit what they lack physically and could even become the star attraction of the shelter, with video clips showing how they were nursed back to life, made possible by a donor, who should be given the honour to give a name to the animal.

SSPCA staff could send photos and videos on a regular basis to let benefactors know how their adopted pets are faring, and the attention received by visitors. These sponsors are likely to show to others the animals they have sponsored, prompting them to visit Sarawak and making a point to stop at the shelter when in Kuching.

While many pedestrians are startled upon seeing a dog in front of their path, I only fear those that are rabid but have no way of knowing. In any case, stray dogs should not be shot on sight as how we treat the environment, living things including animals, reflects ourselves.

No city can lay claim that visitors will receive the best hospitality when stray cats and dogs are left to roam freely, and worst, if there is a rabies outbreak. As such, removing stray animals is a must in Kuching if there is sincerity in welcoming visitors.

As our early ancestors have led cats and dogs out of the wild and domesticated them, the onus is now on us to look after and not leave them out in the open and cold to fend for themselves. It is also an opportunity to show that we care.

SSPCA president Datin Donna Drury-Wee said her society will be reaching out to corporations and individuals for sponsorships and support efforts in making Kuching and eventually Sarawak stray-free and rabies-free.

The chief minister is concerned with the growing population of stray dogs in the city and possibility of more people infected by rabid dogs. He urged city folks to be more proactive in tackling the menace.

Instead of using a fixed phone number as the hotline, it is better to use a handphone number so that the public could forward texts, pictures or videos of stray animals, and rapid response teams can rush there to capture the strays.

If cages are placed at many strategic spots, the public can also lend a hand by placing stray cats and dogs in them before they are transferred to animal shelters. Concrete actions are necessary whereas calling on the people not to discard unwanted pets may seem to be half-hearted attempts.

But with concerted efforts, our streets can be free of litter, the drains unclogged, no illegal garbage dumps, no rats or cockroaches scurrying about, no crows or flies swarming, no zillions of mosquitoes, and no stray cats and dogs.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.