Biting back at Mindef

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Remember Tammy, the seven-month-old mongrel whose termination started a row which involved Law Minister K Shanmugaratnam? Well, there’s another “dogfight”, this time involving more than just allegations of cruelty to animals. Dragged into the fray is the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), and the question of military honour and discipline as well as what constitutes cruelty.

On Mindef’s side, two basic rules were broken: a full-time National Serviceman (NSF) surnamed Spencer, took an unauthorised video of an abandoned dog tied up with a short rope in a shower stall. The rope was taut so the dog couldn’t move or lie down. He then sent the video to an  Cathy Strong of the Animal Lovers’ League. Strong then posted it on Facebook. The 21-second video clip attracted more than 800 shares in a day.

The NSF was punished with 21 days’ suspension of leave. He also has to check in with the military police every two hours. According to The Straits Times, the Lieutenant-Colonel who tied up the dog and a warrant officer who threw a truncheon at other strays to chase them away were “referred for counseling”. The Agricultural and Veterinarian Authority, called in to look at the animal, found there was no abuse of the dog. Said Strong: “Where Mindef and AVA are concerned, … no scars … (means no) abuse, even though it experienced real fear. I think that’s wrong.”

She and many animal lovers, including the NSF’s father Simon Spencer, are clearly upset. Dad’s Facebook account — after he told The Straits Times “Protocol is protocol and my son was wrong on this front. But I was hoping they would overlook this in the light of humanity and justice” — lists his outrage:

“…The lieutenant colonel personally brutally hit an innocent dog in the presence of the NS men, as a demonstration of ‘how it is done’ to ensure that the strays would not dare to approach the army camp in future. This was witnessed by my son and eight other NSFs who were threatened to be charged if they did not keep their silence…

“…After this incident, Cathy was called up by Mindef to give the name of the person who handed her the video. She was assured that this was purely for investigation purposes into the animal abuse and no charges would be pressed against the army personnel involved in taking the video.

“It is clear that Mindef did not keep to their word to Cathy when two officers informed me that my son will be charged. The excuse given for this by Mindef was ‘mismanagement’. There was no honour in the way this situation was handled by the Singapore Armed Forces.”

This is another instance of authority (Mindef) being caught between a rock and a hard place. It wouldn’t have occurred if the lieutenant colonel had sought the help of the NSF to deal with the stray dog(s). What has been lost? Respect for authority. But no face-saving moves are possible now that the initial decision to punish the NSF — why couldn’t he have been sent for counseling too? — has been taken. Perhaps he — or the lieutenant colonel — could be moved to another camp with no stray dogs? And Mindef should provide, as part of officer training, a course on how to deal humanely with strays.