SINGAPORE — The commercial exploitation of animals for "shares and likes" on social media may lead to irresponsible pet ownership and purchases, said animal welfare organisations in Singapore.
A growing trend of influencers exchanging marketing coverage on their Instagram and Facebook accounts for free pets came under fire recently, after a prominent animal advocate wrote about one such incident last month.
Derrick Tan, founder of dog rescue group Voices For Animals (VFA), had posted on Facebook a screencap of his exchange with a female influencer allegedly requesting to be sponsored a puppy of her choice, in exchange for posts on her Instagram account.
The influencer had said, "Usually companies sponsor products and remuneration. The reason why I'm keen on this collaboration is because I am looking for a buddy for my current dog," according to the screencap posted by Tan.
His post went viral with some 1,000 reactions and over 400 shares.
The woman, whose identity and online handle were not named, had also reportedly approached several pet shops to offer her services.
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) does not condone such practices where pets are used as tools for marketing a product or business, said SPCA executive director Aarthi Sankar.
"When an animal is treated as a gift or a marketing transaction, the recipient may not understand the seriousness of the full suite of responsibilities that they will need to undertake," she added.
The novelty of having a puppy may wear out once it grows into a full-sized dog, leading to the risk of abandonment or neglect, Sankar noted.
Such practices may give rise to new trends of using animals for marketing gimmicks or purchasing pets for people whose families are not ready for such responsibilities, she added. "At the end of the day, it is the animal’s welfare that suffers."
Ricky Yeo, president and founder of Action for Singapore Dogs, agreed, saying that caring for a pet is akin to having a child – both are not products to be "touted for sale".
"It is a lifelong responsibility and not a transient fad to be discarded when it later becomes inconvenient," said Yeo.
The animal welfare organisations Yahoo News Singapore spoke to said that they have not received such offers from influencers and will not be accepting them if they do.
Influencers are unlikely to collaborate with animal shelters and will turn to pet shops instead, as they are looking for young pedigree dogs that can cost from $7,000 to $10,000 each, said Kieran Kua, head of operations at Save Our Street Dogs Singapore.
Such practices would help publicise dog purchases from pet shops, which are profit-driven and more than happy to make just one sale, she added.
And if influencers manage to successfully barter for free dogs in exchange for social media coverage, there is a risk of others being encouraged to do the same just to flaunt photos of their pet acquisitions online, Kua said.
"Having a dog is a change in lifestyle but the message doesn't get put across on social media. People think, 'Oh, I just want to get a dog. I can play with it whenever I want to,'" she noted. "It's like raising a kid – you can't just play with it when you have time or when you feel like it."
The number of pet abandonment cases in Singapore, half of which involve cats, has been increasing over the past five years. Last year, the National Parks Board investigated 225 such alleged cases, up from 215 the year before.
Under the Animals and Birds Act, a person who is found guilty of pet abandonment can face a maximum fine of $10,000 or a jail term of up to 12 months, or both.
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