Urban residents upset by dog and cat owners

By Ngoc Ngan   March 31, 2024 | 06:05 am PT
For two months, Ngo Binh, 55, has been tense with his neighbor because he cannot stand the stench carried around by the pack of stray cats she harbors.

Binh's neighbor, an old, single woman who lives in a small alley on HCMC's District 8, has adopted 7 cats.

The tiny space separating their homes is the only place for fresh air, and it’s where Binh and other neighbors hang their laundry to dry.

However, the alley has become home to a group of cats large enough that the wind now blows cat fur straight into Binh's kitchen. Late at night, cats run across the roofs and defecate on people’s front yards.

Every morning at 5 A.M., Binh and his wife wake up and open the door, only to see cat feces all over the place – forcing them to clean up their front yard before going to work. Despite talking about it to the cat-loving neighbor, the problem persists.

"She did help with cleaning up the cat’s mess, but it happened so many times that she became upset," said Binh. "Her house is small, so she can’t keep that many cats in one place all day long."

Last week, Binh was washing dishes in the kitchen and couldn't stand the smell of cats. He called out to the neighbors to pick up the feces. The cat lady came out to clean up the mess while yelling about how Binh was "looking for trouble."

Three years ago, when she moved to live in a 4.5 m wide alley in Go Vap District, Bich Xuan, 45, did not think she would one day have a conflict with her neighbors about pet problems. The alley is more than 200 meters long and has 50 households, including three families with dogs. Pet owners let their dogs run free in the alley, urinating right in front of others’ houses.

"They said they would clean it up, but they don’t do it promptly. They don’t even know whose dog is responsible for what," Xuan said. "The stench keeps getting worse, and we have small children here, so how can we stand it?"

One day, when she came home from work, she ran over dog feces while driving her car into the house – forcing Xuan and her husband to clean up the mess.

The dogs are not muzzled, and when they see someone, they bark and give chase. Out of fear that someday the dogs would bite someone, Xuan has told her 7-year-old son to stay away, and she often escorts him outside.

Phu Tuans dog shows signs of depression from limited living space, March 2024. Photo courtesy of Phu Tuan

Phu Tuan's dog shows signs of depression from limited living space, March 2024. Photo courtesy of Phu Tuan

Xuan is not the only homeowner in the alley that has fallen into such a situation. The alley now has two factions, those who support dog ownership and those who do not. Even when conflicts have become big enough for authorities to intervene, the pet problems often come back after a few days.

Conflicts over dog and cat ownership in residential communities are common in large cities. Ho Chi Minh City alone has more than 184,000 dogs and cats raised by nearly 106,000 households. In particular, the proportion of pets in 5 suburban districts accounts for about 34% of households, with an average of about 1.74 animals per home.

Dr. Vo Thanh Tuyen, deputy head of the Department of Urban Studies, University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ho Chi Minh City, said that from the owners’ perspective, pets are an emotional need, bringing a sense of comfort, and reducing stress and loneliness.

However, due to the structure of urban space, raising dogs and cats still faces many hygiene and noise problems. Ho Chi Minh City has a dense system of alleys – compressed and narrow spaces that can easily harbor odors.

At the same time, noise from cats and dogs can easily bother neighbors. Different factors and opinions have created conflicts within many neighborhoods.

Besides, large cities in Vietnam like Ho Chi Minh City still lack functional public spaces suitable for dogs and cats, something that has not yet been emphasized in the designs of public spaces, housing, or parks.

Dr. Truong Hoang Truong from University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ho Chi Minh City said households with animals that are not kept in one place may cause an epidemic and bite people, causing anxiety for their neighbors, especially those with children.

Of the 400 readers participating in a VnExpress survey, 63% agreed with Dr. Truong’s opinion, saying that keeping pets in apartments should be banned.

Some 35% agreed with the solution of allowing pets but ensuring that they do not impact other residents. Only 2% think it is necessary to allow full freedom of pet ownership as a personal right.

Phu Tuan, a 29-year-old dog owner, rents a room in an alley off HCMC's Go Vap District. He said his dog had become depressed due to lack of space in the cramped urban dwelling.

Tuan's dog is a Pomeranian that weighs four kilograms and loves to run around. Tuan said that if he lets the dog play in the alley, he will have to sit and watch so the dog does not defecate on neighbors’ property.

However, he doesn't have much free time, so he can often only let the dog play ball, go up and down the stairs, or spend time on the terrace to release its energy.

Tuyen believes that an urban lifestyle must be compatible with existing space. The expert proposed solutions including surveying residents, promulgating regulations according to majority opinion, and communicating those regulations so that people understand and sympathize with each other.

Ideally, regulations should be built on disease prevention laws and decrees on security and order. Experts said that in some countries such as the U.S. and Singapore, there are strict regulations on dog and cat management. For example, they require dogs after three months of age to be reported to authorities or have a chip installed in them.

In Vietnam, this measure has just been proposed in Ho Chi Minh City. According to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, people who want to raise dogs and cats must register with the local Commune People's Committees, which encourage households to install microchips on pets.

Poorly-behaved dogs mush be caged and kept away from public places. Areas surrounding their living spaces must be marked with warning signs. The cage also needs sleeping areas sheltered from weather conditions, a minimum floor area of 10 m2 per animal, and a minimum height and width of 1.8 m.

"This is a good sign for dog and cat management, ensuring the needs of owners and helping them to become more responsible," Tuyen said.

My Hanh, 23, is an animal lover and supports the above proposal. Last year, Le Thi Hai, Hanh's grandmother, was bitten by a dog in an alley.

Even though the 74-year-old woman was "a little familiar with" her neighbor's dogs, two of them still tried to attack her, and one bit her leg. She wore long pants, so the wound was not deep, but it was painful, and had to go to the hospital for 4 rabies shots.

The pet owner apologized and compensated her with VND1.5 million (US$60.53), but the neighbors have been cold towards each other since this incident.

Hanh said that dogs raised in households are often not vaccinated, and some have fleas and lice. Her house's alley on Highway 50, Binh Chanh District, Ho Chi Minh City is only wide enough to accommodate two motorbikes, making it difficult to avoid the dogs that encroach on her living space.

"I don't want to offend anyone, but both sides have reasonable opinions, so it’s hard to avoid conflicts," Hanh said.

*Character names have been changed.

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