My recent visit to Singapore has shown me that it’s not only a small world but also it’s a wonderful world. I am staying in Toa Payoh, a central district of Singapore. The other evening, I met two volunteers who were trapping cats who live in abundance on the grounds of high rise residential buildings called “flats”. They humanely trap them, sterilize them and return them to where they were found to reduce the cat population and prevent the government from having to cull the population.
Then yesterday, I toured the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Singapore. It’s a small shelter housing approximately 100 dogs, cats, and other animals who are owner surrendered, picked up as strays or were victims of animal abuse/neglect cases. Being a suburban Michigan resident who is use to driving everywhere, I had to make sense of bus schedules to travel from Toa Payoh to the shelter. The bus ride was only 20 minutes long but I was quite proud of myself being able to make the trip by myself and not become lost. Though truth be known, several persons were very helpful to me in making my trip such as very friendly and understanding bus riders and drivers. After exiting the bus, a young teenage boy who was walking along approached me and asked if I was going to the shelter. He was a volunteer there and showed me the way.
Upon entering the shelter, “Vik”, another friendly volunteer gave me a tour of their shelter and described some of their programs. Most of the dogs in the shelter are medium sized dogs who become strays or are self surrendered as residents who live in “flats” are only allowed to possess small dogs. Animal welfare groups are actively working to change this housing rule so that more medium size dogs can be adopted and kept by owners.
I offered to volunteer my services as a professional dog trainer and behaviorist during my stay in Singapore if they didn’t already have a trainer on site. It was nice to learn though that despite their small size and need for financial donations, they had a trainer who helped them on a weekly basis to train the dogs in residency as well as their staff.
Despite my unscheduled visit, I was pleasantly surprised that the SPCA Executive Director, Ms. Deirdre Moss, took time out of her day to visit with me. She has been working for the SPCA for the past 25+ years and is very active in the animal welfare issues of Singapore. In the near future, her shelter will move to a new and larger location where they can care for and re-home more animals than they presently are able to do. Their planned expansion is exciting and comes with new challenges which reminded me of the transition the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HSHV) in Ann Arbor, Michigan, recently went through via their move to a much larger and environmentally improved shelter for the animals which was spearheaded by it’s Executive Director Tanya Hilgendorf. Some of the new programs Ms. Moss hopes to implement are ones that HSHV (developed by retired Animal Behavior Program Manager Helen DePinto) has already in place such as: Behaviorist on site to provide daily training for their dogs instead of only weekly sessions, temperament testing, more training for staff, prison “cell dogs” training programs, etc.
The friendliness and helpfulness of the SPCA volunteers and staff reminded me of the great people who volunteer and work tirelessly for the benefit of animals at HSHV. The language and customs may be different in Singapore, but it’s truly a small world.
In Singapore’s “The Sunday Times”, March 27, 2011; a two page article by Melissa Sim showcased the work that is being done by several animal welfare agencies. She reported, “Twenty years ago, there was only one main animal welfare group here – the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) – but today, there are at least 10. These groups, which focus on different animals or different aspects of animal welfare, include Action for Singapore Dogs, Cat Welfare Society, the Animal Lovers League and House Rabbits Society of Singapore.” Ms. Moss stated, “Each group has its own niche. But we (all) hope to prevent cruelty to all species.” Also featured in the article was Noah’s Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary run by Mr. Raymond Wee, a veterinarian and animal activist. His sanctuary has provided care for 700 dogs, 300 cats, three horses, two monkeys and a pony for the past ten years at which, the dogs are allowed to roam freely.
The number of welfare groups have increased because awareness and the need has increased. As the public becomes more affluent, they purchase more purebred dogs who are later often times abandoned or surrendered. One reason cited, was the increase number of purebred dogs suffering from skin allergies and aliments due to unethical breeding practices at dog farms (puppy mills). Instead of seeking costly veterinarian care, the dogs are often owner surrendered to the shelters.
Ms. Sim cited, “Statistics from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) show the number of dog licenses increased from 44,301 in 2005 to 58,945 last year.” And, those are the number of dogs who are licensed. It’s hard to tell how many dogs are actually residing in Singapore. And, SPCA Executive Director Deirdre Moss says, “It is impossible to estimate how many of these licensed dogs get abandoned because not all pooches have microchips and some have chips that do not contain owner information.” From the number of licensed dogs, it appears pet ownership is booming in Singapore. It’s equally reassuring to know that animal welfare awareness is also rising as many groups are banding together to prevent animal cruelty.
Following my meeting with Ms. Moss, I was sitting on the boardwalk at Singapore’s Marina Bay. To my surprise, a beautiful laser light/water show appeared before me. One of the features was Louie Armstrong’s popular song, “What a Wonderful World”. Streams of water thrusted up from the bay into the air providing a beautiful background for laser lights to broadcast images of the singers. As I watched the show, I reflected on my recent encounters with people who work tirelessly for the betterment of animals: the cat volunteers, the young teenage boy who proudly volunteered to escort me across a bridge to the shelter, Vic who eloquently provided me with a tour of his SPCA, and Ms. Mott who took time from her busy day to speak with me – and, I thought to myself, “What a Wonderful World”, indeed.