Since my first visit to the Madam Wong’s Shelter (MWS) on a Saturday in early July 2012, I have been meaning to write about my experience. But I have found myself at a loss of words each time I attempt to type into my laptop. This is only because there is so much I felt during my three hours there and there is so much to say, I don’t know where to start. At the back of my mind, I wonder if the arrangement of my words could do justice to the excellent work I witnessed at the animal shelter done by the tireless Madam Wong and her dedicated team of volunteers. So here I will attempt to break down my thoughts and give you Part One of my Visit to the Madam Wong’s Shelter.
My arrival at MWS on that particular weekend was an eye opening experience as I had previously made contact with one of the volunteers whilst I was in Australia upon learning about the plight of Nikki, a shihtzu cross that was given up as it was filled with severe dermatitis after its owner washed it with the disinfectant, Dettol (!) everyday. I had donated the Man’s Best Friend Medicated Soaps to the shelter to help with Nikki’s skin since the soap had worked well for our dog, Brandy who came with very bad flaky skin and lumps with pus when she first came to us from the dog rescue. On top of that, I have also ordered some organic Dog Greens supplements from the Red Leaf Pet Pharmacy in the United States to be shipped to them to maintain the overall well-being of the dogs in the shelter.
For three years, I have not been home to Singapore. So while I was back home in July, I was excited to pay a personal visit to the shelter to meet the famous Madam Wong and her animals. I brought with me more Man’s Best Friend Medicated soaps and other pet accessories like leashes, harness, balls and drying towel that I had previously bought for my own dogs but remained unused. I went to the shelter with my mum.
A Safe Haven for Dogs and Cats
The MWS is a self-funded no-kill animal shelter and home to some sixty odd dogs and two hundred over cats where these fortunate creatures get to live out their natural lives if they have no adopters. I was greeted by the familiar smell of dog odour, loud barking within the kennels. Located at the Ericsson Pet Farm in a secluded part of Pasir Ris Farmway 2 where the area is hard to get to without a car, I was heartened to see at least ten young volunteers in their teens spending their weekend helping Madam Wong to walk, feed, bath and play with the dogs. All these were done in the sweltering heat of a typically hot and humid July in Singapore. I asked some of them what led them to come and volunteer and was surprised to find that because many of them were huge animal lovers but weren’t allowed by their parents to keep dogs in their flats, they have decided to come to volunteer instead. There are also so many animals out there to be saved, these young, enthusiastic volunteers told me which they all agreed that Madam Wong has done such a selfless job for having a no-kill shelter. They were all for promoting responsible pet ownership.
I recall my own youthful ignorance of my teenage years in the mid to late nineties where my free weekends were spent hanging out at the air-conditioned shopping malls. Apart from the Society for the Prevent of Animal Cruelty (SPCA), self-funded animal shelters were unheard of. Despite being a dog lover, I had neither the inclination nor the interest in my youth to do volunteering work and do something pro-active for a cause that I was supposed to support for. I lived in my own bubble. So here I was, surprised and almost embarrassed by my lack of participation in my youth. The excitement and passion for animal welfare of these youths were infectious.
At the other enclosure where the cat kennels were situated and a small area allocated for cooking, there was also a lovely Malaysian lady volunteer who was preparing and cooking chicken feet (what a treat for the doggies). On the floor, I spotted at least 2 large tubs and rice cooker of rice mixed with anchovies cooking away. This was one part of the daily diet for the shelter animals on top of canned pet food that were being donated by kind donors. The soft-spoken volunteer stood by the stove cooking and sweating away. She continued to look at ease and was happy to answer any questions I had of the shelter and to share her stories of Madam Wong and her beloved animals whilst she watched over her cooking pots. This lady is a regular weekend volunteer. She told us that Madam Wong is getting on in age and is already in her sixties and so she tries to help as much as she can since Madam Wong spends all her time at this animal shelter and could do with more help. Madam Wong gets no break for 365 days a year. In her home country in Malaysia, she had already been actively involved in dog rescue work. As she is a big dog lover, she would in the past take in abandoned or stray dogs as domestic pets since there are so many lives out there to be saved.
This lady volunteer shared with us that each day, MWS shelter goes through five or six 10kg sacks of rice to feed her animals. This is not including any pet food or special pet diet for pets with health requirements. In addition, the shelter is also involved in daily feeding of stray dogs. As Madam Wong is busy enough on her own with running the animal shelter, she outsourced the daily cooking of rice and food for stray feeding to some other retired ladies who will then distribute the cooked food at a fixed spot where these friendly strays have been accustomed to a feeding routine and will be out waiting for their only precious meal of the day.
Finally, I got to meet the legendary Madam Wong. She was kept busy with sorting out the food and also caring for her animals. Nevertheless, she took time out to speak to Mum and me. I asked Madam Wong how long she has been doing this for and she said she had set up her animal shelter around twelve years ago. Madam Wong’s story is an inspirational one. She is illiterate but her compassion and altruism in saving the lives and creating a safe haven for these sentient beings supersedes what one would find in a consumerist and materialistic society like Singapore where land and open spaces are highly scarce. Madam Wong sold her five-room flat to dedicate her life to this cause because she just loves animals and could not bear to see them get killed or abandoned. Tears were almost welling up her eyes as she spoke about the abuse and state of neglect some of her animals she had come across. She currently does not have her own property and lives with her son and her children have been very supportive of her charity work. Her selflessness was phenomenal. My mum and I were quietly humbled and trying to take it all in.
Operating Expenses of running a no-kill Animal Shelter
The operating costs of running a no-kill self-funded animal shelter are a staggering one. Madam Wong shared with us that the rental for the two kennel areas within the Ericsson Pet Farm that house some sixty over dogs and two hundred over cats cost Madam Wong SGD$10,000 a month. On top of that, there are food expenses, vet medical fees plus exorbitant “release” fees of around $500 per dog each time the shelter goes to the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) (like a pound equivalent) to save another animal from being put down. She led me to around five large dogs playing happily amongst themselves in the kennels. They were her latest rescues from the AVA. For every decision made to save an animal, the shelter must also be prepared to care for the animal for the rest of its life in the shelter should they not be able to find a suitable forever loving home. It is a life-long commitment for the shelter and a potentially costly endeavour.
**General Treatment of Stray & Abandoned Animals by the Authorities
[ Note: FACTs have since been verified. Please see **Post Entry Notes for verification]
“Do you know how these poor animals get put down?” Madam Wong’s eyes looked sad. She explained to us the inhumane method adopted by the AVA to put down an animal. Typically, stray dogs or cats are captured and put into a crammed, tiny cage where they could often end up fighting and hurting each other. Around once a week when the cages are filled with animals stacked and crammed together, the AVA will hose down the animals with water and then turn on the electricity where they will be electrocuted to death. It is a sad and painful death for these animals that died without dignity. These poor animals’ plights were of no fault of their own and very much the result of irresponsible pet owners and humans who have pets on a whim or who do not practice responsible pet ownership through de-sexing their pets, thus leading to a proliferation of stray and abandoned animals in our tight urban space. “Do you know how tragic it is in the way they die?” Madam Wong’s spoke to us in Mandarin and her tone was growing emphatic. I could see the tears in her eyes. “If people don’t like the stray animals and don’t want to feed them, at least leave them alone! Don’t contact the AVA. This is how they will die!”
My mum was just as appalled and disturbed as I was by the way the animals were being cruelly put down. We were shocked and at a loss of words. Singapore is a wealthy and developed nation and I would have imagined that the authoritative body for animals would have treated the matter of strays and abandoned animals or general animal welfare with more sensitivity and humanity.
Perhaps, I have been living in Australia for so long and had the luxury to believe that every living being has rights, including animals. They would be treated with respect and dignity and my understanding of an animal being “put down” was always through the method of Euthanasia i.e. inject the toxic liquid and put the animal to sleep. But of course, it must be deemed an expensive and time consuming undertaking to have to put an animal down one by one since time and financial efficiency are the hallmarks of our nation’s success. Such callousness and inhumanity by the authorities in charge of our society’s lost, abandoned and stray animals left me with this sad, sinking feeling in my heart. My anxiety was slowly rising with the thought that no stray animals in our country are really safe and their lives at the very mercy of not only the authorities, but most importantly, the attitude of the Singaporean public.
I went home feeling unsettled and I felt a sense of urgency that something needs to be done for these “voiceless” and vulnerable creatures…
** Post Entry Notes
After posting this entry online, I got a number of concerned animal lovers writing in to verify the information regarding the general treatment and euthanasia of stray animals at AVA. I am glad to say that the above comments are unsubstantiated and here are the comments verified by a tenancious reader with the AVA for the benefit of everyone:
I have spoken to AVA (by email and on the phone). I am glad to report that it is not true. Here is an excerpt from an official email from them:
” AVA practices the humane method specified in the guidelines for humane euthanasia. That is, intravenous injection wherein the animals are rendered deeply sedated first, followed by the euthanasia injection.”
I will continue to leave my entry as it is as the blog serves as a personal journal for me to narrate and anecdote my original experiences and journal relating to all things animal and rescue work. In no way is this website an attempt to de-fame anyone or organisation and I apologise for any mis-information or inconveniences to any parties.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Caring takes strength but at the same time, it just takes one small step.
If you respect the sanctity of Life to all sentient beings, be it humans or animals, you CAN do something about it:
– Acknowledge that all Life is precious;
– It is the right , not a privilege for all stray animals to live;
– Urban strays are very much the direct result of irresponsible pet ownership & human behaviour ;
– The Earth and our society are shared by many living creatures and NOT just humans.
WHAT I CAN DO TO HELP:
– Adopt a stray pet, instead of buying;
– NEVER buy or adopt a pet on a whim- it is for life;
– NEVER buy a pet from a puppy mill;
– Always, Always de-sex your pet (if it is not registered for breeding);
– Always treat your pet as a valued member of your family (if you wouldn’t throw out your sick and elderly family member, why would you do that to your family pet?)
– Practice Compassion and stop cruelty to all animals;
– Volunteer at a local animal shelter;
– Practice compassion and feed a stray cat or dog;
– Make a donation to support the altruistic, self-funded shelters like *MWS whose courageous founders and volunteers devote their lives tirelessly to saving lives.
Imagine if we all do our bit by just practising one of any of the above, , wouldn’t you agree there will be lesser strays on the streets, lesser lives that need saving and more resources in society for other things?
*The MWS has been entirely self-funded and relies entirely on the support of kind hearted well wishers, supporters and volunteers for their food, medical supplies and donations.
Watch out for more to come from me on Part 2 of my Visit to the MWS in my next post. I will be posting more pictures of the lovely animals that I have encountered during my visit at the shelter.