Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The little Prince

Caspian wasn't your typical prince.

He wore his feelings on his sleeves. When he was grumpy, well - he was. When he didn't like you taking his plate, he showed. When he was excited, he danced.

Caspian passed away 18 June 2016. He was found motionless that Saturday morning, lying on his side in a peaceful sleeping position. Rigor mortis had already set in. We don't know when he slipped away. He was last seen alive at around 2.30pm in the afternoon, before Wee left the shelter.

Caspian - circa 2012

Desmond and I were at the shelter that night to carry out night and medicine feeding. It had poured heavily and the lights short-circuited. We worked in near darkness, depending largely on the lights from the last row of kennels behind our shelter.

Caspian and his roommate Deena were usually one of the last dogs we would feed at night. It was hard to collect Caspian's plate for re-use. Because when it came to food bowls, he was not friendly with just anyone. To circumvent that, we would usually coax him to come to the front of the kennel, just behind the gate to have his meal. This facilitated easy plate collection when he was done.

Sometimes, Caspian came forward to eat. Sometimes, he didn't - and we let him be. Over the years, it could be any number of reasons that affected his appetite at night. He could be too busy barking at the dogs in the neighboring kennel. It could be a result of a downpour. Night feeding was almost always a race against time to ensure that everything was done before the workers locked the farm compound for the night. We weren't afforded the time to coax them to eat.

That fateful Friday night, Cas didn't come forward but Deena did so happily. It had poured and we glimpsed him lying atop his crate silently. Like many dogs, Caspian didn't like the rain one bit. In wet weather, he would go off by himself, sometimes into his room, sometimes curled up on his crate. As a result, we didn't sense anything amiss that night when Caspian didn't have his supper. We carried on with the feeding and washing without skipping a beat. I am aghast to say I didn't even take a second look.

I have thought and re-thought through the events of that night which seems like such an awful blur to me now. Why didn't we go check on him?

All I can recall - for the life of me, was feeding King his pill when we first arrived. Then we tried to coax Deckie to eat his food and medicine, because we had been failing to the past couple of nights. I recall Denver stepping forward gingerly to sniff me while I administered Rosie's ear drops. I recall Katja barking loudly at me and startling me when I latched her gate too loudly. I recall checking the time before we left and deciding to join in the search of Dessa, who had gone missing while on a trial home stay. 

Truth be told, Caspian was the furthest thing on my mind that night. This belied how perfectly healthy and normal he had been all this while. After he completed his heart worm treatment years ago and save for some skin issues that crop up now and then, his health had never been a cause for concern.

And then, we left just like that - which pains me, knowing on hindsight that we probably left him curled up on his crate, either close to death or already gone. Would it have made any difference if we had spotted him behaving abnormally? Could he have been revived, saved even?

There are some questions for which you will never get answers. This is one of them. It frustrates me knowing that we were so close, yet so blissfully oblivious.

Imagine my shock when I received the call the next morning, informing me of Caspian's passing. It was such a bolt from the blue. I recall stuttering, trying desperately yet failing to recall anything particularly peculiar about Caspian that night we were at the shelter, save for the fact that he didn't eat.

With that I have conveyed the manner in which Caspian passed on. It is now time to turn this rather sombre entry on its head and recapture the dog that he once was. Because those years that he was with us were some pretty memorable ones.


Caspian came to stay at Gentle Paws around May 2010, about a month after Gentle Paws commenced operations proper. He joined the shelter on a boarding basis, together with 9 other dogs from the same rescuer.

Caspian, circa May 2010, when our journey began

I don't recall his plate or territorial aggression issues surfacing immediately. It only became apparent later on when he was housed separately from the rest with Qiqi. The first real impact that Caspian's aggression left on me was when he bit a volunteer's hand and someone anxiously called for the ambulance. It wasn't a deep bite. The volunteer sustained some punctures on her hand. Much to our relief, everything worked itself out. The volunteer was traumatised but physically alright. Nevertheless, the day the ambulance came to our shelter, sirens blaring, will always live on as a story to be remembered in the annals of Gentle Paws' history. This wasn't an isolated incident. Over the years, while the Prince never did inflict any lasting injury on anyone, he did bite several more people.

You would think that a dog with such a remarkable track record as Caspian wouldn't have many friends, won't you? Well then, it is time to be surprised.

We have some very special people in the shelter who recognise that there is a reason behind every bite. Aggression is an effect that follows a cause. It does not define the dog. It is not a personality type. Behind the food and territorial aggression was a playful, intelligent and loyal dog who needed people to stick around long enough to see that. Caspian was like a diamond in the rough that needed investors to uncover its shine. Except instead of money, what this dog needed was investment of our time, effort and energy. Dogs like him thrived on consistency.

Caspian on one of our furry day outings to the park

It is terrific that Caspian was such a photogenic dog. He leaves behind him not just memories but beautiful photos of beautiful moments he shared with so many of our volunteers. I needn't even describe the manner in which these volunteers spent their energies breaking down the barriers with Caspian. It shines through from the photographs below that were taken over the years.

One of my favourite photos of Caspian with his first 
human friend at the shelter, Choo

Caspian with Murphy on our annual Walk a Paw event

Caspian with Shiung Qian, who never failed to bring Caspian 
to the dog run upon reaching the shelter

Caspian with Suat - who after Choo, joined the ranks
of those who could have their way with Caspian

Caspian with Venn, the first of our younger
volunteers to reach out to Caspian

Caspian with Li Hui, the latest volunteer 
to win him over

Caspian was one of the longest staying dogs at Gentle Paws. While he joined the shelter on a paid boarding basis, Gentle Paws eventually adopted him. All the other 9 dogs who had come to the shelter with him back in May 2010 managed to find homes over time. Caspian was the last one standing amongst them. He was with us for six long years. It came as no surprise that volunteers, both old and new, grieved his passing - some more so than others.

Caspian - just being Caspian

I will never forget those hours we each must have spent, some time or another over the years, trying to get Caspian to just walk out of the shelter compound. No amount of cajoling, coaxing or chiding could make the stubborn boy budge. He was content to stay put outside the shelter gates for hours rather than venture one step further. Perhaps it was the other dogs down the aisle barking away at him… Caspian always seemed spooked by something at the farm compound. He walked perfectly fine when we brought him to the park by car or van.

An all too familiar sight - Caspian and a volunteer stuck
at this very spot for hours on end

It used to be the case that Caspian was one of the last dogs to be walked because few could even leash him. But this changed dramatically over the years. He soon became the first one many volunteers would take for a romp in the dog run when they arrived at the shelter. Caspian absolutely loved his time there and they indulged him endlessly.

Just dancin'

For more than a few of the volunteers, retrieving Caspian's plate became a non-issue. They could shower him, administer Frontline on him and managed him when he needed to be vaccinated. Sure, he still snarled when he was grumpy. Walking him still took ages although inroads were certainly made.

Say hello to Mr Grumps

But it was clearer than ever that Caspian had become a well-loved member of the Gentle Paws family. What was most heartening was the fact that Caspian didn't have to behave any other way to earn this love. He was loved for being himself. That - to me, has got to be the truest kind of affection of all.

Well, love.

I always called him a grump. But guess what? Caspian turned out to be a rather marvellous roommate to the dogs who were housed with him over the years. From affectionate Qiqi to traumatised Daphne and then strong-headed Deena, these girls gained strength from him. Each of them thrived in those years they roomed with him. Caspian never did face much problems getting along with other dogs.

With Qiqi, his roommate from 2010 to around 2011.
Qiqi was eventually adopted.

With Daphne, his roommate from 2012 to around 2015.
Daphne was eventually adopted. 

With Deena, his roommate from 2015 to June 2016

Following his passing, I learnt that Caspian was rescued as a puppy with his siblings from Senoko drain, near an out of bounds generator back in 2009. He was adopted by an expat family who eventually gave him up when they realised they had no time to spend on him. By then, Caspian had already developed bad habits that no one bothered to correct. He had a twin brother - Oscar, who looked exactly like him. Oscar was adopted and migrated to New Zealand with his folks. Meanwhile, Caspian lived out the rest of his life at the shelter. I wanted to say that fate could be so cruel. But then I thought about it and decided that Caspian wasn't alone. He had friends - some really good ones to boot, at the shelter. Yes, he lost some in life, but I think he won some as well.

Having fun at the dog run

In one of the editions of the Gentle Paws calendar, Caspian was featured as one of the "difficult" dogs in the shelter. Whether difficult or not proved to be a matter of perception. To an outsider, he was undoubtedly a handful. He was surely not ready to be adopted by an inexperienced family. Yet, those who really knew him could see in him, with their hearts, what was essentially invisible to the eye. Caspian was stubborn, playful, moody and affectionate all at once. On his passing, I saw the grief etched into many a volunteer's face. I knew at once that he left with many of them unique memories that will stay with them long after he has gone.

Having a rollin' good time at Furry Day

Caspian was only about seven years old when he passed away. We can only lament that seven years is surely too short. But we take comfort in the fact that he doesn't ever have to go through the pain of a long drawn out illness.

My last entry was so long ago. The typewriter's dusty from unuse. But when an old friend has left us for good, I feel obliged to create a memory in writing that will not fade away with the passage of time. This one's for you, our funny little Prince.

May you go with the angels.

Prince Caspian 
2009 to 18 June 2016

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Way back into love

Not too long ago, one of our volunteers randomly bumped into Vicky and her owner. Vicky was a beautiful, slender and good-natured dog who boarded with Gentle Paws for a short while about four or five years back. 

When Vicky's photo was shared in our internal group chat, few recognised her. Most of the volunteers in the group were relatively new. But the lack of recognition was also due in part to the fact that we have had too many dogs under our care the past 6 years. I remember hesitating for a split second before something in my mind clicked and I identified Vicky triumphantly.

This little episode got me thinking that it was perhaps time that someone sat down to document all the dogs who were once part of the Gentle Paws family. It didn't matter whether they had been on a short stay, took up a long term residence or were with us on a paid boarding basis. Everyone of them helped create the Gentle Paws of today. 

We no longer take in dogs on a boarding basis. But once upon a time, we were dependent on boarding fees for our monthly payment of rent. When our finances stabilised, we began to "adopt" the dogs who boarded with us on a long term basis. Eventually, the number of dogs on paid boarding at Gentle Paws dwindled to zero. The majority of them found good homes over the years.

Putting together the whole video was like taking a long stroll down memory lane. It was wonderfully nostalgic. But of course, it was also time consuming and tedious. I had to painstakingly unearth the photos of each and every dog and label them. Ironically, it was more difficult for me to find photos of the newer dogs than the older ones. Many of the dogs rescued this year were puppies who had the good fortune to be with us for a fleeting few days before they were adopted. There were precious few good photos of them.

There were also a few dogs who simply weren't featured in many photos at all. This required a rather extensive search for their photos through my entire database, which includes our photographers' Facebook albums and my own iPhoto collection. Many of the volunteers shared photos via WhatsApp which I saved in my iPhone library throughout the years. Imagine the terrible fright I got when my library mysteriously disappeared one day. Thankfully, I managed to retrieve it and quickly saved everything into an external drive before it happened again - and it did. 

Using all the photographs, I made a simple slideshow video and threw in some captions. It cost me a few extra winks of sleep and I often went to work groggy after working on the video the night before. I guess the motivation behind this is the recognition that memories might die, but the things that we create and leave behind us - will not. 

So lest we start to forget down the road, we can always re-watch this ten minute video I put together once upon a time and reminisce. My participation in the shelter is now largely reduced. Watching this teleports me back to those simple years when we slogged together toward the uncomplicated goal of building a makeshift home for the dogs - from nothing at all. 

Be warned that the dogs' photos will flash past you very quickly in the video. Because of the sheer number of dogs there is to cover, a second's appearance is all each of them have got. The video is already a lengthy ten minutes as it is. Imagine how much longer it might be if I had my way!

An outsider watching this will probably not think very much of it at all. He might even get a little bored with the faces of all those unfamiliar dogs gazing back at him. But if you were once a part of the Gentle Paws journey, then this video might mean something special to you. Watch - and let yourself be transported back into those dreamy days of yesteryear.  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

In defense of people

"The more I learn about people, the more I like my dog."

Quotes like this, together with stories of abuse and abandonment can make us rather weary of the human race.

In dog rescue, it is easy to become depressed with the state of things. There just doesn't seem to be enough room for all the dogs in the world. You are often frustrated, emotional and desperate. Your world can grow pretty dark.

But bad things somehow always manage to have a greater hold on us than good ones. The shocking and abhorrent grab the headlines easily and angrily. But what about all the amazing things that have been quietly taking place at the sidelines, especially in the field of dog rescue? Those need a feature too. So that's what I will try to do.

Sponsor a Dog, please?

If you have explored this blog, you will know that we have a sponsor a dog program. It's just a label for a simple arrangement where members of the public make a monetary contribution to the shelter each month. It has silently been in operation since 2010.

Some sponsors have been quietly and unobtrusively making donations to us for years without seeking anything in return. It might be a mere $10 donation each month - some give more. But multiply $10 by the 60 odd months since the program commenced... That's minimally $600 of one's savings - given to us, for our dogs, for free.

I used to partake in the running of the shelter. I remember constantly feeling humbled by the generosity of these sponsors and the leap of faith they took in us. We may not be wealthy but really, we are rich in other ways that count.

All aboard the Paw Pack train

My last official project for the shelter was the sale of Paw Packs at the end of 2015 as part of an effort to raise funds for the upcoming year. Each Paw Pack consisted of a canvas tote bag, a T-shirt and beverage vouchers bundled together.

When I first embarked on this small project, I thought I was helming it alone. But help was so forthcoming that it turned out to be a joint effort from us all.

As a birthday gift from her colleagues, one of our volunteers requested from them the partial sponsorship of canvas tote bags for the shelter. She also proposed to help obtain beverage vouchers to beef up our rather bare Paw Pack.

Another of our volunteers approached me on the side to say she had been thinking about sponsoring the cost of printing the T-shirts. We had just taken in a bunch of senior retired k-9 dogs at that time, a few with existing medical conditions. She wanted to lend a hand monetarily and found our Paw Pack project to be a suitable avenue. Plus, she added, it was bonus period and this was how she wanted to spend it.

No, wait - that's not all.

Yet another of the volunteers pitched in to help me do up an efficient, functional, colour coded excel sheet to help ease my administrative load. I suffered from severe allergies to the excel software.

Another sent in her large order way before we even launched the sale in a show of ever ready support. She stuffed me with cash for the packs before I could ask... Fess up! Do you and your friends really need so many shirts?

Then, there was our volunteer artist who submitted designs for the shelter's paraphernalia each year. She was the professional here. Yet she could not have been more accommodating to the changes in design we requested and our dreadful timelines.

At the end of the two weeks, my fervent prayers were answered! We received over 200 orders - way beyond our initial estimate of 60. Imagine our delight! This spike in volume also gave us greater bargaining strength with the vendors to bring down the cost incurred, economies of scale and all.

When the items were finally delivered to me, I was faced with the logistical obstacle of packing everything into bundles. Time was short. Together with three fellow volunteers, we spent a couple of our week nights after work as ad-hoc factory workers, labelling, sorting and packing. We were a production line. All we were short of were uniforms, canteen food and a salary.

When the time came for distribution of the packs, I relied on a small group of volunteer friends whom I unabashedly despatched to designated points across our island for meet ups with the buyers. I also had help with postage of the packs offered to me ever so readily.

As you can see, at almost every turn in this journey, I was not alone.

And then there was the matter of our Paw Pack customers. Let's face it. No matter how hard I try to persuade otherwise, nobody really needs an extra tote bag, a t-shirt and a beverage voucher. These aren't necessities. It was apparent that the people who bought the packs cared more about the proceeds of sale going towards the dogs and less about the items that actually made up the packs.

From our interaction with the buyers, it became clear to us that most of them had a certain profile. They were easy going and flexible with the collection arrangements. One of them met me at my office because she knocked off early. Some changed their lunch plans for the meet ups at the train stations. Others collated orders with their friends and had to lug a number of packs back on their own. Most of them understood that our delivery personnel were all doing it on an entirely voluntary basis.

We ended up raising more than $10,000 for the shelter from this venture. As I whooped with joy, my fellow volunteers did too.

Volunteering at the shelter has always been all about dogs. But for me, it is too, as much about people. Because as a small shelter, our people is our greatest resource. Their initiative, talent, resourcefulness, passion and kindness are what have kept - and what I reckon will keep the shelter going.

The art of loving a dog begins with a person

Recently, the Facebook administrators of the Gentle Paws page decided to get some of the volunteers to write about their experiences at the shelter. Some of the entries were beautiful simply from how heartfelt they were.

For shelter dogs, it takes a persistent human being to fork out her weekends each week, every month for years to grow a relationship of trust, respect and love. We have had the good fortune to witness the blossoming of such relationships between human and canine time and again here at the shelter - just read those Facebook posts.

The dogs know to count on these familiar volunteers for walks and affection - even outings. They know that when these humans say bye at the end of one week, they will be back soon enough. This injects in the dogs' lives an element of predictability and hence, stability. They are assured - a rare sentiment for a shelter dog.

We often think that feeding the dogs something more or something better is to dote on them. But once their basic physical needs are met, I truly believe that what they need instead is a type of mental well-being that only the volunteers can give.

Shelter dogs need people to slow down and take time to appreciate them for them - their quirks and disposition, their likes and dislikes. Then only will they no longer be just one of the many faceless shelter dogs behind the fence. They become something quite special indeed.

Closing submissions

And so to wrap it all up - shelter work for the past six to seven years has not made me grow disdainful of the human race. Instead it taught me that when we condemn, it should not apply to the collective. Because both the eyes and the heart tell me that the essence of shelter work lies in the very kindness of humankind that is constantly being denigrated.

I love dogs but hey, I love the people that come along too. All of them, past and present, operational or not, helped create the Gentle Paws of today. Every bit of contribution - and everyone, counts.

This, in a long-winded fashion, is my defence of people.

I rest my case.

The writer's opinion is hers alone and should not be construed as representative of the shelter.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Emerging from the Ruff and Tumble: Insights from a Beginner Adopter

I adopted a dog. 

It still feels slightly funny saying that aloud. I am so much more used to watching adoption take place from the sidelines at the shelter.

It's been close to three months. I am still more positive than ever that this is one of the best decisions I have made. 

I am not going to advise on adoption. I have realised that I am so much of a greenhorn myself. Instead, what I hope to do in this entry is to share with you little every day insights that you will probably never discover until you - like me, embark on the journey yourself.

1. Separation anxiety - Whose?!

We both work full time so Dazzle has to be left at home on her own for pretty long hours. It helps that at almost four years of age, she is a full grown adult. 

Nevertheless, having gone through much of the fodder on separation anxiety online, we were concerned that Dazzle might experience the same. All her life, she lived with her sister at the shelter. While they sometimes bickered, they were each other's constant companion. 

It turned out that our girl was pretty independent. Sure, she was nervous at first and would bark when we closed the door behind us. But in just a few weeks, she learnt to settle down with her Kong and rawhide for company, not even batting an eyelid as we headed for the door. I guess she started realising that when we left, we would return.

We began to discover that the ones with the separation anxiety wasn't Dazzle. It was us! That awful ache I felt as I left for work each morning. That distracting urge to log on to the webcam mobile application to peek at her too frequently during our working hours. These were all symptoms of separation anxiety. Except we were the ones down with the blues, not her! 

2. Your life becomes one big routine - And that might not be a bad thing.

These days, I jump out of bed when my alarm rings at 6am, splash some water on my face and head out the door with Dazzle for her morning pee time. We go for a twenty minute walk. When we return, I wash her paws, wipe her face and underbelly and prepare her breakfast before I jump into the shower myself.

On weekdays, we have to ensure one of us gets back sufficiently early for her evening pee time. That's the trouble with your dog being grass trained. 

We walk her between forty minutes to an hour. We head back home to prepare her dinner. She sheds quite a bit and the messy little eater tends to leave drool stains on the floor. So we have to vacuum and clean. If we brought her for her evening walk early, we try to slip in another one just before bedtime. That - in a nutshell, is our day.

I have never been one for waking up early or cleaning my house fastidiously. I have the habit of sleeping late and I love sleeping in. Having a dog instilled in me a newfound discipline I didn't think I possessed. 

Our trusty vacuum cleaner has become an indispensable part of my every day life. They say keeping a dog dirties the place but for me, my little flat is cleaner than ever. 

Staying up too late exhausts me now because I have to crawl out of bed early the next morning. Dinners with friends, trips to the hairdresser's, shopping, holidays... Our lives have to be re-organised to accommodate her because there's just the two of us for her. 

But guess what? The most incredulous thing is, I actually find myself happy doing it all. It is very strange how things work themselves out in the end.

3. You no longer see - you look.

When you see, you do so without intention. But when you look, it is purposeful. 

Adopting Dazzle has taught me to look at the world around me and not merely to see. Much like to hear and listen, the difference is nuanced. That is exactly how my life has changed - in subtle ways that matter.

Because I have to walk Dazzle early each morning, I have come to know the people in my neighbourhood crazy enough to sneak in a jog when the air is cool and the sun has yet to shine. For the elderly folk practising their morning tai-chi, the sight of one sleepy human shuffling along with her gungho four-legged pee machine at the other end of the leash has become a familiar sight. 

I now know where the loose tiles at the void deck are because Dazzle and I pound the same pavement at least twice every day. I know where we are most likely to meet the community kitties who never fail to glare menacingly at my oblivious dog from afar, back arched and ready to pounce.

While exploring the park connector with Dazzle one night, we stumbled across the thriving dog community in my neighbourhood who gather there nightly. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that a sizeable fraction of the group was made up of mongrels. Being adopters of the breed themselves, these owners looked beyond Dazzle's wariness and reached out to her patiently. They were the first strangers she allowed to pet her without jumping away like she was scalded. Needless to say, I was heartened and so very proud. 

To vary our walking route, I find myself traipsing along with Dazzle, taking different turns in the road to uncover new grounds - grounds worth sniffing. These are parts of my estate I would never have thought to go by foot if I didn't have her. The neighbouring HDB blocks, the town park, the park connector have all become our usual hunting grounds.

Despite our efforts, there is only so much variation we can introduce to her daily walks. Regardless, she injects into each walk an irrepressible enthusiasm. She can always be seen sniffing away at the ground self-importantly, surging forward urgently like a search dog wannabe. 

Though the sights may be largely the same, my dog teaches me that every day is a brand new day and every walk a spanking new, hopeful adventure. 

4. Knowing you are not alone makes everything easier 

We all have good days. And then we have some bad ones too. Sometimes, you just don't feel up to anything at all. Or perhaps you desperately can't get away from work because of those impending deadlines. 

Yet your dog needs to be fed, walked and cleaned. Having a partner to share the load makes the going so much easier. You get to take that odd break or two when you have to. There is an indescribable sense of comfort knowing that someone's got things covered. 

Dazzle has always been more of my dog than the husband's. I will always be grateful that he received her entry into our lives with such open arms. Because on hindsight, having a pet is a big deal. Without a joint commitment to the endeavour, you are in for a very tough ride. I have thus cultivated a newfound respect for those who somehow manage to go at it alone successfully while juggling work, family and other vissicitudes of life. 

Not sure about you - but something that worked for me was having a group of friends in whom to confide throughout the journey. Because I volunteer at the shelter, I am lucky to have crossed paths with like-minded dog-loving people. I reckon the average man on the street probably wouldn't be too interested in hearing me fret over my dog's swollen eye and tick infestation or agonise over leaving my dog home alone every day. I can't tell you how comforting it is knowing you can count on these girls for their frank views and sensible suggestions. It went a long  way in assauging self doubt and helped keep any self recrimination at bay. 

If you aren't as lucky as me to be surrounded by dog people, fret not because you will make friends. Be it through social media or simply bumping into fellow dog walkers in your neighbourhood, a listening ear is not so hard to find.

5. What you see is not what you will get 

Probably the greatest take away of all for me is the realisation that a whole different personality lies beneath the dog I got to know at the shelter. 

I cared for Dazzle for four years at the shelter, since she was a 3 month old puppy. I thought I knew most things about her. But I was wrong. There were so many facets of her personality yet to be uncovered from those short hours I spent with her at the shelter. 

For instance, I found out that Dazzle is not a cuddler but she absolutely loves belly rubs. She doesn't care about toys or balls apart from her Kong which has to be full of treats. She is very food motivated. Without her sister, she can be a touch fearful. She is wary of large foreign objects. She loves racing around in the dog run. She is friendly with most other dogs but only if she is introduced to them one by one. 

She sleeps and lazes around a lot at home - a far cry from the active, irrepressible, noisy little girl at the shelter. I guess we are only at the shelter a couple of hours each day. We don't get the chance to realise just how much they snooze. But they do. A lot - and I have found out it's nothing to be overly worried about. 

These are but snippets of the personality that we unearthed at the centre of that pair of small eyes, big ears and skinny torso. We continue to find out new things about her each day, both good and bad. The hope is that we are able to help her grow into a stable, comfortable and well-adjusted member of our community. One day, incrementally.

Wrapping up and life continues

Before this post becomes unduly tedious, that is about all I have to share in these couple of months since we adopted Dazzle. Things are still work in progress and I foresee, they are pretty much always going to be. Because at the end of the day, this is one long journey of which we are just beginning.

We visited the vet to do a blood test over the weekend. Dazzle was, expectedly, pretty nervous. I had to assist in holding her neck and murmur soothing words to allow the vet to take blood from her neck area. "She really trusts you!" The kind vet exclaimed as completed the procedure and set aside the syringe. As you can tell, I was almost falling over with pride at this point. I guess that's the reward you get from adoption. You build a relationship, a bond with a living creature that strengthens over time.

It's a pretty wonderful feeling. You might want to experience it too.

In doing so, remember - adopt, don't buy. 

Change in Gentle Paws Bank Account

Dear all,

Especially our long term sponsors, ad hoc donors, volunteers and you, dear reader - 

We would like to inform of our change in bank account number which will take effect on 1 February 2016. Please note that our new bank account number henceforth will be POSB Savings 336-00423-3. Kindly be reminded to cease transferring any funds to our former account (POSB Savings 198-66799-4). We would appreciate if you could spread the word to fellow volunteers or contributors known to you. 

We apologize for any inconvenience caused and look forward to a brighter, happier future for our shelter dogs. Thank you for your support all these years!

With warmest regards,
Gentle Paws

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Magic of Furry Day

We just got back from the beach with the dogs on an outing affectionately known to us volunteers for the longest time as Furry Day

Furry Day began as an outing organized by a few pioneer volunteers to the nearby beach with a few dogs. They had one car and limited hands. Only a few lucky dogs got to enjoy the sun, sand and endless sea. Both canine and human really enjoyed themselves each time. In her delight, one of the the participating volunteers - Lorna, proclaimed these outings as Furry Days. The name stuck. 

That was about six, seven years ago. 

Today, we have progressed as a shelter. For one, we have many more dogs. For two, we also have many more regular volunteers. For three, we have seen many more rules implemented over time as we grew larger. Yet throughout these years, the pleasure derived from the Furry Day experience has not diminished one bit. The beach is really a sea change (pun intended!) from shelter living that our dogs experience for the most part of their short lives. For the volunteers, the reward comes in seeing the dogs relaxed and happy. 

We used to hold such outings to the beach every month. We wish we could do it more often. But because such outings were invariably manpower and logistics intensive, we had to settle on doing so on a monthly basis. 

Furry Day was carried out monthly for almost five years. At the start, we didn't have enough help and would call on members of the public to pitch in. The few of us would supervise while the participants walked the dogs. In this way, Furry Day opened the door to regular volunteering at the shelter for many of our existing volunteers.

Later, as the shelter grew bigger and we were blessed with a sizable crop of regular volunteers, we decided to make Furry Day an internal affair. Safety considerations played a big part in our decision. As the number of dogs at the shelter grew and the larger the group heading out to the beach got, the level of unpredictability increased. On occasion, we found our dogs getting into embarrassing scuffles with each other or worse, running free from their leash by accident. For the good of both dogs and people, we decided that our dogs were best handled in public places outside the vicinity of the shelter by volunteers who were familiar with them and whom they were comfortable with. 

For the past year however, Furry Day fell by the wayside. 

We participated in adoption drives and flea markets each week with a vigour and for good reason too. Dogs who have been living for years at the shelter found homes at last. With the end of our lease drawing close and on the heels of the success of our rehoming efforts, there was a shift in the focus of the shelter. It seemed the most practical and obvious path to take, with the most permanent benefits for our dogs. A very efficient "rehome team" was carved from our group of regular volunteers to front these adoption drives and flea markets with pretty stellar results. In fact, amongst those in attendance at today's Furry Day, only a fraction of the dogs have joined us before.

Today's Furry Day was the first one we had in six months. We weren't holding our annual Walk-a-Paw event this year. In place of that, we felt that Furry Day was in order before the year drew to a close. Everything felt so pleasantly familiar as we went about carrying out the outing today. Some of these fellow volunteers were people I had known for years - people whom I would otherwise never have gotten the chance to cross paths with in my life. When I bumped into Joey first thing in the morning, she gushed about how excited she was. I couldn't help but flash her the same silly grin. 

We worked together with an easy camaraderie. We all knew what we had to do. Those who came early started feeding the first dose of medication to dogs who needed them. Others started cleaning the shelter - clearing the poo, washing away the pee, grime and fallen leaves and refilling the water bowls. Our unwieldy brown water tank was lugged out and packets of ice dumped inside to provide cold water for our dogs at the beach. On the "leash up" command, we started to put on their collars and attach their leashes. The dogs' eyes begin to light up with the knowledge that something good was in the air.

Our transport providers were systematic in loading the dogs and their handlers up and dropping them off. We had a mini crisis of sorts when our new Rottweiler, Duke, failed to get up the van or car on his own. We could not lift him because he would growl. This one didn't appreciate just any one touching his backside and we certainly didn't dare risk it with him. By some stroke of genius, one of the volunteers conjured a plank from nowhere that was sturdy enough to withstand all 50+ kilos of Duke. We managed to coax the poor boy to walk up the plank and onto the back of the van successfully. It took half an hour and provided me - the sideline spectator, with lots of entertainment. Though it was comical, I have to say our volunteers were innovative and pretty darned smart. I was ridiculously proud.

Today's weather was gorgeous. The morning sunlight was gentle and there was a constant breeze. The backdrop of that azure blue sky against the lush greenery of the park made for a very beautiful day. It made me think that perhaps the heavens knew this Furry Day was a long time coming - and perhaps, they were smiling down on us.

I have't been quite involved in the operation of the shelter this year as I used to be. Today, I am reminded of everything I love about volunteering at Gentle Paws. Volunteering is not about who does more. It is not about competition or politics. Volunteering, as I have often insisted that the word suggests, comes from the heart. It is about giving within the confines of our ability. It is meant to enrich our lives without necessarily being all-consuming. Organising this Furry Day after such a long lull underscored how much I loved working in a team, this team, toward our common goal. It was nothing particularly important or permanent - just the short term aim of allowing our dogs to have a fun morning out at the beach. But it was inclusive and the mood was genial. I had a truly enjoyable time.

Furry Day may seem frivolous in the light of our other achievements. Yet every time we manage to pull off a successful Furry Day, it leaves me chuffed and feeling like the most accomplished person in the whole wide world. Because a successful Furry Day means one good day in the lives of our shelter dogs. I have a sneaking feeling we will look back one day and figure that these little things were really big things that took up the most space in our hearts.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Time to Pawty

Some dogs have all the luck. Others? They just don't. 

This is Deckie. He is a senior dog with a serious arthritis condition. On bad days, he doesn't get up at all. Deckie is overweight and is facing difficulty losing the extra kilos. We found ourselves sending him to the vet, having to watch his diet and coaxing him to go for short walks. Life could definitely be better for Deckie who is growing so much more mellow and loving in his later years. 

This is King. He has recovered from the host of ailments that plagued him upon rescue from a forested area. Unfortunately, he was rendered permanently blind in his right eye. He also has a heart murmur condition which requires him to be on life long medication, twice daily. He is not able to go for long vigorous walks which may trigger an underlying condition and be potentially fatal. He doesn't ask for much - just a good dose of health and happiness this holiday season.

This is Denny. He is calm, easygoing and quietly affectionate. Despite everything, he has had rather poor luck with adoption. He left the shelter for a number of trial home stays, all of which failed to work out through no fault of his. The families either decided they were not ready for a dog, couldn't deal with his thunderstorm anxiety or that they were allergic. Denny is seven years old now. When will his lucky break ever come?

This is Dai Xin. She is about eight years old. She was rescued as a stray puppy with two sisters who have since passed on from illness. Throughout the years, Xin has neither been on a trial home stay nor seen the inside of a home. Perhaps it is because she isn't dog friendly and can be quite fiery with other dogs, especially the females. She is also more independent than affectionate. This year end, we hope she is given that rare chance to prove what we already know - that all dogs belong in loving homes and their innate potential as wonderful companions at home. 

Finally, we have Darcy who walked up to us in a forested area and asked to be rescued. She was famished, dehydrated and her skin condition was terrible. Repeated bouts of aural hematoma have caused her once upright ears to droop down like wilted sunflowers. Though Darcy's skin has healed tremendously, it is far from perfect. In this world with an abundance of dogs looking for homes, we hope someone is able to see right through to that playful and affectionate fur kid who lies beneath.

I took the liberty of choosing these five dogs to be the faces of our shelter this year. Because they have spent years with us and will continue to do so indefinitely. They represent voiceless shelter dogs who may never get a ticket out of the shelter. We are very likely going to have to provide food, shelter and medical care for many of them for the rest of their lives. The going will only get tougher as they start to age and ailments begin to set in. 

Every year, we organise a Walk a Paw event to wrap up our year. This is a mini dog-a-thon whereby we sell goody bags and organize a dog walk at the scenic Lorong Halus Wetland Park. Interested members of the public walk our shelter dogs under supervision and in the course of doing so, get the opportunity to know the dogs better. The participants get to spend Christmas in a meaningful way, our dogs get to have fun and we are also able to put together some funds for the shelter as we embark on a brand new year ahead. 

This year, we are faced with the happy problem of having too few "walkable" dogs. Prior to the extension of our lease by a year to May 2017, we put a halt on accepting more dogs. Because with no new premises secured, our future was uncertain. In the meantime, we worked hard - and rather successfully, to find homes for our existing dogs. We are happy to share that many of our charges who have lived for years at the shelter will be spending this festive season with their new families in their warm homes this year. Just look.

It was only recently, when news of the lease extension came to light, that we began taking in dogs once more. To us, an extra year's time to find homes for our new entrants was significant. 

We took in five retired k-9 dogs and a new batch of mongrel puppies from the wild. The puppies are too young and the k-9 dogs may be walked by experienced handlers only. A handful of our existing shelter dogs also require a firm and familiar hand because they do not walk well on leash.

In view of the number of shelter dogs that we could safely allow to be walked by the participants, Walk-A-Paw did not seem very feasible this year. Yet, we still hoped to raise funds for our dogs to tide us over the next year and a half before our lease is up and we have to make further arrangements for the remainder of our dogs.

So this is what we came up with and we fervently hope you will lend us your support.

Spread some joy to our shelter dogs by buying our Paw Pack at $50 each! Each Pack consists of a Singapore Special tote bag and a dri-fit T-shirt designed by our volunteer artist, Adeline Tan, as well as a beverage voucher (as for what beverage - buy a Pack and find out yourself!). 

We reckon these items will make meaningful gifts. Because you will not only be lending a helping hand to us financially - just by using them, the bag and shirt can help spread crucial messages about mongrels and dog adoption. 

We need at least 60 orders in total to kick start this project. We will also need a lead time of about 2.5 weeks from confirmation of the order for printing of the shirts. If you are interested in buying a Paw Pack or (hopefully) more, please email us at by the close of 20 December 2015 with the subject title: "Paw Pack 2015" together with the following details: 

- Your name
- Contact number
- Quantity
- T-shirt sizes 

You can refer to the size chart over here for assistance:

When we receive your email, we will respond with payment and delivery details accordingly. Modes of delivery include postage (which will incur additional cost), meet-ups at specified train stations or self-collection at the shelter on pre-arranged dates. Payment is only required after we have confirmed that at least 60 orders have been received.

Long-winded, I know. But we need to emphasize that we require at least 60 orders for this project to take off. If we do not manage to get 60 orders, we will inform you of the same as soon as we can. 

Our year end fund raising is important to us. Because we are privately run and not a registered charity, our fund raising options are rather limited. We hope you know that your support means the world to us. Please note that all proceeds (minus cost) from the sale of these Paw Packs will go towards the long term care of our shelter dogs.

Running a shelter is no rocket science. But running a shelter in the long term for years on end requires an extraordinary kind of resilience. We need all the help we can get. 

Here's to love, peace, dogs and a successful Paw Pack sale.

Thank you for your yearly support.

For all and any enquiries, please direct them to Thank you.

Saturday, December 12, 2015


Silently, December has crept up upon us. The holiday season always gives me the feels. It makes me grow sentimental, reflective and thankful. There is a perceptible shift in the air this time of the year. Everything feels lazier, cosier, more festive and cheerful.

This year has been a year of changes. It is this year that we have found homes for a greater number of dogs than ever. We also participated in more adoption drives and flea markets than we did the past couple of years put together.

"You are not the same as before." The Mad Hatter told Alice. "You were much more muchier... You have lost your muchness."

Looking back on the year, I have spent most of it on the sidelines. Because for me personally, it has been a transformative year as well. Enough said about me. This blog is about more than that. The past year has shown that our organisation is constantly growing and evolving. Contrary to the views of those who bemoan the state of our society, it is clear that there isn't a lack of kind, idealistic, passionate young individuals eager to make a difference. We are so lucky to have met more than a few of them at our shelter. 

As you may already know, the lease on the land that our shelter sits on was meant to expire in May 2016. It has been extended a year to May 2017. But before we received confirmation of that, we operated the shelter like it was our last. Our efforts paid off because our shelter started to empty of dogs visibly as one by one, they all left for good homes. At one point, the number of dogs we had dwindled to about 17. That was as much the number we had when we first started out. What a full circle we have come. With the lease expiry hovering on our horizons and no new premises secured, we consciously tried to limit our population. 

Then, we received news of the extension and heaved a palpable sigh of relief. The extra year was a buffer for us to contemplate rescuing more because it meant we had an extra year's time to find homes for them. We welcomed five retired working dogs to the shelter. They came to us because they failed to find homes despite the authorities' every effort. We had a pretty good track record with such retirees in the past. Some took longer than others, but we managed to find homes for every one of them that came to us before. It seemed all these dogs needed was some time to relax and leave their old working lives behind them. 

We recently rescued six more puppies from a forested area. They are 8-10 weeks old. We have a small window to rehome them before they grow older and the harsh realities of shelter life dawns on them. We hope they get so lucky and find their human families in our adoption drives in the upcoming weeks. Because if the shelter has taught me anything, it is that dogs belong in warm homes and to loving families.

The shelter is a very different place now from what it used to be. We are all different people from whom we used to be. But what is unwavering is our desire to better the lives of dogs in need. We find homes for those that we can and if we can't, we try to make their lives as comfortable as possible at the shelter. Some things change but some things will always remain the same. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

When life gives you lemons

When life gives you lemons - make lemonade. This is the mantra that Dooki has been leading his whole life by. I cannot help but feel a tinge of regret that life just didn't turn out better for him. 

Dooki was born in the shelter on 15 June 2012. His arrival was unexpected because we didn't know his mother Daphne was pregnant. We had just rescued her from an offshore island a few days back.

Daphne's pregnancy was traumatic. She had to endure the process of being captured and ferried to our main island. She originally delivered seven puppies but two died at birth. 

Dooki was the runt of the litter. He was set apart from his siblings by his distinct white front paws. We refrained from naming the puppies to avoid forming any attachment to them. We were determined to find homes for them fast. We didn't want them growing up at the shelter.

Baby Dooks, the tiniest in the litter.

So for a very long time, Dooki was known to us as White Paws... Until Wee got disgruntled that he was still nameless after all this while and named him Dooki. Now that he had a name, he belonged somewhere. 

In the time when the puppies were being weaned but were still too young to be vaccinated, we were worried. They were most vulnerable in an environment like the shelter. We sought to find homes for them quickly. Dooki was one of those shuffled off for a trial homestay by a potential adopter. 

Toddler Dooki

We were alarmed when the potential adopter reported that Dooki had vomited more than five times in a row at their place. He was sent to the vet for medical attention. To our dismay, he was gravely ill with parvovirus, a lethal puppy killer. The vet said that Dooki's condition was critical. They instructed that we send all his other siblings for testing immediately.

Dooki was warded for a long time. In the first couple of days, he hovered dangerously close to death's door. Every day we were worried we would get a phone call bearing bad news. 

The image of that tiny solitary puppy with those innocent eyes behind the glass enclosure made us feel incredibly sorry for him. He was hooked up to so many tubes. Even the smallest e-collar looked oversized for his tiny neck.

Absolutely nobody could look at this and not feel sorry for him.

We underestimated the strength of this brave little one. He made it through the worst and eventually pulled through. As he was nearing discharge, we began to fret about foster care. He was in no state to go back to the shelter. 

Only a puppy but he was strong.

We were desperate. We went around pulling favours from people who might be able to take him for a while, until he was adopted. It was difficult to find someone because Dooki was still a young puppy who needed round the clock attention. 

We were delighted when a potential adopter who had volunteered previously at the shelter stepped up to take him for a trial. They named him Loki and took great care of him. Unfortunately, they eventually decided that they weren't ready for the commitment of a canine addition to their young family. They agreed to keep Dooki until we made other foster arrangements. 

Back when he was known as Loki.

Dooki next headed to the home of a relative of one of our adopters. He was tiny, adorable and very intelligent. It was pretty easy for the children to love him. 

He was exposed to children from a young age.

But it was never meant to be long term as the family had a sickly grandparent at home. In the course of the foster care, we continued to search high and low for a suitable home for Dooki. 

How much he had gone through for one so young!

We were thrilled when a potential adopter approached us on Facebook indicating her interest to adopt. A trial homestay was arranged. The family decided to go through with the adoption after two weeks. 

We sent him to the potential adopter's place for his trial.

When we went to pay a visit to sign the adoption papers, Dooki had grown so much bigger. He was a hyperactive puppy with boundless energy. We could hardly take a photo of him without him racing off to somewhere else. He certainly kept the family on their toes. They enrolled him in an obedience class. We heard he was sharp, intelligent and quite the performer. Most of all, we were heartened to see that he was healthy. They renamed him Zeus. 

During the house visit.

Life went on for another six months. One day, the family informed us that they were downgrading and would be temporarily staying with a relative. They had adopted another dog after Dooki. They would not be able to keep both of them and had decided to let Dooki go. 

The day that Dooki returned to the shelter, he was happy, curious and blissfully ignorant. He was under the impression that they were all on a jolly excursion to the shelter. While he was busy exploring and meeting other dogs, his family handed over his things and quietly left. Probably the most heartbreaking of all was the moment it dawned on him that they were gone and had not brought him along.

That moment of realisation.

From that day on, life pretty much got tough. Dooki had to adjust to the shelter, a place where he had few memories. He was back to being Dooki again - not Loki, not Zeus. Life seemed to like throwing curveballs his way. 

The shelter can be a pretty noisy and stressful place. The dogs' excitement tends to rub off on one another. When something gets them excited, they would zoom around the kennel in delirium and bark loudly. Some would run into the crate for cover. A few like Dooki would begin to nip. 

A bad habit begins.

It was a bad habit that grew more apparent with time. The greater we reacted to the nipping, the more Dooks would think we were playing with him and the worse it became. Not everyone could handle it. We found ourselves advising volunteers to walk briskly out of the kennel whenever he grew overexcited. We also had trouble leashing him because he would race around the kennel happily like it was a game. We often had to lure him with treats so that another one of us could deftly slip the leash over his head. 

He only wanted to play...

But all of that did not characterise Dooki. What made him quintessentially Dooki was his responsiveness to people. He loved affection. Whenever we reached out to give him a scratch, he would lean in onto us fondly. Put your face close to his and he would lick you lovingly. 

He was loved by many.

Once he was leashed, Dooki walked beautifully. For a dog in his teenage years, he ought to be a tugger - but he never was. Taking him out was always leisurely. 

He was the type of dog who could sit by you for hours.

Dooki also got along with other dogs. Whenever we had to reconfigure the living quarters of the dogs, we never had to worry that Dooki might not get along with a new entrant. He was even tempered that way.  

Other dogs? No problem!

Before long, Dooki became a familiar fixture at the shelter. I can't be certain when it started but we began to notice a limp in his gait. It was affecting his walking and he seemed to be in pain. 

We sent him to the clinic for a check. Scans showed he had arthritis and was suffering from grade 2 luxating patellar. In layman terms, it meant his knee cap would pop out but wouldn't always pop back in automatically. As his condition wasn't at the most severe stage, surgery was not the first option. We started him on a course of carthrophen treatment to ease the pain. He would receive monthly jabs to cope. It had worked for some of our older dogs. 

Learning to cope with the pain at the shelter. It wasn't easy.

We revisited the problem this year because Dooki's condition did not seem to improve. We sent him for a second opinion and decided to proceed with surgery. It was going to be a big year for Dooki in his already eventful life. The surgery for his right knee was scheduled on 24 March and the one for his left knee was tentatively fixed in May or June. 

On the van on the way to the clinic for his first surgery in March 2015.

Following his surgery in March, our volunteers were roped in to foster Dooki in the interim so he didn't have to return to the shelter. He went to Yik Lun's for a week and then to Venn's for four months. 

He had a long period of recuperation before him. In between, he had to return to the vet for reviews to ensure he was healing well and on course for the next surgery. We depended a great deal on the volunteers to not only care for him but also help out in the transportation to and from the clinic. We can only count ourselves lucky that so many generously pitched in. 

Post surgery, his movement had to be restricted.

During those months that he was being fostered at home, we learnt plenty about Dooki that we wouldn't have found out at the shelter. Venn tells us he is very responsive to food and in turn, easily trained. He was taught to sit and wait for his food and not to enter the kitchen. It didn't take long for him to learn to use the pee tray. She set him boundaries and he learnt to abide by them. 

Once basic commands were mastered, they moved on to the finer details of day to day grooming. At home, she tried to get Dooki accustomed to being brushed, showered, having his ears cleaned and nails trimmed without feeling overly stressed. Nail trimming remains tricky but it is a common problem for many dogs that only time and consistency can help achieve.

Comfortable at home.

What became even more apparent during this period of foster care was just how much Dooki loved human affection. Venn tells us that there isn't a day that goes by without Dooki flopping over for a belly rub the moment she touches him. When she stops, he lifts his paw to tell her to continue. The home environment has done wonders for Dooki. When he returned to the clinic for a review, the nurses expressed surprise that they could take an X-ray without needing to muzzle him. 

Waiting to see the vet.

Dooki was fast growing accustomed to a home environment. He was afraid of thunder and being at home brought him greater comfort. On sunny days, he would jump up excitedly when Venn picked up the leash. He also got along with all other dogs, big and small. Venn ran a small boarding business so he really did meet and cohabit with quite a few of them. Best of all, his nipping problem quietly disappeared over the months. When I met him again after so long, he was calmer and gentler. He looked the same, perhaps a little trimmer, but he felt a touch different from the past. That's what a stable home environment does for dogs.

A home made him different.

When Dooki went for yet another review, the vet certified that his right leg had healed beautifully. They gave the go ahead for us to proceed with the surgery on Dooki's left leg that very same week. And so we did. 

The vet remarked that the second surgery went faster and more easily than the first one. They were confident Dooki would recover well. He had already started to eat after the operation.

All his life, Dooki has learnt to make the best of a bad situation. When life gave him those lemons, he didn't make lemonade. He made orange juice and left us wondering how he did it. 

From parvovirus to failed adoptions, from coping with the pain in his knees and then to facing a difficult recovery period, Dooki has been just amazing. I wish that for a change, a great situation could just present itself to him instead. Dooks is ready for a home and there is no one more deserving. Will you be the one to turn the tide for him at last? Don't take too long to find your way to him.

This is Dooki. He is looking for love.

Dooki and many other beautiful mongrels, each with their own story, are looking for homes. Please email us at for further adoption enquiries.