Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Our friend, Dillion

"Where are Dillion's meds?" 

I was seated at my desk in the office earlier today when my phone dinged. It was a Whatsapp message from W at the shelter. It was almost one in the afternoon and weekday feeding at the shelter was about to commence. Dillion, our ten year old German Shepherd had just gone to see the vet yesterday and had medication freshly dispensed.

"Aren't they in the fridge?"

Our medic WF buzzed back over the phone. The conversation continued for a few minutes as the two sorted out the details of the medication. This was followed by a break, presumably because W had started to get busy at the shelter. However, several moments later, he uploaded a photo of Dillion laying in his room unmoving.

"Dillion left us." W informed. "Midnight I guess. He is all stiff."

This was the way I found out that Dillion had passed away. 

If you find Dillion's name or photo familiar, your instincts are right. Your mind isn't playing tricks on you. Dillion was a working dog who came to our shelter in around July 2012 following his retirement. He was eight years old then, so regal looking and graceful. What he had in size, he had in equal measure in gentleness. For such a large dog, he was one of the calmest, most mellow dogs I had ever seen.

Somewhere in August 2012, shortly after he arrived at the shelter, Dillion was adopted. We were delighted. We all knew how rare it was for a senior dog to find a home and we counted our blessings. 

Dillion went on to live the next two years of his life with his new family. The two years weren't entirely easy ones. With age, came age-related ailments. Dillion's hindlegs were particularly weak. He began to tire easily and could no longer sustain long walks. He also developed a skin condition. This necessitated visits to the vet. For a family without ready transportation, this could be a hassle. But nevertheless, Dillion and his family got by. 

This year however, it seemed like the family could no longer cope with our old boy. After two years and a little bit, they made the decision to return him to the shelter. 

With a heavy heart, we received him at the shelter on 11 October. For the next two weeks, we became reacquainted with this gentle giant once more. Because of his steady calmness, many of our newer volunteers took an instant liking to him. We also discovered that Dillion had cultivated some habits at home. He refused to soil his kennel and waited for us to let him out to pee and poo.

As Dillion had been having diarrhea and his hindlegs appeared to have grown even weaker, we decided to send him to the vet for a check up. Surprisingly, his blood test results turned out fine. The vet determined that he was a generally healthy old dog except for his weak hindlegs and poor eyesight which were side effects of ageing. However, the vet noted that he had lost much weight since the last time he attended at the clinic.

This was Sunday. 

The next day however, Dillion was found motionless in his kennel at the shelter. He appeared to have passed away in his sleep. 

Which is how I come be sharing this piece of news with you. 

I choose to post details of Dillion's passing on the blog because I am counting on the blog readers to be empathetic. At this point in time, I guess there's no longer a need for recrimination. 

Tonight was spent giving Dillion a final farewell before he was to be cremated. He was surrounded by volunteers who got to know him and cared for him the past 16 days with us and in the months before he was adopted in 2012. Most importantly, his former adopter turned up for his farewell as well. Despite everything, we knew he was still the one person Dillion would have most wanted by his side. That's the way dogs are. They are forgiving and loyal to the end.

Now that he was here, we imagine Dillion would finally be able to spread his wings and fly. Don't look back darling. We wish you happiness. 

Dillion I
03 January 2004 - 27 October 2014

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Thinking aloud

So we recently rescued 11 puppies. 

11 puppies.

Which equals: 11 sets of puppy pee and poo. 11 x 3 sets of puppy shots. 11 dogs off to the vet for sterilization and/or neutering when they turn 6-8 months old. 11 dogs to potentially care for for the rest of their lives. 

I can't even think about it without my heart pounding faster. 

11 of them might be easy to house now. But what's going to happen when they all grow up? We need space for them to live and play freely and comfortably so that they are able to develop into healthy, well-adjusted adults. 

It's not like we haven't found ourselves in this situation before. Some of the more notable litters in the past include those born in the shelter. 

For instance, out of the 7 in Debbie's blessed litter in 2009, all were adopted. 

Of the 5 in the Daphne litter in 2012, 4 found homes. 

Out of the 12 in the Dora litter in 2013, 10 got lucky.

But we aren't always so fortunate. In fact, as the pool of adopters gets more saturated over the years, it gets harder to find homes for the pups. 

In the recent group of 7 puppies rescued in the February-March period this year, only 1 of them was adopted. It was dismal. 

In April, the two wonderful girls we rescued failed to garner any suitors, possibly because they came ridden with a mites condition known as demodex.

Thankfully though, in the subsequent group of 4 pups rescued in August, 3 of them are doing well in their new homes. 

And by a stroke of luck, out of the 3 in the September rescues (although only 2 are pictured here), all 3 have found families of their own. 

So you see, sometimes we get lucky, sometimes we don't... Which got me thinking, what if this time, we don't?

No doubt about it. The field of dog rescue can become quite discouraging over time. The number of dogs that needs saving just keeps rising. Yet, taking on each one can be a potential commitment of a decade or more. 

They come with all sorts of baggage - some are sick, injured and/or fearful. Even when they are happy, healthy and well-adjusted, they just aren't lucky enough to find homes to lead the rest of their lives. It can get frustrating when you just don't see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

In addition, the matter of our relocation after mid-2016 is unresolved and remains at the forefront of our concerns. The future of all the dogs currently residing on the plot of land on which we sit - not just our dogs alone, still hangs in the balance. 

What's to be done then?

If we were to start worrying about the dogs, there really are quite a number of things that can fill our minds. I learnt that the only way to keep putting one foot in front of the other in our field of work is to retain our positivity.

There's always a bright side. 

Certainly, the responsibilities may be daunting. But hey, it's all in a day's work. This is what we bargained for when we first embarked on this road. Nobody said dog rescue was going to be idyllic and stress-free. 

If we face difficulties finding homes for our pups and dogs, then perhaps we ought to cast our net wider. Hold adoption drives. Better yet, participate in those organised by others. If we haven't the time, make time. Work harder on social media. Tug at heart strings. Spread the word. 

Rather then brood over the what ifs of the future, do something

If we had fretted over the nitty gritties, we would never have gone on to set up the shelter. Now is not the time to turn into mush. 

Dream, decide, do. There's really no time for anything more. Perhaps when we meet the challenges head on and let our hearts lead the way, we will realise it wasn't so tough after all. 

It's the weekend. Let's get the doing started. 

For all and any enquiries including adoption, we are contactable at farmwaylove@gmail.com. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hello Sunshine

Remember the story of Demi, the little burnt puppy I featured two entries ago?

Did you wonder what happened to the siblings with whom she was originally sighted? 

This time around, we bring to you the story of Demi's brother - Dawson.

It was 25 February 2014 - five days after Demi was rescued and sent for treatment. We found Dawson - a floppy-eared, yellow-coated puppy identified to be her brother. He was alone. Thankfully, it didn't seem like he had been caught in the flames of the bushfire that his sister had found herself at the centre of. 

Unlike Demi, who took the rescue and the subsequent change of environment in her stride, Dawson was frightened stiff. When we released him into his cubicle at the shelter on his first day, he scrambled to the corner of the room headfirst. 

If he could, he would have wedged a hole into the wall with his head. We wondered briefly if this little one was one of those who would grow up into a fearful adult.

That couldn't be further from how things turned out. 

When I think of Dawson now, I think of sunshine, blue skies and all things cheerful. 

It took the poor boy about a week or so to shrug off his anxiety. Once he got used to the environment and our presence, he lit up like a string of Christmas lights every time we saw him. His vibrant, bubbly and easy going nature was pretty infectious. 

It was almost three weeks later when we stumbled across the remaining three of their siblings. So with just the two of them around for some time, Demi and Dawson grew particularly close. 

They were isolated together, played together, ate together and because they were rescued earlier than the others, went for their first vaccination together. They also learnt to walk on leash together.

To us, it will always remain a mystery why Dawson didn't get picked for adoption. With his yellow coat, brownish nose and light-coloured eyes, he made a gorgeous puppy. Throw in his wonderful, light hearted nature, he was practically a heart-stealer. 

Dawson is about ten months old now. He is certainly shedding his puppy look over time. His snout is much longer than before. While he isn't a large dog, his limbs have extended so much lengthwise too! 

Peculiarly though, some things don't change. Over the months, Dawson has retained those floppy ears and that goofy look in his eyes. He continues to exasperate us and at the same time crack us up with his antics. He loves chasing after our shoe laces and the water sweeper we use to dry the kennel. He always gets a shelling from me, especially when he disrupts me from my task of drying the kennel grounds. But in the next moment, he wins me over entirely by wiggling his silly blond head in the crook of my arm and leaning in on me lovingly. 

With the other dogs, Dawson is always ready for play. Trust us. He is never found too far away from the centre of the fun and games. 

Dawson is the epitome of everything that our canine friends represent. 

He lives every moment of his life so fully and enthusiastically. He was scared initially but has since dusted off his fears and embraced his future with us. He has been lighting up the shelter each and every day with his curiosity about this world and his irrepressible effervescence. 

He is not a baby any more - but at ten months old, he is still so tender of age.

Dawson remains up for adoption. He has so much to bring to a family of his own. If you find your home in need of some joy and a whole lot of laughter, then this precocious little boy has got to be the one for you. 

Be brave. Adopt. 

Do email your adoption enquiries to farmwaylove@gmail.com. We will continue to feature the rest of Demi's siblings in our upcoming entries. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Becoming friends

Just like people, every dog has a personality embedded within, waiting to be unearthed.

When it comes to shelter dogs, this journey of discovery is especially long. How much of someone else can you get to know if you only see them every weekend?

A relationship with a shelter dog is built painstakingly week on week. It requires consistency and a peculiar type of resolve to maintain this regularity, rain or shine.

I have had the most wonderful opportunity to discover the beautiful little girl lying in the heart of a black, pointy-eared dog called Dazzle.

At six months old, she was energetic and curious. Later in her adolescent years, she became nervy and anxious. After she turned two, she finally began to grow comfortable in her own skin.

Now at almost three, she is confident enough to bully her sisters on occasion, pee in her plate after eating and bark - no, scream since her tone is so high-pitched, at the top of her mighty lungs when she sees another dog in the corridor across the fence.

I love her small eyes, her big goofy ears, her full black coat and the smattering of tiny white fur all over her face. She likes car rides, belly rubs and walks in the park. She's really good with her "sit" command. But that's probably the only one that she knows.

She's a terrible tugger when she walks in a pack because she gets so excited she just cannot contain it. But if you take the time to take her out on your own, you will realise that this skinny bundle of energy can too be a rather good companion for long walks.

She has a funny habit of lying down to eat from the plate at mealtimes. Despite her slender frame, she almost always has a hearty appetite.

When she comes back from a walk on a hot day, she loves to dip both her paws into her drinking bowl, splash to her heart's content and then lie down on the puddle she has created to cool herself.

As you will probably note above, Dazzle really isn't perfect. But then again, neither am I. Over the years, we have forged something quite special together. I am always thrilled to see her and she makes my presence feel like such a great deal.

On days I feel particularly upset, she lets me gather her in a long, tight hug without flinching. On our walks, she lets me boss her around with my excessive commands even though it is clear she is eager to surge forward to join her pack. When she sustains injuries on her face after minor scuffles with her sisters, she gingerly allows me to clean and medicate her wound without so much as a defense. 

It wasn't love at first sight for us. My favourite dog had just been adopted by a wonderful family. She was an awkward and gangly puppy. I took a look at her and decided that this one needed to be loved. I made her my project and thought she needed rescuing. 

Turns out, it was she who became my best friend instead.

This is my story with Dazzle. 

But Dazzle is just one dog. We have so many more shelter dogs who yearn to be properly understood for the unique individual that he or she is. I am continually trying to get to know many of them as best as I can by spending the requisite time with them. 

Friendships with shelter dogs, quite like Rome, are not built in a day. Instead, they require the laying of brick upon brick for week after week until what is obtained is a structure that is solid, sturdy and so dear to our hearts. 

For volunteering enquiries, please email us at farmwaylove@gmail.com.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Fighting Fire: The Story of Demi

Don't we all love a good story of the fallen triumphing over the odds?

I thought I would kick off my new lease of life on this blog with the feel good tale of Demi. She was a little puppy disfigured by the flames of what we suspect to be a man made bushfire. The fire broke out in a forested area where Demi and her four siblings called their home. Our suspicions were pricked by the empty kerosene bottles later found strewn around the site.

I have never known how to describe the place where Demi and her family - and so many of the stray dogs in the area, inhabited. Was it a forest? A jungle? It sounds strange to think that such large tracts of vegetation still exist in our urban city. At one point or another, I reckon they will all undergo redevelopment. But for now, they can still be found in secluded parts of our island. 

Unbeknownst to many, behind the quiet stillness of the trees and the dense underbrush lives a population of stray dogs eking out an existence. They are at the mercy of the erratic weather and are deprived of a regular supply of clean drinking water. On hot days, they might even have no water to speak of. They are also prone to a host of diseases such as tick fever, pythiosis (water mold infection) and a variety of skin conditions. Open wounds suffered in the wild are likely to attract maggots and can become potentially fatal. 

These dogs that live behind the shadows are kept alive with food from the stray feeders. The One Who Does Not Like To Be Named On Cyberspace - the founder and main caretaker of our shelter (let's keep him mysterious by calling him "W") is one such stray feeder. When the dogs catch sight of his vehicle, they would trail behind it, their tails wagging deliriously with joy. W would then bring his vehicle to a stop by the side and whip out the lunch boxes he had painstakingly prepared for each of them.

Despite their very apparent excitement to see W, these intelligent dogs continue to shy away from touch. Every time we took a step forward, they would take a step back. Whenever there was sudden movement, they would immediately scramble for cover. 

One of these stray dogs whom we fed was known to us as "Shy". Towards the end of 2013, Shy became pregnant and disappeared from the pack. When she finally re-appeared during one of W's stray feeding rounds on 28 December 2013, the load she was carrying looked visibly lighter. She must have given birth. 

One day some time later, W heard Shy barking hysterically and walked towards the direction of her barking to investigate. He stumbled across a blackened burnt site and caught sight of a brown puppy amongst the bushes. The closer he advanced, the deeper into the vegetation the puppy retreated. W decided not to pursue the puppy for fear that she would wander further into the bushes and risk being burned. 

But that was not the end of the matter. A few days later, a trio of puppies were lured into coming forward by food left by W amongst the bushes. 

One of these puppies was the brown one W had seen earlier, except this time, she had multiple burn injuries on her face and on some parts of her body. Her forehead and the skin around her eyes were burnt to a leathery hide. Her snout was crusty and her nose was bleeding. The edges of her ears were charred and bled. Chunks of fur on her body fell out, leaving bald patches here and there.  

Some puppies he could let go. Others he just could not. In this instance, W knew he had to get her. He acted fast and in one experienced swoop, managed to capture the injured puppy. 

And so that was how Demi came to us. She was sent to the vet for prompt medical attention following her rescue. We were initially afraid that the burns might have affected her sight. Thank heavens our worries were for naught. The vet gave Demi a clean bill of health.  

Demi turned out to be a confident puppy, unfazed by the new environment and the array of new faces. After the harsh start to life, she breezed along on her road to recovery. In no time at all, her skin began to heal and new fur, like seeds of hope, began to grow. 

We later rescued the rest of her siblings. There were five of them in all. As for their mother, she remained out of our reach, as much as our hearts desired to provide her with a safe harbour. 

Today, Demi is ten months old. She has a beautiful brown wavy coat and a slender frame. She is in good health. Her injuries have all but disappeared. Perhaps the only thing that hints of a harder past are the frayed edges of her ears that the burns had left behind. What unimaginable pain she must have experienced for one so small. 

Demi is a puppy with a story. 

And her story makes her beautiful. Inside and out. 

Demi's tale is far from over. She is up for adoption. She is a small-medium sized mongrel with a good temperament. Please email us at farmwaylove@gmail.com for further enquiries. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sharing the days of our lives

How do people stumble across our blog? I recently did a google search using the terms "dog shelters Singapore" and found out that - gasp! - our humble shelter may have fallen through the cracks. 

Do you know many years ago we used to be one of the top few hits with that same search term? I think we've now been relegated to second page or further. No time for weeping though! The more participants in the field, the more dogs can be saved. It's a good thing really. 

I've recently been involved in our calendar production for next year. The calendar is a really important source of funds for us each year. We are small and privately run and this stifles our ability to fundraise publicly. So we try to sell things instead, calendars and tshirts to name a few. 

You won't believe the constraints that we face in putting together the calendar. Because we are small, there is an added need to be prudent and cost conscious. Our calendar is simple and tidy. It has a total of 14 pages - a page each for the 12 months, 1 cover page and 1 introduction page. Nothing extra because extra costs. 

We try to keep the calendar functional by ensuring the grid is practical. Each day is clearly demarcated with enough space for scribbling. The lunar date and work week are also indicated. 

We do up the calendar ourselves, so it wouldn't be the most fancy. But precisely because we do it ourselves, there's a personal touch to every page. We tell our dogs' stories straight from the heart. 

I guess what we lack in sophistication, we make up for it with sincerity and lots of heart.

This year, we pick 12 dogs and try to show their transition from day one of their rescue to the present day. We want to show that small shelters like ours continue to make a difference. In the same way, we continue to need your support. 

I fully expect all other animal rescue groups and shelters to launch their own calendars for the upcoming year. If you ask me, no one group is more deserving than the other. So why buy ours and not theirs? 

At the end of the day, you really only end up using one calendar for your purposes. But as a vested stakeholder (haha), let me tell you that though you use just one, that doesn't prevent you from buying more. Share the love right? It's not a mutually exclusive thing. 

Jokes aside, if I have to do a pitch for our shelter, it'd be a very simple one:-

Fund our love. 

Unlike other animal rescue groups who have active fostering programs, we are first and foremost a shelter. We take care of our dogs on our own on a daily basis. We don't hire a single worker. Food, shelter, medical needs... It's all on us. We know the dogs as if they are each an integral member of the family - their different personalities and quirks, their respective likes and dislikes. 

We love them dearly. We do our hardest to provide them with a meaningful life while they await adoption. I hope we have somehow managed to convey that through our Facebook page, this blog or during your visits down to our place. 

But sadly, love alone is not enough to keep the shelter going. 

We need your help to fund our love. 

And you can do it through the purchase of our calendar. 

Each calendar costs $10. The purchase of every calendar means the world to us.

More details will be released on our Facebook page and over here as well shortly. For all and any queries, please email us at farmwaylove@gmail.com.

Thank you for letting us share the days of our lives with you. 

ever grateful 
for your support and patronage,

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Coming home

Do you know? We started this blog when I was twenty two? 

I scroll down the entries now, both aghast at how childish I sounded and delighted at the fact I made the effort to pen all those posts. Because I did, almost five years on, I will always have a part of the shelter's growing process to keep with me. 

It's fascinating to re-read our posts on which the dust of the passing years has long settled. Like a bystander peering in, I get a feel of the excitement we must have experienced as we spoke to the management about the land and monthly rental, the cleaning and painting of the shelter and the construction of the dividing fences. I remember introducing our dogs to their new home, watching them run down the connected corridor from their old home to the new one, filling the place with their four legged presence.

I recall the ups and downs of our initial years. Our infrastructural woes and the medical crises that would crop up time after time. I remember turning to this quiet sanctuary on cyberspace and pouring my heart out. I bemoaned the fact that no matter how hard we tried, the shelter might never be good enough to keep our dogs safe. I pondered about the subject of death and questioned if our dogs' passing was a rite of passage for shelters like ours, heartbreak being life's way of educating us. As I grew older, I looked at the ethics of dog rescue and questioned the propriety of choosing to save one dog over another.

Later, our Facebook page came under my care as well. I had never really been a user of social media prior to that, the sole reason for my account being to spy on others. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by the instantaneous response to my posts on Facebook in the form of "likes" and comments. I thrived on thinking up new content each morning as I took the train to work. Like an eager bird taking flight, I left the blog behind in a cloud of dust. Work and family commitments meant I had little time to do up thoughtful pieces on the blog. On Facebook, I could keep it shorter and less personal.

I didn't realise it, but this blog was a witness to my personal growth. Penning those entries made me sit down, reflect and ponder about issues I would have otherwise brushed aside in our busy every day life. It also gave me the opportunity to recount rescue stories of our dogs and through writing, leave an imprint of their lives in our world long after they have left us. For some adopters and volunteers, I learnt that the blog remained the first contact point to the shelter. Facebook, I discovered, as a result of its open concept and user-friendly convenience could make things difficult to manage. From the experiences of other rescuers, shelters and animal groups, I saw that posts could be shared before they were properly read, witch hunts carried out on individuals or groups because of purported wrongdoings and personal attacks made when emotions flare. Facebook was useful as a social medium to spread awareness to the masses but oh, how very treacherous it could be too. 

The blog on the other hand makes me feel safe. I reckon blog readers are another genre of internet users, a calmer and more collected group. I guess anyone who bothers to plow through these words can only be so! And as a result, I am back to my nest with a renewed appreciation for it and brimming with ideas on how to make it a better place for us all. I revamped the appearance of the blog to the best of my ability. Just like the way short sentences make the best prose, I decided that a simple blog skin (requiring minimal web design skills) made the most presentable site. I have updated all my tabs - namely the "About Us', "Sponsor Our Dogs", "Pledge A Walk" and "Adoption" tabs. I also threw in a "Contact Us" tab because people are always confused about our location or get mad when they leave nice Facebook private messages we don't reply to. I have grand dreams of integrating our adoption portal into this blog, with a profile for every dog and am working out the intricacies involved. I intend to continue ranting and pouring my heart out on here on a regular basis, to let you understand the obstacles we face in running a small, independent shelter.

The idea is for this url to be a convenient one-stop shop for anyone interested to volunteer, sponsor or adopt at our shelter. 

I hope you have a good stay here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Friday, March 28, 2014

We are all in this together

There has been a visible outcropping of different groups involved in dog rescue. 

An article I saw on the Today paper recently examined the pros and cons of the rising number of groups in this field. Different stakeholders were sought for their views. Some said resources would be overstretched if there were too many players. Others were concerned about the unregulated use of funds by smaller groups that were not registered. 

Coincidentally, we were also approached by a magazine for our views on a related topic. What makes a legitimate shelter, they asked. How would a member of the public know that the money he contributes would be put to good use? 

Gentle Paws turns four this April. If four years in this field - plus the two before that, has taught me anything, it is that the world of dog rescue can be complicated, emotional and filled with many stakeholders, each with a different outlook on how things ought to be done.

A different outlook does not necessarily mean that someone must be wrong. 

Some groups deem removing stray dogs off the streets into a shelter as rescue. 

Others deem fostering of puppies the way to go, even though fostering, as the word suggests, may just be a temporary reprieve. 

Some care for the injured and those excessively bred while others focus on the handicapped. 

Some stray feed, others run sterilisation programs. 

Some prefer to focus on educational initiatives, others would rather get down and dirty doing actual volunteering. 

Some are ambitious while others, cautious. 

Everyone plays a part in helping to create a better world for the dogs. And barring the black sheep amongst the group with other ulterior motives, it is quite clear that in the grand scheme of things, each stakeholder matters - whether an individual or an organization, large or small, registered or not, new or established. 

The problem of oversupply of dogs is not confined to our country. It is a universal, multifaceted issue that no nation seems to be able to come to grips with just yet. Why breed or buy? The answer seems clear enough but the problem remains. Will whittling the dog rescue scene down to just a few stakeholders be an improvement on the current state of things in our country?

Over the years, as the number of dogs we rescued increased, I learnt to my dismay that it is almost impossible for me to get to know each and every dog in the way that I would like to. To spend the time giving them belly rubs, enjoying long quiet walks together, seeing the way they observe this world, watching their personalities emerge. With every dog, it is a journey. Unfortunately, each journey takes time which we just don't have enough of to go around. 

This is where the rest of the volunteers come in. What may seem daunting when faced alone can be achieved more easily as a collective unit. In the most natural fashion, each new volunteer leans toward a particular dog in the shelter and over time, forms a special bond with it. As the number of people helping out at the shelter increases, the amount of love and special attention we can shower on each dog correspondingly increase. 

In the same way, what one shelter cannot do alone may be more easily achieved by the cohesive efforts of the different groups. Resources aren't over stretched if they are being put to good use. Besides, dog rescue amongst the different groups isn't a competition. I guess it is easy to feel wistful for the dogs under our charge when we see other groups finding success in adoption. But we should not lose sight of the overriding fact that it is after all another homeless dog off the streets or shelter. No dog is more deserving than the other. Irrespective of the group involved, this is something to be celebrated. 

The issue of the raising of funds has always been tricky. We were close to hitting rock bottom in November 2010, half a year after we started up. Dollar had passed away from acute kidney failure, Doris was tested to have zero platelet count, Daixi was diagnosed with cancer, our husky cross brothers Dada and Dillon fell ill from a suspected consumption of rat poison and Bobby had just undergone a major surgery to ease his heartworm condition. The bills we chalked up ranged to the thousands. 

We were a young start-up and had barely gotten our infrastructure together. And then suddenly, it seemed like everything was crashing down on us. To treat or not to treat? We knew the answer was clear. 

We started the SOS Fund and sought help from friends and people who supported our cause. At that time, there was no such thing as an "animal welfare group". I'm not sure when that term started to be used so prevalently. Back then, the number of animal-related groups was small and exposure was limited. We were humbled by the outpouring of compassion we received. We could never have walked this road alone. 

Daixi and Bobby passed away but the rest of the dogs pulled through. We did not crumble. We made it too. We went on to see all three dogs who survived this ordeal get adopted and to rescue another 70 more or so.

Is there a risk of unregulated fund raising being abused? Absolutely. But then, there are ways to combat that too. Donating to a registered society or charity that is subject to the mandatory filing of annual returns is one solution. But that's far from the only way out. 

Sometimes, what you see is what you get. Where can a shelter possibly get the financial means to pay rent, feed the dogs and send them for the medical care that they require? I see unregistered groups caring for hundreds of animals and I know that no matter how much financial help they get from kind members of the public, it never gets easy. All it takes is for one dog to fall seriously ill - and then what happens next? 

Making a financial contribution is always a leap of faith. But before the leap is taken, there has to be some basis for the trust. Perhaps regular updates and photographs are posted online to allow the public to see for themselves the condition of the animal and the extent of treatment it requires. 

I recall vividly stumbling across the Facebook page set up by some big-hearted individuals for Faith the Coma Puppy. I had never heard of coma in dogs and seeing this happen so close to us left a great impression on me. Who in the world would pump in money to save a seemingly lifeless puppy? Not everyone would think it a good idea. The money, I'm sure some would reckon, could be better spent saving more dogs elsewhere.

The plight of Faith - and the commitment and stubbornness of her rescuers who just refused to give up on her, struck a chord in many. People contributed to Faith's hospital bills without reservation. What was updated to them on Facebook - the receipts and the photos depicting Faith's journey, spoke for themselves. 

In the same way, I don't think we would have been able to spend on the cancer treatment that rescued our chocolate lab retriever, Dumpty or the parvovirus treatment that Daphne and her puppies received or the surgery that Daming had to undergo for the huge maggot wound in his neck without the help of people who care. These make up just a percentage of the medical bills we incur on a yearly basis. 

Throw in our operating costs each month and we've got our hands full. We no longer launched initiatives like the SOS Fund. But we needed to sell those calendars and t-shirts and organize those flea markets. Likewise, we needed our Sponsor-A-Dog program. There wouldn't have been any other way for us to carry on through the years 

Why not just save yourselves all this scrutiny and get yourselves registered? Well, it's something we think about often but it's easier said than done. The greatest impediment to the establishment of a registered entity is that we all hold full time jobs, some of which prohibit us from taking on a role in such a new entity. 

Further, even without the added responsibilities that registration brings, our schedules are packed. We don't hire any workers, which can potentially cost us up to $800 a month. 

The shelter has to be cleaned and the dogs fed every single day. Night medication has to be administered. Vet visits have to be made. House visits for adoption have to be carried out. Dogs have to be showered and walked each week. Beach outings are to be organized each month. 

We love the shelter dogs to pieces. But let's not forget, we each have families too. We all need to spend time with the people we love and who love us. What about our own dogs at home? 

As it is, we are trying to have our cake and eat it too. 

This explains why over the years, as other groups have gone from strength to strength with their expansion plans, we made the conscious decision to keep our outfit small. What we wanted to focus on was to continuously improve the quality of care we could provide for the dogs. If we couldn't find them homes through adoption, then we wanted to be a shelter with a touch of home. We wanted our dogs to love and be loved. We wanted the shelter to be filled with human laughter and excited barking. We want dogs with healthy bodies and minds. 

With that in mind, we sought to make small differences in the ways we knew how. 

We spared no expense in providing delicious food for our dogs each day. They enjoy rice cooked in stock and a different type of meat each day, topped off with a sprinkling of kibbles. Every so often, they each get a pork knuckle bone to gnaw on. This keeps them occupied the whole afternoon and also helps clean their teeth. Sometimes, they get pork ribs too. 

We also never scrimped on medical expenses because we knew that ultimately a healthy dog was a happy dog. From the severe to the trivial, from cancer treatment to heartworm, skin conditions and ear infections, we arranged for transport and shuffled the dogs off to the vet to get their symptoms checked. Medication is troublesome but we put together a duty roster to ensure that dogs requiring their second dose of medicine at night received it 

We also ensured our volunteering program was accessible. Through the program, all dogs were regularly exposed to the human touch. They also got their weekly showers, twice-weekly walks and their monthly outings to the beach.

Rescue of new dogs did not come to a halt. But we did so at our own pace, as and when we had kennel space and based on the means that we had. Step by steady step, paw by gentle paw, we have rescued about 100 dogs in the span of four years. 

It's not a lot but hey, it's what we can handle. 

I really don't think the burgeoning number of animal-related groups is a bad phenomenon, whether registered or not, small scale or large. There is really so much good being done out there. Let's not forget that even the most respectable organisations rose from humble roots too. There was a time they were small, desperate for funds and unregistered with the authorities too - but with hearts that were filled with compassion. The state of being a non-registered group should not cast doubt on great work being done. 

But that is not to say that the current situation is perfect. Perhaps further light could be shed on the best practices that unregistered groups or individuals in this field ought to uphold, within the confines of what us mere mortals are able to achieve. For instance, if we can't file annual returns, what is the next best thing to be done? 

So after the lengthy exposition, what makes a legitimate shelter?

Sometimes the answer is right before your eyes. Follow the activities of the group online. Better still, pay a visit to see for yourselves how things work. Let both your heart and your mind guide you to the answer that you were looking for. 

It really isn't that hard. 

This is an opinion piece. The views stated above should be attributed to this writer only. Any mistakes made are mine and mine alone. 

For more on Faith the Coma Puppy, please view: https://www.facebook.com/faiththecomapuppy

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Gentle Paws Walk-A-Paw 2013

Perhaps we saw Mum and Dad slipping the presents into the stocking meant for Santa. Perhaps a know it all classmate in pre-school blabbed it to us. 

At one point in our lives, we somehow stopped believing in Santa Claus. 

But strangely, Christmas remains ever present amongst us. 

I guess we stopped thinking of Christmas in the form of a large jolly man with a white beard, red suit, reindeer, sleigh and a bagful of presents in tow. 

But we continue to believe in the need for a season of giving in the course of the year. 

A time to slow down our footsteps, eliminate the negativity in our lives and rejoice in the wonderful feeling of giving. 

While we are keenly aware of the idea of Christmas, the shelter dogs are clearly quite clueless. 

So at this time each year, for two years now, we bring Christmas to them....

In more ways than one. 

We do this through our annual Walk-A-Paw - which is at its core just a simple dog walk to a scenic park on a December morning... involving YOU. 

It's a chance for you to get to know our dogs and for them to enjoy an outing away from the shelter under the careful guidance of our experienced helpers. 

It is a 1.6km route from the shelter to the scenic Lorong Halus Wetland Park. There will be water points along the way for our dogs to rest and hydrate. We will also have a patrolling van and first aider along the way in case of any emergencies.  

Last year's event

If you've never owned a dog before or have always thought of lending a hand at the shelter, your participation in the Walk-A-Paw will open your eyes to the work that we do. This yearly event has proven to be the springboard to regular volunteering for many of our seasoned hands. We look forward to unearthing more of such wonderful individuals.

But whoever said anything about commitment? The Walk-A-Paw can simply be meaningful one-off event to check off your list for the holiday season. It's entirely up to you. 

The Walk-A-Paw doubles up as our annual year end fundraiser to ensure we have the resources to provide a stable future for our dogs. 

Participation in the Walk-A-Paw is through purchase of our goody bags priced at S$60.00 each.

Each bag consists of an array of items including an exclusive event dri-fit T-shirt, a foldable umbrella, the Gentle Paws 2014 calendar, mineral water, a doggie dental rope toy, Japanese brand waste bags for dogs and a treat ball for dogs.

Our 2013 Walk-A-Paw T-shirt 
(with special credit to our designer, Adeline)

So what are you waiting for? 

Do something different this holiday season. As the Grinch gradually found out, Christmas doesn't have to come from a store. Christmas can be a little bit more!

Come get to know our shelter dogs and let them feel what this holiday season is really all about. And  then maybe you'll find out just how good that makes you feel in return. 

Here are the details of the Walk-A-Paw at a glance:-

  • Date: Saturday, 28 December 2013
  • Time: 930am to 2pm 
  • Venue: Pasir Ris Farmway 2 to Lorong Halus Wetland Park
  • Price: Participation is by way of purchase of our fabulous goody bag at S$60.00 each
  • Registration: You may register by dropping us an email at farmwaylove@gmail.com with the subject "Walk-A-Paw 2013" together with the names and contact numbers of all the participants. Please note that all participants must be 18 years and above. Your participation is confirmed when we respond to inform of the same.
  • Goody bag collection: 21-22 December 2013 at Pasir Ris Farmway 2 from 11am to 4pm
  • Payment: By cash upon collection or by ibanking before collection

More details will be provided via email upon confirmation.

We really look forward to hearing from you.

From one and all at Gentle Paws, have yourself a very merry Christmas time.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Lost and found

One day last week, while Wee was driving back to the shelter from feeding his strays, he chanced upon a furry grey mini schnauzer running along the road. Even though this road leading to the shelter isn't usually busy on weekdays, it is traversed by fast moving construction vehicles used to the quietude of the area.

The drivers of these vehicles were unlikely to pay much attention to a tiny solitary short-legged creature far below their line of sight.

This little pooch was in danger.

What made it worse was... Schnauzer girl had a collar with a bell around her neck and looked groomed. She belonged to somebody and wasn't well versed in the ways of the world.

Being Wee, he couldn't walk away.

The little pipsqueak safely on the van on the way to the shelter.

And so the little nameless dog of the unknown background joined our rowdy gang of puppies at the shelter. Needless to say, our little monsters were extremely curious about this alien-looking outsider who appeared seemingly older than them but so much smaller physically. Their persistent sniffing made schnauzer girl worried and the poor dear scurried into the room to avoid the busybodies.

I didn't get to meet her personally. I received the updates (both photos and videos! we're high tech!) via my trusty phone while sitting at my desk... in my office (oops). Being the resident Facebook administrator, I promptly uploaded her photo on our Page and sought for information about her owner.

She's out of place at the shelter!

Lost dog! Lost dog! The world needed to know this girl was looking for her folks. It was a long shot. There were so many dogs that never found their way after they strayed from the path. But our experience taught us that we'd never know if we didn't try. And so we did.

In the meantime, Florence also contacted Lost Paws, a centralised platform for lost pets and pets for adoption, and they helped spread the word.

To our surprise, it didnt take long for Lost Paws personnel to contact us. They had received a call from our lost girl's owner, Jenny and linked us up with her. We arranged for a same day meet up at the shelter for her to pick up the dog.

We later learnt that schnauzer girl had a colourful history. Her name wasn't really schnauzer girl (haha, but of course). It was Dolly - a sweet name for the sweetest girl. She was six years old and was adopted from an animal rescue group who rescued her from the breeders.

Feng, who was on puppy and medicine feeding duty at the shelter that evening, facilitated the meet up. She said Dolly appeared confused to see Jenny at first. There had been just too many upheavals in her life. A split second later though, as if everything suddenly clicked into place, she started showering kisses all over Jenny in a frenzy. Perhaps it dawned on her that she had finally reached a safe harbor.

Lost and found.

And so, the family was reunited under two days.

The world is huge... What were the chances?

It might not have been Lost Paws - it could have been any one of you who helped Dolly find Jenny by sharing our lost notices. 

We had well over 200 shares for each of our two posts. In the grand scheme of things, 200 doesn't sound like a lot. But with each "share", we were able to access your network of contacts and our reach increased exponentially. You know how social media works...

This vast universe became so much smaller because you stopped, you read and you shared.

I don't know if we expressed our gratitude sufficiently adequately on Facebook. We just want you to know that we are immensely thankful to have a community of such wonderful readers.

We feel a special empathy for owners of lost dogs. Because once, seven months ago, one of our own wandered off the beaten path and lost her way as well. Thinking about her and what could have been still brings an awful ache to the heart. 

Her name was Diki and she was rescued from a forested area along with four of her siblings.

Our baby girl at around 3 months old.

We felt a special attachment to this bunch because we were friends with their mother, a wandering stray we call Dollaris. 

Dollaris was an exceptionally intelligent dog who recognized us and was happy to see us... But she never once let us close. Any unexpected movement on our part causes her to back off in a hurry. Dollaris had an endearing habit of picking up the plastic bags of food with her mouth and bringing them back deep into the thicket where she hid her puppies so that they could eat.

The puppies wouldn't survive in the wild. They were born in an area where the authorities visited frequently to curb the stray dog population. On stormy days, there was absolutely no cover for them. They also had to battle with diseases like tick fever that was so prevalent in the wild. 

When Wee had the chance to get close to the puppies, he sprang into action to capture them. I don't know how he did it, but he managed to grab five of them.

First impressions:- Diki and her siblings immediately upon capture.

But oh, I am digressing. That is just the background of how Diki came to be found at the shelter.

The way she was.

Some months later, she was selected by a family who was keen to adopt and we sent her off on her trial homestay filled with hope that she was headed for a better life. The homestay proved successful and the adoption was made official.

The very day we saw her off on her trial homestay. 
I just admonished her for snatching the treats from my hands and there she is looking so happy. 

"We can't find Diki. She got out of her harness and ran off. What should we do?"

I was on the verge of falling asleep when I received a call on my mobile at around midnight in February this year, some months after the adoption had been finalized. It was the worst possible way to be jolted from sleep. 

It emerged that Diki's folks had arranged for her to stay with friends for some weeks. A family member had returned from abroad and they weren't sure if the latter would take to Diki.

Diki came loose from her harness while she was out on a walk with said friends of the adopter. It was the second week of her stay with them.

A shot of Diki at home...

I hated being the bearer of bad news. But I had no choice. I woke Florence up from her sleep and brought her up to date on the situation. 

Together, we worked out a game plan. We needed to organize a search party and we had to organize it fast. This was a race against time. The longer Diki was out in the open, the further we were from ever finding her

We knew the regulars loved our dogs. But we didn't know if we were going too far by waking them up at this time of the night and have them come down to search for our dog. Some of them lived on the other side of the island!

Desperate times called for desperate measures. Florence decided to take her chances and seek help. These were people who watched Diki grow up at the shelter and whom Diki might possibly recognize and respond to if we did manage to track her down. 

About thirteen of our volunteers turned up for duty, regardless of where they stayed or the time of the day. Some drove down, others cabbed. Such a show of support and kindness in the face of our helplessness was humbling. 

Without further ado, our haphazard search begun. We met at the spot where Diki ran loose and diverged from there. We walked and called her name. We stopped passers-by and asked if they had seen a medium sized, cream-coated female dog in the vicinity.

The only shot I took during the search. Our former charge Wanda joined in the hunt. 

Hour on the hour, the irrational glimmer of hope that we were able to locate our 5 month old puppy in this big, big world began to fade away.

There was too much ground to cover. She could be anywhere. 

The night was cold. This neighborhood was strange. Our little girl, now used to a full stomach and a shelter over her head, must be feeling so alone.

Diki, a couple of days before she was lost.

Into the night, we searched and searched... 

Until we got a hit.

Someone tipped off that a cream-coated, frightened-looking dog was spotted wandering at a particular housing estate. And so we zoomed in on our only lead and focused on the estate.

And indeed... 

We found a dog that fit the description. But we simply couldn't get a good glimpse of it. The moment we spotted it sitting amongst the bushes it darted off immediately. All we caught were flashes of it. 

We trailed the dog across a field and under a bridge but failed time and again to get close. We couldn't be sure if it was Diki. Some of us who got a better look didn't think it was our girl. Its tail looked different, they said. But we couldn't give up without being more certain. We lay in wait for the dog to reappear.

Some of us felt it wasn't a match. The stray dog's tail differed from our girl's. 
But it was our only lead.

Minutes passed. And then hours. Dawn was nearing. Fatigue was setting in. We chased the helpers home to catch an extra wink. They had done more than we could ever ask for. It was time to rest. 

While the rest dispersed, a handful of us made one last futile circle around the neighborhood where we last sighted the brown-coated dog. 

We met a domestic helper who was walking her dog in the early hours of the morning. She confirmed that there was indeed a dog straying in the area. But she also said that it had been doing so for a week now, long before Diki was reported lost. 

Our only trail had turned cold. 

Disheartened, we headed back. It was around eight in the morning. Dawn had long broken. 

We caught about an hour's shuteye back home. At ten in the morning, we were back at the shelter.  Our existing dogs had to be showered, walked and fed. We had a full day ahead. A small group of our volunteers, led by Feng, headed back to ground zero to continue the search. I don't think any one of us was ready to give up just yet.

I had posted a lost dog notice on our Facebook page the previous night and left my mobile number. Even though we didn't put up an offer of reward, people were starting to respond the next morning. While the rest continued searching, I began to follow up on some of the leads received.

Our lost dog notice, back when we thought we had a chance.

I can't remember the name of the kind lady who called my mobile. I received a few such calls from members of the public and my recollection is hazy at best. What I do recall is the lady informing me that she had sighted a dog lying prostrate on the expressway near where we were searching at eleven o'clock last night. The dog had apparently been knocked over.

She said the scene left her heartbroken and so she had taken a good look at the dog. She was confident it was our girl, Diki.

She also said she contacted the National Environment Agency (NEA) to locate the current whereabouts of the dog, as the body had since been removed. She informed that NEA said it would get back to her shortly and that she would inform us accordingly. 

I remember the disbelief and the way my heart caught in my chest. "Could it be?" I asked Florence, who was by now looking slightly dazed from lack of sleep. We both knew deep down that there was a very real possibility the lady was right.

And so we took off in the car, me, Florence and Jiawen to drive along said expressway to search, this time, for a body that might be lying at the side of the road. I was driving and Florence was sleep-deprived. Jiawen didn't partake in the previous night's search activities and was able to provide a fresh and alert insight of the situation.

The kind lady caller eventually linked us up with the NEA rep, with whom we spent some time clarifying the situation and whittling down the possibilities of where the body might now be. It eventually surfaced that the NEA contractors had just collected the body and were on their way. We were just in time to stop them before the body was disposed of and we had no means of ever finding out if it was our Diki.

Through the NEA rep, we managed to contact the contractor and arranged to meet at a certain lamp post along the road shoulder on the expressway. In normal times, my sense of direction was already non-existent. In a time of urgency like this when we needed to get to our destination pronto, any remnants of a sense of direction completely jilted me. Jiawen was one of our youngest regular volunteers at the shelter but she managed to navigate me to our exact meeting point with a calmness and maturity far beyond her years. She also handled all my phone calls in between whilst I kept my eyes on the road. I was proud and grateful and sad all at once. But mostly, I was proud. 

Wee didn't have a navigational problem like I did. It took no time for him to meet us at the agreed meeting point in his van.

And so it was time to identify the body.

Florence unwrapped the body from the black garbage bag it was contained in, took one look and nodded.

Identification was positive. It was our girl.

Yup, t'was her.

I kept asking Florence if she was sure, because puppies grow up and change so quickly. We hadn't seen Diki in a month and we could have gotten it wrong. 

I didn't dare leave the driver's seat for too long. We were parked at a narrow road shoulder near a slip road leading to the expressway. The stream of fast moving cars was endless. Getting out of the car itself was tricky.

But I did. I guess I needed to see her for myself.

At first glance, she looked like our baby. Slightly older, longer, taller than when she left the shelter... But the ears, the black snout, the cream colored coat, the tail... Coupled with the location of the expressway a few kilometers from where she first went missing... 

Our little girl was lost no longer. 

Wee wrapped her up and we brought her back to the shelter. I was slightly frantic when I couldn't start my car. Perhaps the night had taken a toll on me. Wee came over to lend a hand and he had no problems getting the engine to work.

Back at the shelter, Wee lay Diki down on a table and began to clean her. This man and the dog he rescued had come a full circle. My heart ached as I watched Wee tenderly wipe away the dried blood from her mouth and body and gently examine her body to assess the trauma she must have gone through.

We might not have found her the way we wanted to. But found her we did. The same cannot be said for many a dog owner out there whose dog got lost and was never again to be seen. Would we have preferred to be in that situation wherein we would at least have been able to keep our hope alive that she was out there somewhere? Or was it better to have found like we did and have closure to the matter?

Frankly, I don't know. Either way, we lose - both literally and figuratively.

Because her brother Darbi resembled her so closely, I think we all leaned toward Darbi for a little comfort the weeks immediately after the tragedy.

It took me seven months to be able to relate this story rationally and without recrimination. But now, my head is clear. We lost Diki forever but in the process, we found some things as well. 

We found a group of generous, kind-hearted regular volunteers who had no qualms about crawling out of bed at unearthly hours to lend a helping hand. The others who couldn't make the late night search joined in early the next morning. These people were no longer just volunteers... They were our friends in our time of need. 

We found compassionate members of the public who readily went the extra mile without seeking a reward of any kind. Every "share" on Facebook, every message on possible leads, every phone call went a long way in helping us locate Diki. 

To the kind lady caller who led us to our baby... We never heard from you again after that last phone call. I don't think we managed to convey to you just how grateful we are for your intervention. It's a long shot... But if by some chance you're reading this, here's thank you from the bottom of our hearts. 

In times of adversity like this, I once again found I could seek solace in Wee, Florence, Feng and Choo. These people knew what I was going through. While each of them had their own grief to confront, they brought comfort in their own different ways. 

Never lost, always loved.

We lost some things, we found some things. I guess life is always trying to teach us that with the bad, come the good too. There are so many lost dog notices around. Were lost dogs always such a common occurrence? Or is social media simply doing its job in turning the spotlight on what has always been the case?

In a world where good homes are in such limited supply, we truly hope that these lost dogs who are loved and cherished manage to find their way back. In this great big world, locating a lost dog is like finding a needle in a haystack. So remember to keep your furry loved one by your side and don't take things for granted. 

Stay safe Dolly. 

Goodbye Diki. Sleep well with the angels.