1) Who runs Gentle Paws and Friends (GPF)?
GPF was started by a group of 5 of us who previously helped out at another shelter. We decided to branch out because we hoped to create a larger space for the dogs to run and play. It pained us to see any dog enclosed in a small room, staring the days away and watching life slowly pass it by. We wanted dogs to be cared for by people who loved them and allowed to roam and play the way that dogs do. A dog shelter need not be the desolate and dreary place that it is often made out to be. All dogs are not born equal but we wanted to do our part to help these dogs better their lives and achieve some semblance of a home.
Since the early days, we have had more regular volunteers join the group of 5. Today, aside from the main committee of 5, we have a further sub-committee consisting of about 10 others. Together, we run Gentle Paws together. We organise events such as Furry Days, Flea Markets and Adoption Drives, create Gentle Paws souvenirs such as calendars and t-shirts to raise awareness and bring in contributions, create programs such as the Sponsor-A-Dog Program and the Pledge-A-Walk Program and in short, do our best to help bring the 37 dogs at GPF that much closer to the rest of the world.
2) Why can't I visit on weekdays?
While we have a committee of about 15 men strong, all of us except one either attend school full-time or hold full time jobs. That leaves us with a single caretaker to run the show during weekdays. He not only has to cook and feed 37 furry heads every single day, he has to wash and clean the compound. He does not have a spare hand to show volunteers around on weekdays or a spare eye to supervise volunteers to ensure they do not get hurt or injured during their visit.
Getting a worker to help out cost about $700 each month or a whopping $8,400 a year. We would rather handle things ourselves and put this substantial sum of money to better use.
On the other hand, during weekends and public holidays, the rest of committee will make their way down to the shelter. There are more hands to go around and volunteers can get a more enjoyable experience at the shelter. Until volunteers come down regularly enough to know sufficiently well how the shelter works - to know which dog can't get along with which other dog, to be able to enter each enclosure without letting certain dogs run out, to know which route to take while walking the dogs, to know how to fend off construction dogs they might meet along the route, to know which dogs are not human friendly or have food aggression, to know where things such as leashes, collars, shampoo, towels or medicine are kept - we would really prefer volunteers to come down on weekends or public holidays.
3) Why is GPF only open from 1-4pm on weekends?
These opening hours are to give you a safe gauge of what time there would be regulars around at the shelter. The shelter is typically locked and we need to be around to open up for volunteers. There are days when we might arrive earlier than 1pm or days when we leave later than 4. Nevertheless, we encourage volunteers to come within this time period so that they do not have to wait unnecessarily for our arrival or miss a chance to visit the shelter for being slightly late.
4) Why is GPF not a registered charity?
Being a registered charity will bring us a lot of benefits. It will allow us to conduct public fund raising drives. It will allow us to give donors incentives like tax breaks which will go a long way in helping to increase the amount of contributions.
Sadly, being a charity is easier said than done. A main charity trustee has to be appointed to oversee the whole entity. A committee of trustees must be responsible for management. The duties and terms of office of the trustees must be determined. Trusteeships have to be rotated each term. Meetings must be conducted and proper minutes taken. A certain quorum is required for each meeting to be effective. An annual report, a statement of accounts and the annual return must be submitted each financial year. It is also common to have advisors such as auditors, lawyers or bankers. A governing instrument must be lodged that encapsulates all of the above and it can only be amended if certain pre-determined steps are followed.
It appears to us that running a charity is almost like running a business, except for the fact that a charity is not profit-driven but for charitable purposes. Almost all of us have neither the manpower nor the expertise to start up a charity. Being only about 7 months old with a total of about 37 dogs, we are a relatively new and small start-up compared to other shelters around. Are we really ready for the formality that a registered charity brings? Is this really the right time? A charity requires a rotation of the main committee members after each term. Do we really have replacements to take over the office of a trustee from our committee members?
A quick check with the Charities Portal of Singapore shows us that we are required to register as a charity if our organisation is set up exclusively for charitable purposes. We have never proclaimed our cause to be charitable, benevolent or philanthropic and have consistently maintained that we are privately run. The shelter was set up based on the personal motivations of the committee members, out of our own personal love and compassion for abandoned and stray dogs. While we receive support from sympathetic fellow dog lovers, not everyone might agree with what we are doing. Our cause is not exclusively charitable. Hence, we believe we are not a charity captured by the Charities Act, which explains our legitimate lack of registration.
It's not that we mean to brush the idea of being a registered charity aside. To tell the truth, we have sat down seriously and dissected every possibility of us becoming a charity. Still, we find that it is simply not feasible. We're not saying never, but right here and right now, we're not ready. But though we are not a charity, we do our best to create a culture of informed giving. When we ask for financial help, we explain our rationale for incurring expenses in the hope that like-minded people would be sympathetic to our cause.We try our hardest to be accountable by being organised with the receipts for anyone to refer to. We verify every contribution into our bank account. We make sure that every person or every group that tries to collect contributions on our behalf goes through our main committee members and not any one else.
We hope you understand our limitations and we truly seek understanding. With the above, we sincerely hope we have provided you with an adequate explanation why we are not a charity.
5) Why does GPF send the sick dogs to ARC? Isn't ARC more expensive than usual vets?
The vet that we frequent is the Animal Recovery Centre at Balestier. We like ARC because it allows visiting 24/7. Shelter dogs often experience separation anxiety and as a result, a loss of appetite. ARC allows us to visit the dogs after work, to spend some time with them to soothe their frayed nerves, to assure them that all is fine and that we are here. At ARC, there is also some room to negotiate. Being regular customers, ARC does offer us shelter rates for some of our dogs. For instance, Baby, the blind and deaf dog that we rescued, had the cost of her operation subsidised by 50%.
It is not that we insist on going to ARC. Truth be told, we have sent our dogs to other vets as well. Diagnosis wise, we've had the best experience with ARC. There have been a number of occasions when there is something obviously wrong with our dog but it gets sent back with a clean bill of health. If the condition persists, we usually send the dog for a second opinion at ARC. By the time our dog gets diagnosed, it is usually far too late for anything to be done. Rather than incur additional costs at another vet, we sometimes think it wiser for us to head straight to ARC instead.
Discussion is not closed on this topic though. We are always open to recommendations with regards to a suitable vet. If you've got any to make, please feel free to drop us an email. But do remember, our dogs aren't house pets. They are shelter dogs and strays and some vets might not be receptive towards them.
6) Who handles the GPF email account?
We're sure you guys are curious about who you're liaising with when you send an email over to GPF. Farmwaylove@gmail.com is run by three of us from the main committee. Over time, we've worked out an unspoken system amongst the three of us as to how the emails should be answered. When one of us is away overseas or too cooped up with work to handle the mails, the rest would take over her emails. This is the reason you might suddenly find the style of writing different after an email or two or that an entirely different person is signing off on the mail. We try our best to provide you with a reply as soon as possible and seek your understanding for any delays you might face.
For now, these are all the answers we have to your questions. If you've got any more for us, please feel free to drop us an email. We hope that through this entry, you understand a little more about where we're coming from and how things are run at Gentle Paws and Friends. It's a wordy entry but some things just have to be clarified! Thanks so much for reading. I'm surprised you lasted till here! We'll be putting this entry in a separate tab for you to head straight to should you need to refer to anything. Meanwhile, no more long wordy entries for me for a long time to come! We much prefer pictures, don't we? For now, I'm over and out :)