Saturday, October 13, 2012

What makes us different makes us beautiful

Gentle Paws is a tiny drop in the ocean that is the world of local dog rescue.

There have been lots of different shelters cropping up, some much newer than we are but already much larger.

It is encouraging to see so many different groups of people doing their part for a similar cause. It is as if we are comrades in arms, fighting for a larger broader goal, different though our management, organization or focus might be.

While helping to organise the Nestlé Purina World Animal Day event, I got to thinking... What makes Gentle Paws uniquely Gentle Paws?

One main principle on which our shelter operates is that which proclaims no dog gets left behind.

As much as we dream, we know we can't rescue all the homeless dogs in the world. So the dogs that we do manage to bring in, we take them under our roof, into our hearts and do our very best for them. We are quick to ensure that their welfare is not forfeited each time we bring in a new rescue.

In the science of dog rescue, one rescued dog plus one rescued dog does not always give you two rescued dogs. The theory of diminishing returns sets in when the land, infrastructure, manpower and other resources that we have can no longer handle so many dogs.

Overcrowding is a serious problem that plagues many shelters. It can cause not only physical deterioration due to the ease of the spread of disease but also mental distress on the weaker, more vulnerable dogs.  We refuse to let overcrowding get the better of us and hurt our dogs. This explains why we have been so firm about maintaining the number of our dogs in the region of thirty to forty.

In the face of so many other dogs needing help, we are motivated to work harder at finding permanent homes for our current crop. The adopted dogs can then make way for more tired canine souls in a wonderful, joyous cycle. 

I am more than a little proud to inform that we saw forty-six dogs off to their new homes in the past two years. Instead of merely thirty-two dogs, it would be more accurate to say we cared for seventy-eight dogs. In my biased view, that is pretty decent. ;)

No dog getting left behind also means we don't give up on our own, whether they are dependent newborn puppies, sick dogs, retired working dogs, senior dogs, former breeding dogs, lost dogs or... non-human friendly dogs. 

It's easy to care for a dog that allows you to. But let us tell you, it can be tiring caring for one whom, due to insecurity, trauma or other negative experiences with the human kind,  does not reciprocate your efforts.

Debbie, Buddy and Baby were non-human friendly. While non-aggressive, they generally stayed away from us. But beneath their hesitance was an unwavering understanding that we would never do anything to hurt them. 

We could only touch Debbie during her pregnancy or during terrible thunder storms. Yet, we knew without a doubt that she trusted us.

Our Queen Debbie

It was clear from the way she allowed us to handle her babies that she birthed at the shelter. Debbie saw no need to protect her puppies from our prying hands because to her, we were not a threat to their well-being. Debbie allowed us to cuddle her babies, arrange them in a neat row and snap pictures of them, knowing full well we would return them to her safe and sound.

Three of Debbie's babies

We could touch Baby in the later part of her life. We even managed to leash her, bring her up the van and over to the park for some much needed fresh air. Long term lack of socialization with humans made her more scared than aggressive.


Relative to his counterparts, Buddy made the greatest strides in the field of social interaction. He basked under the exclusive attention that Florence showered on him. We call him the old man of our shelter, but from the way he now allows Florence to rub his face and murmur disgusting sweet nothings to him, he has become a child once more! Even mere mortals like us can now give him a pat on the head without drawing a glare or growl.

Buddy and his buddy Florence

And then came Daphne who was the most trying of the lot, probably also because she has been with us for the shortest time.


Daphne came to our shelter pregnant. Her pregnancy hormones helped to calm her down. Though she would shudder or stiffen when we touched her, she allowed us to be friendly with her. 

Unfortunately, after she gave birth, Daphne became aggressive. Understandably, she was trying to protect her newborn pups. To her, we were strangers in a foreign land and she needed to fend against us. We can't imagine the harsh life she must have led on the offshore island where she was found.

She loves her bench

Notwithstanding her reasons for aggression, it became very difficult to clean the shelter. Each time our hands reached over to open the gate of her cubicle, she would jump up and try to snap at our fingers. We went to lengths to clean her room, which involved lots of climbing and shielding. Some of us were braver and more adept at dealing with Daphne than others, namely Suat, Choo and Wee. Other clumsier ones, like yours truly, took ages to wash her kennel. 

But Daphne is part of the Gentle Paws fabric now and she will always be. Daphne answered our prayers by winning her fight with Parvo. We'll gladly take an angry Daphne over no Daphne at all.

We'll wait for you to love us back

Difficult dogs need time to learn to trust and we have all the time in the world. That's part and parcel of the recuperation process and we came prepared. Daphne barks very loudly at us over the fence. But this masks the little baby steps she has taken towards rehabilitation. Suat can now leash Daphne and shower her with shampoo, no less.

No dog getting left behind also means that when we organise or partake in events, all our dogs get to participate. Furry day, the National Geographic Adoption Drive, our annual WalkAPaw and the recently concluded World Animal Day event... save our non-human-friendly residents, every canine member gets to join in the fun.

Bringing the whole village out and about can be a great big hassle, both administratively and manpower wise. But the satisfaction that is derived at the end of the day is worth every ounce of effort, I kid you not.

We are who we are.

We focus on finding homes for the dogs that are lucky enough and we try to create a stable environment for those who aren't. As opposed to frontline rescue work, our focus is on the more mundane day to day management of the shelter. We are not about the excitement, the adrenaline or the glamour. We are about providing stability, establishing routines and organizing outings for our homeless charges.

We want to let them know that the world consists of more than acute hunger pangs while out on the streets or solitary confinement within the drab walls of the shelter. Until they find better, permanent homes of their own, we want to be a halfway house for them where they can be happy. We do our best to give them home cooked food, walks, showers, excursions, a spacious kennel and all the love that we have. At the same time, we will keep scouring every corner of the world finding suitable homes for them.

And so this is Gentle Paws, a bunch of very ordinary people in an enviable position of doing what they love and being blessed with such warmth from the wider community. Compared to the other heroic shelters out there, we are quite different.

But you know, sometimes what makes us different... makes us beautiful. So we'll do our best to keep on being us. 


  1. My family wants to adopt a dog but we feel that the screening process for dog adoption is too strict.

    Many animal welfare societies insist on meeting all members of the family, conducting home visits, arranging a home stay, springing a surprise home visit etc. Compare this to buying from a pet shop where no one judges you and insists on talking to all members of your family.

    All these rigid screening processes are invasive and really turn people off from adoption.

    Surely the fact that a person is willing to adopt an adult mongrel indicates that a lot of thought went into this decision, and that the person isn't getting a dog on the spur-of-the-moment for novelty's sake.


  2. Hello Anna, thanks for your very valuable feedback. It really set me thinking.

    As I mentioned in the post, different shelters operate differently. I don't know how things work at other shelters, so I can't speak for them. But at Gentle Paws, the basic adoption process is a visit to the shelter and thereafter a trial home stay. If the adoption is confirmed, we do a house visit to sign the adoption papers, get to know the rest of the family caring for the dog as well as a feel of the environment to check for obvious hazards. An adoption fee is paid to us to be used for the rescue of another dog. Thereafter, we get updates from the adopters via email. The next official home visit from the shelter would be at least 6 mths to a year later. There is no springing of surprise home visits and all visits to the adopters' homes are by appointment only.

    We understand your frustration at how it can be so difficult adopting a dog. But if you look at it from our perspective, we are basically handing over our dog to a stranger. The first point of contact with a potential adoptor is usually through email expressing interest, period. We feel it is our responsibility to the dog to ascertain that this adopter's interest is genuine, that there is family support etc. If we don't do the necessary checks and something does happen (and things have happened before), we wouldn't be able to live with ourselves.

    t don't know if you might find this intrusive, but minimally, there has to be some sort of a dialogue between both parties - adoptor and shelter - for both to get to know each other better. No, we don't need to know your life story, but dialogue is simply good for us both to manage expectations. Maintaining an open channel of communication is not hard as well. All we usually do is create a whatsapp group chat between the adopter and members of the shelter management.

    Also, our adoption process is not set in stone. We alter it on a case by case basis. For instance, trial home stays can be for a weekend, a week or if the adoptor needs more time, two weeks. Recently, for potential adopters with no experience with dogs, we agreed to multiple short home stays for both dog and humans to get used to each other.

    With reference to your point about a person's willingness to adopt an adult mongrel being indication of a lot of thought put into the decision. Hmm. Firstly, correct me if I misunderstand, but that statement sounds like it is sacrifice adopting an adult mongrel. Why should any less thought be given when buying a pet than adopting one?Next, a home visit is about more than a person's considered decision in adoption. It's about assessing the environment, ensuring the gate/balcony is not too low, ensuring the grilles are not too wide, ensuring the hamster cage is not placed within reach of the dog etc.

    I do think we have pretty good relationships with our adopters. So I was quite intrigued by your comment. I hope I helped you see the situation from our view a little more clearly. You're right in that adoption isn't as convenient as buying a dog from a store and walking off with it. But on the other hand, I don't think it is as troublesome as you imagine it to be. Anna, are you still interested in adopting a dog? Because we would be quite happy to work with you.You can always drop us an email at Thanks for thinking of adoption and not buying. :)


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