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