Lessons in love from a poodle

Abandoned: Malcolm was surrendered to Hope Dog Rescue in mid-2022 when he was aged 11 (77 in human years) while Zeus, a mongrel aged 17, was found two years ago at a worksite with a gaping wound on his back. — The Straits Times/ANN

Malcolm the poodle is blind and deaf, so he suffers from separation anxieties. He has a bad back that needs monthly pain-relieving injections.

Like kuih salat, that layered nyonya kuih, Malcolm is half-half. Dense chocolate-coloured curls cover his head and back but his chin, chest, belly and legs are bald.

He was surrendered to Hope Dog Rescue (Hope, for short) in mid-2022 when he was aged 11 (77 in human years). I adopted him in February.

Old, blind, deaf, bald but not unloved, Hope required me, like Hercules, to pass trials to win Malcolm.

There was the preliminary get-to-know-you when his many slurpy kisses signalled a clear pass.

Baby gates were prescribed after an apartment inspection. His bad back made stairs a no-no.

A month-long trial found Malcolm happy and 0.5kg heavier. I promised to go easy on the doggy treats and Hope let me have him.

The dog brought along a generous jiazhuang (bride dowry).

Hope well-wishers sent a playpen, a splendid doggy bed with a blanket, and a plush dog.

This soft toy was fitted with a battery-operated speaker that produces the sound of a beating heart to comfort an anxious dog in a strange place.

I became very curious. Who could care so extravagantly for an old and broken dog?

Least likely to be adopted

Apparently Malcolm is typical of Hope animals – they all belong to “the least likely to be adopted” category.

Like Banjo, rescued at age 16, a skeletal poodle found hopelessly entangled in a leash. Rope burns testified to how long and hard the dog had fought trying to free itself.

Banjo wore nappies which, when removed, revealed the groin, scalded red and raw by urine. You must see photos to know how he had suffered.

Zeus, a mongrel aged 17, was found two years ago on a worksite. A wound on his back gaped so large a hand could have fitted within.

Previous road accidents had fused his spine at sites of old injuries. He had multiple slipped discs.

Rushed into emergency surgery, Zeus hovered between life and death. Healthy dogs were brought in to donate life-saving blood.

Inky, a one-eyed black cat, was found with a broken jaw hanging by the skin. Had someone superstitious clubbed Inky?

Unable to eat, the cat had starved into a bag of bones. It has been two months and Inky still depends on tube feeding.

Hope rescuers are not eccentric, wealthy people for whom money is never a worry.

Like all animal welfare groups, Hope receives no government funds but depends on donations.

Why do it?

So why save old animals with perhaps just a year or two to live?

“Why not?” asked Hope’s leader Fiona Foo in reply.

“These sweet dogs have given their entire lives to making people happy. Many have been let down by their humans. If, even for a few months, we can restore their faith in humanity, so they leave this earth feeling loved, why not?”

Hope’s philosophy can be described as “no kill”.

Animals are not put down on account of their being sick, handicapped, old or ugly.

“No Kill” (spelt in capitals) is an American animal welfare movement that accepts euthanasia only for animals suffering pain from terminal disease or injuries.

By this token, Fiona says, all Singapore animal shelters are “no kill”.

The term “no kill” can be polarising because it hints at an alternative “kill” policy.

Hope does not cage animals. Instead, they are fostered to volunteers and enjoy life in regular, loving homes.

Hope’s unstinting love for unwanted dogs necessarily limits its capacity to save.

Only when an animal is adopted is there space for one more.

Shelters that attend to public calls and have animals dumped at their doors cannot be as indulgent. But this does not mean they “kill”.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Singapore’s oldest animal shelter, has been rescuing and advocating for animals since 1876.

It is amazing that they still have the stamina to offer a 24/7 rescue service billed on their website with the motto: “Rain or shine, the SPCA’s animal rescue team is here to help animals in distress.”

In 2022, SPCA rescued 2,255 animals including cats, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, terrapins and others.

A most crucial SPCA contribution to animal welfare is advocacy. For example, in 2006, when it was learnt that Resorts World Sentosa was considering exhibiting whale sharks, SPCA joined Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres) and the Nature Society (Singapore) to stage a “Say no to whale sharks in captivity” campaign.

It was explained that whale sharks dive to depths of 980m, that their annual migrations involve journeys of up to 13,000km. No man-made tank can humanely accommodate the whale shark.

There were press statements and letters, T-shirts and advertising. Other Singapore groups and international organisations joined the cause and a petition chalked up over 11,000 signatures.

In November 2009, Resorts World Sentosa decided: No whale sharks.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

This is an oft-cited aphorism ascribed to Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian nationalist who opposed colonialism with non-violence.

Scholars dispute this citation as the words cannot be found in any of his writings, but attribution is unnecessary when there is wisdom to learn.

Civilisation is a quest for enlightenment, mercy and love. The opposite is barbarity, primeval, cruel and base.

Recently a group of people cheered while a snake was brutalised and chopped into pieces.

A juvenile killed a cat by throwing it off an HDB block.

I think, instead, that we have so many Singapore animal welfare groups that I have insufficient space to acknowledge their good work.

I wrote only of groups I personally dealt with. Neither Hope nor SPCA solicited this article.

Keeping hope alive

I also think of community cat feeders whose ubiquity testify to a caring Singapore.

All people who care for pets are essentially little offshoots of Hope.

Responsible caring demands commitment. I picked up a shoebox in Queenstown. Four newborn kittens were within. Their eyes and ears still sealed.

That instant, when I picked up the box, began more than 20 years of cat caring. The last of the quadruplets, Pang, died naturally in my arms, just a month and a half shy of that Everest of cat lifespans – 22 years.

As I embrace my poodle, I know love. Japanese scientists report that oxytocin (the love hormone) shoots up by as much as 300% in animal lovers who gaze into the eyes of their pets.

We have here a virtuous circle: People deal with animals and learn compassion and respect.

This makes them nicer humans, better office colleagues and caring citizens – who are kind to animals.

Singaporeans have an instinct for this, a win-win. — The Straits Times/ANN

Dr Margaret Chan is a retired Singapore Management University associate professor.

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