Casa Verde, an Italian restaurant at the Botanic Gardens, attracts just as many animal as human patrons. Dogs on their morning walk will look up from their tethers to hope for table scraps, mynahs stalk the edges of the tables for unattended plates, and from the edges of the adjacent forest lurk a third group – the ‘wild chickens’.
Despite my general respect for the numerous little creatures that frequent the garden from time to time, there are occassions when I am compelled to make exceptions. Continue reading
The spirit of giving extends not just to fellow humans, but also our four-legged friends. This was evidenced by the huge crowd that had gathered outside Paya Lebar Square on Sunday afternoon, all there to offer various forms of support to dogs still waiting for a home of their very own. There were dogs in brown, beige and black; feisty or greedy or shy; but what all of them needed that day was a chance at a new life.
Not a single dog I saw was lacking any measure of human attention. Even before I saw any dogs, I saw their supporters, bristling in a huge crowd at an open courtyard outside Paya Lebar Square. Each potential adoptee from Save our Street Dogs Singapore (SOSD) had a circle of volunteers, supporters, and potential adopters around them. Hands reached out to pet them, fingers extended dog treats, and voices were raised to praise them–or, in rare cases, issue warning shouts when any of the dogs got out of line. “They get very excited because there’s a lot of dogs and people around,” a volunteer confessed breathlessly, after having to break up a pair of puppies who had tried to snap at each other.
Everywhere, dogs were straining at their leashes, playfully nipping at fingers, jumping onto people, yapping at other dogs or jostling with them for crumbs. Yet in spite of the chaos and stress of having to deal with the large crowds, the shelter volunteers never seemed to skip a beat. Every sudden disturbance was met with a patient smile and a calm explanation, and in their tolerance it was easy to see the devotion they had towards the animals they were trying to save. Many of them talked as fondly of the dogs as if they were speaking about their own children. “They’re all very pretty. They’re all very cute. They’re all very smart. The boys are just big, big, dumb,” quipped one volunteer good-naturedly about the female puppies. Amid the good humour and laughter were more strident, deeper declarations of dog–an impulsive hug or a kiss from person to pooch, or a verbal testament to their hope for these canines’ new lives. “I heard the black dogs are the most unadoptable,” stated a lady who was looking for a dark-furred dog. “I think they should make all HDB owners have a dog. That would solve the problem,” she added firmly, referring to the spectre of homelessness that continues to plague many strays on the island today.
There were far too many dogs for me to learn about in that one afternoon. But I have tried to tease out the unique backgrounds of each dog I attempted to get to know. Animals cannot speak as we do, and it is up to their personalities and backgrounds–as well as the people who have worked with them, of course–to tell their story. Hopefully through this they and their furry friends may be able to reach out, too, to someone who might be able to change their fate for the better.
Fides (1.5 years old)
“We found him at Jurong Island. He has white hairs and also a white spot on his chest. He has two or three other siblings, but he’s the only one here. We have 50 dogs here, and our shelter can hold up to about 80.”
“He eats a lot, but he’s very strong!”
Baba (5.5 months old)
“Oh, he just wants to play with the other dogs. He was found on Jurong Island. We use a metal leash because he kept biting the plastic ones. He had a yeast infection, so we had to shave his tail to make it easier to apply the cream. He has another sister named Nana who’s also here.”
Falco (3.5 months)
“We don’t ask where they come from, because they’re for a new beginning. It’s another team that brings them in. He actually has another sister somewhere around here–yes, a lot of them are related. He’s quite big already; not HDB-approved. Waah, he’s so greedy.”
Hector (3.5 months old)
“The bare patches are the result of a skin condition. He’s on a normal diet, but I think it’s allergies caused from eating grass and things like these.”
Haely (3.5 months old)
“She’s actually not this calm most of the time. Usually she’s also very active. She’s not trained yet because she’s just arrived at the shelter; about a month ago.”
Kyoto (5.5 months old)
“Oh yeah, there are a lot of other ‘K’s too. We have a Kobe, a Katy… I think we’re going to run out of the thesaurus soon! Usually the people who find them get to name them. Yeah, he’s very playful. At least he’s food-motivated, so he’s easy to train.”
Scooby (2 years old)
“He’s not for adoption. We brought our dog here because we were here to collect something from the SOSD booth. He’s a stray but his legs are naturally like that; his mother was shorter actually. He can run around normally because he’s born with it, so he’s used to it.”
Bibi (4.5 months old)
“She was found on a nature reserve on Jurong–I think it was Sungei something, can’t remember. Her siblings are with another welfare group because the officers took pity on them and called the group. Another guy found her and contacted SOSD. I’m actually a fosterer; I have her and another dog. She’s trained on a pee pad, but likes to go on the grass. This one, she’s very greedy. She’s a chi huo (Mandarin for ‘foodie’)!”
Hannah (3 years old)
“I’m the volunteer; those two are her owners. We found her when she was one-and-a-half years old, in a factory. They had no parents; they were just running around. I wish I had pictures from back then but I don’t! Her coat is very wiry, isn’t it. Sometimes, you just need to come here for some puppy therapy.”
Dawn (1.5 years old)
“Her tail is between her legs all the time because she’s scared. Since there’s a lot of dogs and a lot of people here and she doesn’t like crowded places. It used to be worse; last time she would go hide in a corner. With other dogs she’s okay, but she takes a bit of time to warm up. Her siblings are all like her: shy, and they have the long body. She was found at a factory at Pasir Ris, actually, with four or five other siblings. This is our biggest adoption drive because it’s Christmas, and it’s the last one of the year. There are a lot of dogs we have here who still need a home. Oh, uh, you can touch her from the front. She gets nervous when you touch her from the back.”
Griffin (7.5 months old)
“He’s… a very unique dog. He can be very sweet, and very energetic. I ran 37 k with him yesterday. Normally we run 15 kilometres a day. He needs someone willing to exercise with him. He will go chase birds, and play with the dogs he’s familiar with. He’ll wake me up at 4.30 in the morning, and we go running at 5. He doesn’t open up easily to strangers and doesn’t like to be petted, but he will play with the other dogs that he knows around here. He doesn’t like to be in areas with a lot of other people and dogs, but he’s observing them. He and his siblings were found in a drain at Paya Lebar, all covered in mud. He squats the same way he did as a puppy. His two other siblings were more charming, so they got adopted before him. I raised him from when he was this small until now. Like I said, he’s very sweet, and he can be very energetic.”
On Sunday afternoon, East Coast Park went to the dogs–big and small, long- and short-haired, purebreds and strays alike. They, as well as their owners and dog lovers hailing from all walks of life, came together for the fourth Singapore Specials Dog Run. Organised this year by Action for Singapore Dogs (ASD), the run was held in commemoration of the stray dogs of Singapore–affectionately referred to by some as ‘Singapore Specials’–and the struggle they go through to eke out an existence on the streets. Their efforts certainly paid off, for they managed to break the Singapore Book of Records for the Largest Dog Run and raise $20,000 for their cause.
The seething mass of two-legged and four-legged ones who had gathered for the race was visible from far off as we approached the start line. There was a festive mood in the air as dogs exchanged greetings in sniffs and licks, owners swapped banter about the nitty-gritty of dog-raising, and announcements blared from the booths to the side of the track. Shortly after we arrived, it was time for the first Buddy Race. As soon as the signal to go was fired the grey track was overwhelmed by a colourful surge of paws and running shoes. Tiny Chihuahuas trotted gamely to catch up to the wide strides of their Golden Retriever cousins, while some of the stockier runners who couldn’t keep up completed the run in their owners’ arms. Whichever group they belonged to, however, the returning runners were greeted with applause. The loudest of cheers of all were reserved for one little Treasure–a dog with a severed spine who, with the assistance of human attendants, managed to propel himself on his forelegs back to the finish.
The camaraderie of the community was palpable in the many owners I spoke to, all who had contributed to making this run a celebration of the spirit of dogs and their people from all over the island.
Angeline, Ansel & Happy (3-yr-old Singapore Special)
Angeline: “We adopted Happy from SOSD–Save our Street Dogs. He’s a very shy dog so we think he might have been abused before. He’s 3 years old, but you can see he already has a few grey hairs. The scar on his ear is from fights with more dominant dogs. I adopted him because I think it’s good to be supporting a good cause, and not puppy mills. Actually it’s the mongrels that can be more well-trained than the purebreds; the purebreds are the ones that make the most noise. As a child I owned all sorts of dogs, both purebred and mixed-breed; I used to have a Poodle and a Doberman.
Ansel: “We have an uncontrollable dog!”
“Yes we also have a brown Labrador in our house, bigger than this one. Happy is the gentle one.”
“Her sister also has a dog and she’s here too! You know, I had a vision of her dogs–“
“He’s seen pictures of them in my house.”
“You know, when the construction workers have no food they eat and they find a dog, they just–“
Nessa & Odin (2-yr-old Singapore Special)
“I adopted him from SOSD. I was the one who decided to adopt him, but my mum’s here too. My favourite thing about him are these brown parts around his ears.”
Paul & Starbucks (1 1/2-yr-old Singapore Special)
“I named him for the coffee because his fur is like that colour. I adopted him from SOSD; decided to pick him up because… he was cute. He runs with me a lot; good to have a running companion. These kinds of dogs don’t really have a history, because most times SOSD just picks them up. The dog’s temperament depends not on their breed, but how they’re trained. If they’re trained to be a guard dog then they’ll behave like one. But you can’t choose a Poodle–size matters, of course! He’s very gentle. Doesn’t bite. Can’t bite, lah. My favourite thing about him would have to be his closeness… how he likes to cuddle up.”
Lindy (6-yr-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi)
“She doesn’t want to walk–only walked a little bit then she’s tired. I don’t know why I got her–we just got her. She’s actually a picky eater; only eats home-cooked food. Vegetables. Meat. A bit of rice. She plays a lot at home. And she can be a bit… Stubborn. But she’s nice, lah. Sweet dog.”
Guiness (5-yr-old Singapore Special) & Ototo (5+ -yr-old spitz)
“You’d think that Guiness is the rough one because of his looks, but actually Ototo is the snappish one. He bites; has bitten people before. And then after he bites people, I and he have to sort it out!”
“My dad saw Guiness as a puppy at a construction site and just brought him home. Had him since he was 5, 6 months old. I named him after the drink, because he’s like that colour. He’s very sweet; doesn’t bite people.”
Mr, Mrs. and Meng (5-yr-old Swiss Shepard) Tang
Mr Tang: “You noticed the dog? So did you notice me too? You didn’t!?… Uh no okay it’s fine.
“Meng’s a Swiss Shepard. There are only about five or six of them in Singapore. We got him from Australia. He’s a very gentle dog. Actually how we joined the run is that we were bringing Meng here for a swim when the organisers came over and recruited us. That was two months ago.”
I asked if they were a couple.
“Well, I pretend to be her husband. We pretend to be a couple. I pretend to feed Meng. I pretend to be a Singaporean–but I have a red passport; I was born here. You know the song ‘The Great Pretenders’? Like that.”
“He’s just lying! I am his wife.”