The fate of street dogs in Singapore…

What I’m gonna be talking about in my notes might not sit well with some. But I believe in some sense, we need to strike a balance and be real about the fate of our Singapore specials.

I must say, I’ve been very privilege being able to work with our local street dogs (which we call them mongrels or mutt) from early last year onwards till current. I did not choose to work with them – they chose me. I did not choose to work with them simply because I wasn’t well expose to whats going on with our Singapore specials, not because I don’t like them.

I started working with mongrels when I visited one of the shelter at Pasir Ris. Instead of working with the mongrels they have, I was asked to help with a hyper-active Labrador. This Labrador found a home eventually and the adopters became my client as he was giving everyone blue-blacks all over their arms.

Well, I’m not gonna talk about the Labrador today, I’m gonna talk about mongrels.

Somehow, I still manage to find myself attending to clients with mongrels. Of course I have a fair share of pedigree cases too. But whats interesting is, I did not intentionally want to work with mongrels, but I just find myself planted among them.

The real deal started when I was looking for a place to be called a Canine Rehabilitation Centre, but with the limited space, high prices and ridiculous policies by the various bodies I found myself sharing a kennel space with a rehomer and a stray feeder. Along with the kennel, it came with 5 dogs that were already staying there and another 4 dogs from Tuas which were in their adolescent and very disrespectful. I had no choice but to rehabilitate all the dogs before I started bringing in my own cases for boot camp.
After a month, all of them was walking really well and 80% of them stopped their resource guarding and food aggression.

Dogs was being adopted out to good homes pretty fast at one point. While dogs was going to good homes, non was returned, but more new ones was coming in. Most trainers and behaviourist will know that it takes a week or so before introducing a new dog. And when a new dog is introduce into a pack, it takes another 2 weeks to help with the transition peacefully. With that happening, and limited space, I had to stop all rescued dogs from entering the shelter. Although there were cases that were urgent. But which case isn’t urgent?
Hate it, but I had to play the bad guy by stopping dogs from entering the shelter. This is where it becomes a very delicate situation to handle. Every stray feeder and dog rescuer rescue dogs for all the right reason, but when it comes to placing a dog in a shelter, that is where it all becomes really delicate.

To break it down:
1. When a dog is rescued, the dog is put in a shelter.
2. When the shelter reaches it’s max capacity, no dogs can enter the shelter.
3. When a case is so urgent that overlooks the max capacity of the shelter and how stable the pack is, it becomes DANGEROUS!
4. When #3 happens, it’ll lead to fights in the pack, pack becomes tense, volunteers drain out physically and mentally, behaviour from the pack becomes bad, and worse! an alpha dog emerge within the pack which is gonna be dangerous for both dogs and humans.

After I got most of the dogs I was rehabilitating adopted out, I decided to step out from the shelter to focus on my business and move towards other plans to continue rehabilitating mongrels. It was the most difficult decision I had to make, but I had to.

Although I was no more involve with the shelter, but yet I find myself handling mongrels. They seem to find me somehow.

After about a couple of months, I received a phone call from one of the animal welfare group inviting me to help out in rehabilitating their dogs and to handle their shelter. Though there were some hiccups along the way to finalize it, it eventually took place. I started out being a little reserve about whats gonna happen, but somehow when I met the president of this animal welfare group, I felt the peace to give it my 110%. After which, I met the core team volunteers – started out a little rocky, but we finally understood one another. I will say, I have came to know an awesome team of dedicated people, being able to support one another as well as understand both humans and dogs to strike a balance. I did not hear any of them blaming adopters or layman who doesn’t know much about dogs, but I hear kindness and determination to educate the public with patience. This is something I was and still am impress with.

Being part of this team for slightly more than a month, I am still impress with the dedication of all the volunteers. No one is power hungry, everyone just work together as a team. I have never seen such team work among volunteers in any animal welfare groups (but may be because I have never been around many of them). Team work right from the top to the bottom, it’s impressive!

Back to the fate of street dogs in Singapore – After working around mongrels and the team of awesome volunteers, I’ve came to a conclusion that I can’t help every mongrel. I’ll do all I can to help the ones that have a potential to go into good homes. For those who do not have the potential and are in our shelter, we will just keep working and try whatever methods all 3 of us trainers and behaviourist can dig out from our heads, books and past exams to create a calm and stable transition for these dogs.

Feral dogs ain’t easy at all. And for any trainer and behaviourist, most of our top priority is not to get bitten. It’s a fine line between being smart and being foolish. So we don’t act hero to proof our worth.

For the past month, we enter into a dreadfulness of outbreaks happening everywhere. The toughest time for most shelters and stray feeders. However, being able to contain the outbreak is one thing – being able to educate stray feeders and dog rescuers is another thing. Of course, not all of them fall into that category. But I’m saying that many stray feeders and dog rescuers have to draw a line to strike a balance between dogs that are not able to be rehome, and a high chance of affecting potentially stable dogs to be able to go to good homes. Yes, most cases are urgent. But does that urgency leads to an outbreak, does that urgency leads to an injury, or does that urgency leads to a positive reinforcement for the dog and the human? This is something everyone, including myself must ask as often as possible.

The big question is, what then can be done??

Coming to terms that the fate of our street dogs are in the hands of “certain authority”, but I still like asking this question: “Is there a possibility to create a dog sanctuary where the feral dogs can be relocated?” Yes, a huge plot of land and forested area is needed. It’ll do a lot better then culling them. Well, dogs don’t bring economic stability to our nation, so that’s not gonna happen (hope & pray for it to happen). Like I said in the beginning, this might not sit well with some of you reading this – the fate of our street dogs will eventually be gone. Hate to say it, but it’s true. Working with them for so long, I’ve fall in love with them (my wife comes first still, just in case she’s reading this). Knowing that there’s nothing much I can do about it – but to work hard with the current dogs in the shelter now.

At the same time, it is so important that, as much as I hope to help as many of our street dogs, I have to spend quality time with our current dogs first. Filling up our kennels with street dogs isn’t the smartest thing to do. In fact, I think it’s foolish. The most important thing is to stabilize the current pack, and train them to help train new dogs. The moment the pack is stable enough, we can then take in 1 dog at a time. At least for these dogs, it will not be jail time for them. The shelter will be their sanctuary instead as 3 times a week they get pack walks, play time, etc… of course, we are working towards having more days. It’ll be awesome to have it everyday.

With all these being said. Although I’ve come to terms with the fate of our street dogs, but I haven’t given up on them. I’m still hopeful for them, and I hope that the shelters in Singapore can work together with a common goal in mind rather then working against one another. Nothing beats working together harmoniously and achieving positiveness in our human pack as well as the dog pack!

To everyone who has been sacrificing their time and putting in a lot of effort helping these dogs; Well done and keep it up. You deserve a pet on the shoulder!

Ezra Koh

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