Why I volunteer

The weekend is a well-deserved break after a gruelling week, and is meant for rest and relaxation - or so I thought some years ago.

I never imagined that I would spend my Saturdays walking, feeding and bathing stray and abandoned dogs, picking up their poop, and smelling like a wet animal after the three-hour session was over.

Yet that became a weekly routine from September 2013, when I started volunteering at an animal shelter in Pasir Ris.

Reporter Audrey Tan in Sentosa last year with a dog from animal shelter Mercylight. The shelter had organised a day out to the beach for its dogs.
Reporter Audrey Tan in Sentosa last year with a dog from animal shelter Mercylight. The shelter had organised a day out to the beach for its dogs. PHOTO: COURTESY OF AUDREY TAN

I had wanted to do more than just feel sorry for the stray and abandoned dogs of Singapore. But other than buying calendars, T-shirts or other paraphernalia from animal welfare groups, I did not have pockets deep enough to make frequent, substantial donations.

So I decided that the next best thing I could do was give my time.

The experience taught me many things about the power of persistence and human compassion.

In Singapore, many people consider stray dogs menacing and a threat to their safety. But because of the army of volunteers who commit much more to the cause than I do, "aggressive" dogs are not given up on. Instead, they are rehabilitated and readied for homes. Shy dogs, initially afraid of the human touch, also blossom under their care.

Indeed, in countries such as Turkey, stray dogs coexist peacefully with people. A company there even created a recycling bin that dispenses dog food for the strays when people throw in their recyclables.

Ironically, stray dogs have more to fear from humans. As redevelopment forces them into closer proximity with people, strays face a greater risk of being culled. There have also been reports of stray dogs being abused or run over by vehicles.

I first learnt about these issues in 2010. I had just got a new puppy, bought (ashamedly) from a pet farm. But Snuffles came with a persistent cough, and I wanted to know why. In the course of my research, I learnt about the ethical concerns surrounding puppy mills - how the dogs are kept in filth, and how the females are impregnated repeatedly to produce cute, money-making puppies.

Snuffles had developed an illness known as kennel cough because of the unhygienic conditions.

Many websites, including those of animal welfare groups here, urge pet owners to adopt instead of buying, highlighting how doing so saves two lives - the adopted dog, and the dog that could be rescued to take its place at the shelter.

I have Snuffles now, but will definitely choose to adopt if I decide to get another pet.

Till then, I will still try my best to continue supporting the cause, even in my small ways.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline 'Why I volunteer'. Print Edition | Subscribe