Animal lover believes in the human touch

Mr Ng chatting with a resident, Mr Aw Teo Peng, 44, at his home in Yishun Street 21.
Mr Ng chatting with a resident, Mr Aw Teo Peng, 44, at his home in Yishun Street 21.ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM

As campaigning kicks into high gear, The Straits Times spotlights some candidates to find out how they interact with residents and what drives them. Today, we talk to animal activist Louis Ng from the PAP and legal counsel He Ting Ru of the Workers' Party.

It's late in the afternoon, and Mr Louis Ng is running out of time.

The People's Action Party (PAP) candidate has spent the last two hours visiting residents of a 12-storey Housing Board block in Nee Soon East, but has four more floors to go and an event coming up. Although the resident he was visiting would be overseas on Polling Day, he still chats for five minutes more, as his volunteers check their watches nervously.

He may be known as an animal lover, but Mr Ng, 37, swears by the human touch. "If you want to open doors, get the real feedback, that takes time," he says.


The Western approach is always, oh, chain myself outside the place, protest, throw red paint. That's Western advocacy. I always say that Asian advocacy is... sitting at the coffee shop, talking about it, trying to find that win-win (solution). And for me, that's worked. It has worked! Because I've seen it - I've gone from the other side, where I was banging on tables, to this side.


Despite having a lot of ground to make up after being drafted into Nee Soon East three weeks ago, following volunteer stints in Chong Pang, Kembangan-Chai Chee and Joo Chiat, he does not rush his visits.

While some residents say just a brief hello, others welcome him into their homes to sit on their sofas - or, in one case, on their carpeted floor - and have a chat.

"It's the first time I've seen him but he seems friendly and approachable," says technical officer Samuel Peng, 43, after a long chat with Mr Ng about children, pro-family policies and immigration.

As executive director of the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (Acres), an animal welfare group he founded as an undergraduate, Mr Ng could easily be dismissed as a single-issue candidate.

At the launch of the PAP's manifesto last month, even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong introduced him as an animal lover before adding: "He also cares about people."

Of course, people come first, Mr Ng tells The Straits Times. "If the house is on fire and there is a human and a dog in there, I would still go and rescue the human first.

"But that doesn't mean I don't care about the dog. I'd still try my best to rescue the dog as well."

That refusal to accept strict dichotomies - and an optimism about what is possible - runs through The Straits Times' interview with the PAP newcomer, part of the Nee Soon GRC slate facing a low-profile Workers' Party team.

Take the charge that being a civil society activist does not go well with joining the ruling party. "Animal welfare is something I will always champion, whether or not I am an MP," Mr Ng insists.

For him, collaboration is not capitulation. Instead, it has brought success: "If you look at the first eight, nine years of Acres, we were very combative. But all that didn't result in much policy change."

It was Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam who suggested a collaborative approach to animal issues. Mr Ng had been helping at his Chong Pang ward since 2008, at his invitation, before joining the PAP last year.

Mr Shanmugam is the anchor minister of Nee Soon GRC, where Mr Ng is running with Parliamentary Secretary Faishal Ibrahim, Ms Lee Bee Wah and fellow newbie Henry Kwek.

In 2011, Mr Ng and Mr Shanmugam held the first Chong Pang public forum on animal welfare policies, with activists meeting the authorities. They were booed on stage. But the following year, he returned to the activists with a list of what had been achieved.

"People started to realise, okay, after 40 years, we finally got a lot of policy changes," he says.

For instance, the age-old policy of cats being banned in HDB flats was relooked in a pilot project.

The big draw that led him to enter politics is the prospect of being able to do more, he says.

One aspect is legislation: "Not just providing feedback, which is what I've done, but really helping to draft those policies."

One task he will focus on is encouraging parenthood. "Every time I see a kid, I'll ask the parents, 'So what can we do for you to consider having a second or a third?'"

He likes one resident's suggestion: When families have a third child, give more subsidies for the first two as well. "I thought that idea was good," he muses, hours later. "That really came from being on the ground and asking."

Mr Ng also wants to take a softer approach. "Parenthood changes your life," he says. "That part, we haven't stressed enough.

"We always talk about the dollars and cents of parenthood... But let's also share the stories of how positive parenthood is."

He does this in his own small way: via smartphone videos of his 18-month-old daughter walking their pet dog. It's a "hippie" approach, he admits, but one he believes in. "When I go to the coffee shop, I show people the videos... They love it. It just plants that little seed in them of thinking that there is the other side of the equation."

That one-on-one approach is also applied to his constituency-level passion: volunteering.

"When I meet people, I mobilise," he says. He met a chef who is interested in running cooking classes for underprivileged children in Nee Soon East and a realtor who wants to teach children how to save.

His goal is to eventually have a list of projects, and then ask residents if they would like to help.

"That's my hippie dream," he concedes, but goes on to add: "Which I am sure we can make a reality."

He admits that "by the General Election, I am not going to finish everything". There are 134 blocks in Nee Soon East, and he has "a lot" left.

But he hopes residents will realise his sincerity. "During GE, I'm going to play football with them as well, I'm going to go jogging in the park. So they see me on the ground, not as their Member of Parliament if I'm elected, but as one of them."

For him, having the personal touch with residents means getting truly personal. His eyes redden as he adds: "I've been going to a lot of wakes, which hasn't been easy."

His father, Mr Robert Ng, 67, died from cancer three months ago, and Mr Ng shares his experience with grieving residents. "My healing process is also helping others to heal."

The late Mr Ng supported his animal rights work despite not believing in it, and "always loved politics".

"It's very painful that he's not here to watch. He tried to stay on but he couldn't win that battle.

"I think he'd have been proud."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2015, with the headline 'Animal lover believes in the human touch'. Print Edition | Subscribe