An anthropologist’s mission to save Singapore’s strays

Animal crusader Chan Chow Wah’s Animal Human Alliance seeks to improve animal welfare with its pet food range and a shelter offering palliative care

Friend to the animals Chan Chow Wah established the Animal Human Alliance (AHA) in 2013 to help pet owners provide healthier lifestyles for their four-legged companions while keeping strays off the streets. Gold-D is AHA's in-house brand of healthy pet food. PHOTO: ANIMAL HUMAN ALLIANCE

Mr Chan Chow Wah adopted a pair of street cats named Ken Ken and Gold-D from local shelter Mettacats in 2013, but there was a problem: both animals were feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) positive, putting them at high risk of developing cancer.

"Gold-D had lost his appetite and began to lose weight, but because of his FIV-positive status, the vets were worried it was a sign of cancer. They wanted us to see if we could help him put on some weight," he recalls.

Around the same time, he also began caring for another abandoned FIV- and feline leukaemia virus disease (FeLV)-positive stray, Rahula. To encourage all three ginger cats to eat well, Mr Chan started researching and experimenting with nutritious home-cooked recipes.

An anthropologist by training, the 48-year-old has been active in rescue work as well as sponsoring the food and veterinary bills of community cats since 2005. Inspired to do more for the strays of Singapore, he established Animal Human Alliance (AHA) in 2013.

The business, of which he is managing partner, supports his rescue work with a focus on FeLV rescue and palliative care for rescues.

Only the best for our four-legged friends

Today, AHA offers two in-house brands: Gold-D, an eponymously named range of healthy pet food, and AHA, a collection of pet-safe household products.

Gold-D's pet food includes unique flavours such as Tuna Seabream with Goat's Milk and Ginseng Chicken Soup. The brand stands by its commitment to animal welfare by being free of ingredients such as carrageenan (a food additive that can increase cancer risk), meat by-products, artificial colouring, flavours and preservatives.

Affectionately dubbed Uncle Rob, this ginger is AHA's model for its range of senior cat-friendly wet food. PHOTO: ANIMAL HUMAN ALLIANCE

Each product features prebiotics for better gut health and is considered a complete meal by The European Pet Food Industry's standards.

Many animal lovers and pet owners, says Mr Chan, have been won over by the standard of their products which feature carefully selected ingredients for quality control.

He adds: "We're very particular about ingredients and will eliminate those that pose potential health risks. We search for the best ingredients possible and are not limited by geography. Currently, our products are sourced from more than 16 countries."

With separate cat and dog collections, the Gold-D line is available in wet, dry and freeze-dried forms and retails in Malaysia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Macao, Great Britain and Greece. The business supports his rescue work and palliative care for animals diagnosed with cancer, kidney failure, heart disease, FeLV and FIV.

AHA also feeds its rescue dogs and cats Gold-D products. "In fact," says Mr Chan, "customers have told us that they love the idea that their pets are eating the same food that our rescue and adopted cats and dogs eat!"

Singapore Special Molly gives her stamp of approval for Gold-D's dog food range. The senior doggo was adopted by Mr Chan in 2019. PHOTO: ANIMAL HUMAN ALLIANCE

But food is just one part of the equation - providing a healthier lifestyle for your pets also extends to ensuring that your home and environment is safe for them, emphasises Mr Chan.

"That led us to create a collection of homecare products to reduce exposing pets to harmful chemicals such as parabens and propylene glycol normally found in household cleaning agents. We started with dishwashing liquid and have since expanded the line to include floor cleaners, disinfectants, surface cleaners and even laundry care."

A champion for animals in need

Besides offering a sanctuary for its palliative care patients, AHA also aims to normalise the adoption of animals who need a home.

"Rescue work is a response to an immediate crisis or to save the lives of abandoned or abused animals. But it is only a temporary solution," Mr Chan stresses.

"We need greater public awareness and support for animal welfare. Our social mission is a big part of our brand DNA and we use our brand to help address issues such as animal neglect, abandonment and abuse, as well as advocate for 'adopting rather than shopping' for pets."

To that end, AHA's pet food packaging features actual rescued animals lovingly nursed back to health by fosterers and the AHA team. Many of these cats and dogs have blossomed into happy, healthy animals ready for good homes.

Mandy recognises herself as a poster girl for Gold-D's Salmon and White Fish flavoured kibble. PHOTO: ANIMAL HUMAN ALLIANCE

Mr Chan has also combined his enthusiasm for documentaries with AHA's outreach efforts. To highlight the plight of community animals, he produced several documentaries on animal welfare, including the award-winning The Metta Story. He is currently working on his latest film, Cats of Keith Stevens, which is about a British sinologist who produced Asia's earliest cat ethnographic data.

Proceeds from these projects go towards providing food for animal shelters and AHA's network of rescuers, as well as footing veterinary bills for community animals.

Going digital to streamline processes

For AHA, keeping track of the ins and outs of the business can be challenging, as costs escalate with the number of animals they rescue. "These animals are often elderly or unwell, so our veterinary fees have been steadily increasing," reveals Mr Chan.

Managing the business also takes time away from Mr Chan's true passion, tending to the animals, some of which need to be medicated every few hours. Therefore, business operations have to be managed efficiently as he has little time to spare.

For this reason, says Mr Chan, "I need to have all the information at my fingertips and, if I need to refer to a document, I want to be able to pull it up immediately instead of flipping through file after file".

By using Xero to automate and reconcile his accounting processes in real time, Mr Chan is able to do away with time-consuming data entry and make his business operations more efficient. PHOTO: ANIMAL HUMAN ALLIANCE

With the help of Xero's digital accounting software, Mr Chan was able to streamline AHA's accounting needs and make it easy to retrieve his financial data in real-time "with just a few clicks".

However, the most beneficial feature of the Xero platform is generating profit-and-loss (P&L) reports. "Veterinary fees can quickly spiral out of control during medical emergencies. We cannot deny the animals medical attention, but we need to be mindful of cash flow, which can be very stressful. By referring to the P&L reports, I can always ensure that we have enough funds to clear the vet fees," he says.

Payables and receivables are automatically tracked in the Xero bank feed, so that AHA can see a snapshot of its financial position accurately and efficiently in real time, meeting the business' administrative needs. Mr Chan can also view the business' profit and loss on the Xero mobile app, which is hugely helpful when he is away from this computer or out in the field.

Xero's business tools and insights further enable the AHA team to devote maximum time and attention to its core mission of providing healthy meals for our four-legged friends and caring for the ill and neglected animals who desperately need their care.

"Animals are our fellow beings," he adds. "Let's respect, love and protect them."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.