SPCA's executive director Jaipal Singh Gill wanted to be a vet at age 6

Dr Jaipal Singh Gill's love affair with animals started when he was in primary school.

When he was six, he read a children's book, I Want To Be A Vet.

"I remember reading it over and over again and deciding that this was what I wanted to do in life," he said.

As a child, he would take stray cats and injured dogs home. From the age of seven, he kept guinea pigs, terrapins and fish. That was also when he experienced his first loss of a pet.

"My pet rabbit had diarrhoea and I remember taking it to the vet near my home. It was given an injection and I thought it was going to be well again, but it died that night. It was a shocking experience for me at that age. I thought about how I could have done things differently," he said.

At 14, he turned vegetarian after reading literature on factory-farmed animals given to him by his elder brother.

"That was the beginning of my animal welfare journey. I realised what the animals went through and thought I wouldn't want to see any animal put through this, so I became a vegetarian."

Gradually, he persuaded his family members to also become vegetarians.

Though he knew he wanted to be a vet, there were no veterinary courses in Singapore at that time. So, he decided to pursue a life sciences degree at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

There, he started an animal welfare group and helped organise the first Animal Welfare Symposium in Singapore.

The aim of the group was to engage the students on animal welfare issues.

 
 

"At NUS, we have students from law, public policy and social sciences, so we can look at animal issues more deeply and understand the complexities - in advocacy and raising awareness," he said.

The group is now called NUS Peace (People Ending Animal Cruelty and Exploitation).

After he graduated from NUS, he joined the SPCA as an inspector, handling about 70 animal cruelty cases and complaints a month.

After a year, he felt there were many things he did not know about animals and their welfare, so he decided to go back to school.

"My life sciences degree was good, but it did not adequately prepare me for this sort of animal welfare work," he said.

He took a master's degree in animal sciences and rejoined the SPCA as its operations manager for two years before enrolling in a Doctor of Animal Medicine degree course at the University of Melbourne.

He became the SPCA's executive director in 2016.

He said: "I would like to encourage people to find opportunities to support animal welfare and join the community when we call for changes to be made. People can also contribute by donating money, or volunteering and fostering an animal."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2020, with the headline 'He wanted to be a vet at age 6'. Print Edition | Subscribe