Friends fur life
We often see cute pictures of cats and dogs, and read about happy-ending stories from satisfied adopters, but how much do we really know about the dedicated people behind the scenes at the SPCA?
Suresh, an SPCA employee.
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) staff members wear a polo shirt that says “Friends for Life”, but their dedication proves that animals aren’t just friends for them—they’re family. Take Suresh, whom to many SPCA visitors is an animal care supervisor. To Dhoby and the other canine residents at SPCA, Suresh is their playmate-to-run-to, the friend-they-love-to-lick, and most of all, their best buddy.
Seven-year-old Dhoby is one of more than 200 animals in the adoption centre waiting to find a new home. The active Singapura Special is never shy about expressing his excitement for walks or affection for those he trusts. A glimpse or whiff of someone familiar is enough to get his ears perked up and tail wagging. And if that someone is Suresh, it’s happy wags, warm licks and delighted looks – the full royal treatment.
What’s Suresh’s secret to being BFF to his furred charges? “The most important thing is the bond… and you can’t build it with force. You have to gain their trust.” Suresh joined the SPCA about three years ago, giving up his time from a higher-paying position as the security manager of a club. No regrets, though. His favourite part of his job? The dogs.
Suresh has become so attuned to the dogs at the shelter that he recognises and understands each of their unique personalities. For example, he knows that Dhoby doesn’t like it when he senses uncertainty in people’s body language.
Suresh believes there needs to be more understanding and acceptance of dogs such as Dhoby. He doesn’t like it when people use the term ‘mongrels’ to refer to these dogs as he feels it is derogatory. When he hears someone say it, he is quick to correct them – use ‘cross-breed’ or ‘Singapura Special’ instead. Then he will go on to educate them about seeing beyond the breed.
Unsung heroes such as Suresh have been the SPCA’s backbone for years. But Suresh doesn’t mind not being in the limelight. After all, his philosophy is that the animals must come first. And despite all the good work they’ve done, he and his humble colleagues only ask for respect for their work and for all animals.
Yin Yi, an SPCA volunteer.
They’re not afraid of animal poop and are always happy to be in yellow boots.
It takes a village to raise a child, a family to care for a pet, and a community of passionate animal lovers to help run a shelter.
Another group that the SPCA relies on is its pool of 1,792 volunteers, and about 35% of these volunteers are students such as Yin Yi, who does an admirable job juggling her school commitments with her volunteer work. The work they do can be tough, such as talking the active dogs for walks and cleaning the animal shelters.
And when it comes down it, she’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. Every fortnight since March this year, Yin Yi wakes up at 6.20am, then makes the 1.5-hour commute from University Town to 50, Sungei Tengah Road, to scrub floors, prepare food and wash bowls. Her morning volunteer shift ends just a little after noon, after which the National University of Singapore Biomedical Sciences undergraduate returns to campus for her classes.
Volunteering is strenuous work, but she doesn’t mind. There is a sense of fulfilment, she says, when the dogs get to return to sparkling clean kennels. Besides, it’s not all work and no play, as Yin Yi demonstrates while playing with a four-month-old terrier cross named Yoda, whom she affectionately calls “a little ball of pure happiness”.
For Yin Yi, being around the animals brings “a sense of pure joy”, one that can never be replicated. The dog lover, who has a Jack Russell, Golden Retriever cross and poodle back home in Malaysia, says volunteering gives her the opportunity to share some love with dogs who do not yet have a home. She believes “animals deserve to be doted on”, and volunteering with animals was something she had always wanted to do during her secondary school days.
Stephanie & Cian, SPCA adopters.
For this adopter and her new family member, it was a love story that began online.
Stephanie always knew she wanted a cat. She was over 5,000km away in Japan looking at SPCA’s adoption gallery online when Lucius caught her eye. Unlike the typical Hollywood love story, it wasn’t his good looks and soulful gaze that got her attention. It was because the black-and-white tabby is the namesake of her favourite character in the Harry Potter series, Lucius Malfoy.
Amused by the coincidence, she immediately told her husband Cian. The couple already knew they would be relocating to Singapore in a year’s time. What they didn’t know at that time was that they would also be bringing Lucius home.
The SPCA cattery houses cats of all ages, colours and personalities. Some warm up to strangers instantly. Others, like Lucius, are more reticent, and tend to be overlooked by potential adopters. Eleven-year-old Lucius is the type of cat most would describe as independent and aloof – hardly all sunshine and cuddles. He’s selective about the feline company he keeps, and even more discerning about the humans he expresses his affections to.
A few months after relocating to Singapore, Stephanie and Cian finally met Lucius. Thanks to serendipity and affinity (and perhaps some wizardly charm), Lucius relinquished his bittersweet title of SPCA’s Longest-Staying Feline Resident and went home. This homecoming was an especially sweet one, as the couple is exactly the kind of family Lucius would’ve wished for—generous with their love, patient with his needs, and accepting of who he is.
The couple explained: “We weren’t looking for a cat to love us. We were looking for one to love.” And for Lucius, that made all the difference – it took him only one day to begin slowly tearing down his barriers and trusting his new family.
It started with him gingerly rubbing himself against their legs. Soon, Lucius was lying on their bellies. Sitting on laps. Meowing for food. Purring for play. Waiting at the door to welcome Stephanie and Cian home. Magically appearing by Stephanie’s side whenever she was stressed. Lucius has made the house feel more like a home in every way.
The couple say Lucius isn’t the same aloof cat that they brought home that day, the one that sat moodily in the SPCA cattery for six long years. He has become more affectionate, more vocal and more expressive. The transformation was particularly surprising for everyone at the SPCA who knew Lucius’ personality well.
It was a learning journey for Lucius too, and the precocious feline has made a few discoveries of his own:
1) It’s more fun to mess up fresh laundry than to play with cat toys.
2) Snuggling in boxes feels awesome. Cat trees are meh.
3) The sofa is superior to scratching poles!
4) The vacuum cleaner is an evil monster. Must. Hide. From. It.
5) I still hate vet visits.
6) I’m the cutest cat in the world. Stephanie says so.
It’s easy to scoff at clichéd sayings about how love transforms. But this story of Stephanie, Cian and Lucius is exactly that—a charming tale about a magical encounter and enchanting transformation.
And the best part? It’s not fantasy. It’s real life.
Suresh, Yin Yi, Stephanie and Cian are all very different people. But they share a love for animals and they express it generously. This trait is the invisible foundation of the SPCA. It’s what drives their 70 years of tireless animal welfare work. It’s why they persist despite some negative comments from the public. It’s how they help their shelter animals find future families. And it is the common factor that unites their employees, volunteers, adopters and donors.
Special thanks to:
Volunteer Writer: Carrie (Creative for Causes)
Volunteer Photographer: Nazree (Creative for Causes)