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Dogs & their heroes
OREO, COOKIE, ANDREA DE CRUZ & PIERRE PNG
WITH THIS BEING THE YEAR of the Dog, celebrities Andrea De Cruz and Pierre Png hope all new dog owners remember that getting a dog is a "15 year commitment - not just something you have during the Year of the Dog for the sake of good luck, and then leaving them behind in the subsequent years when things get rough," they say.
They should know - one of their two Shih Tzus, Oreo, was born and bought by a family in the previous Year of the Dog in 2006. Unfortunately the family had to give her away after just one year for "reasons beyond their control", so De Cruz and Png adopted her. Oreo is a healthy dog after recovering from eye and spinal problems in recent years.
Meanwhile their other Shih Tzu, Cookie, is five years old. When the couple adopted it from animal welfare group Voices For Animals, Cookie had puppy mange (or demodectic mange), a skin infestation that made her "look like a 14-year-old dog even though she was just 6-months-old," says De Cruz. "We had to bring her to the vet every month for a year to get jabs. She had no fur and she smelled. But after a year, she was fine and healthy and had the best fur."
The couple had another adopted Shih Tzu, which died last July at 14 years of age. Both de Cruz and Png grew up with several dogs. De Cruz's father had Alsatian and a Mastiff. Meanwhile, Png had an Alsatian and a Doberman, and also played with street dogs that ran around his kampong in Yio Chu Kang. "I'm so used to big dogs. It was only after meeting Andrea that I learnt to love tiny dogs," says Png with a laugh.
The couple is extremely passionate about animal rights. Both rail against poorly-run puppy mills and errant dog owners who mistreat pooches. De Cruz volunteers in animal welfare societies such as The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) where she helped organise the inaugural Tux For Tails gala last year to raise funds for the expansion of the only non-profit veterinary clinic serving needy animals in Singapore. Png supports his wife's activities when he's not busy filming.
De Cruz says: "These days with Google, there's more information about responsible pet ownership than there's ever been. So you can't say you're uninformed and ill-prepared for the task if you get a dog."
Png says: "I hear of dog owners abandoning their dogs by sometimes throwing them out of a car, and it literally makes me sick in the stomach."
De Cruz adds: "We really do need better regulation for pet ownership in Singapore. And the stricter dog licensing rules announced last year (that dog owners have to inform authorities when they sell or give away their pets, and provide the particulars of their owners) is a step in the right direction."
Png chimes in: "At the end of the day, pet ownership is a big responsibility. Think about it, many puppies are taken away from their mothers at a young age, so they need lots of love and attention to overcome their separation issues. Meanwhile, health problems can strike at any age. But if you love them, it can be an absolutely amazing experience."
LEIA & DANIEL BOEY
Ever since his red Doberman Ah Hock died in 1990, Daniel Boey had refused to get another pet. "It felt like a complete betrayal to Hock," says the man who is dubbed the Godfather of Singapore fashion. But a chance encounter with an abandoned Weimaraner at dog daycare centre Sunny Heights changed his mind. "For some reason, we got along immediately. I knew I wanted her in my life."
For months after that, Boey set about preparing his home for Leia, the name he gave to the Weimaraner because he loves Star Wars. A room in his three-storey semi-detached home that's connected to the garden was cleared out for Leia to live.
Meanwhile, Boey set about ensuring he had the support system he needed before adopting her: "I travel a lot for work, so I had to make sure my mother, my sister, my niece and their dog all got along with Leia, because that's who she'll be with when I'm out of the country."
He waited till all his major engagements such as Singapore Fashion Week was over before taking her in late last October. And he spent the subsequent month mostly by her side so she would get used to her new home.
Leia was not toilet-trained; she was one of the dogs rescued from a Pasir Ris pet farm that had to be closed in 2017 after the owner Edwin Tan Guowei was slapped with a fine of S$180,000 for failing to care for more than 100 dogs. Boey is unsure of her exact age because she came with no papers, but reckons she's about two or three from her dental conditions.
"And she had a very bad limp," he says. "You could see she was in pain... So I brought her to a vet who diagnosed it as a torn ligament. The consultation and surgery cost a lot of money - but she's recovered now and is running around perfectly."
Since she came into his life, he's become a different man: "I'm much calmer and more organised now. My time used to be my own. But when you're caring for another life, you make sure your schedule is clockwork so you can spend quality time with her."
That quality time includes taking pictures for her own Instagram account called @look_its_leia - a pun on Star Wars characters Luke and Leia - which garnered more than 1,000 followers in two months. In some pictures, he accessorises her in bandanas and scarves he either makes or buys on his trips.
And though he says he has a loving relationship with her, it hasn't stopped detractors from claiming he adopted her and created the Instagram for his own publicity. "There'll always be people who hate you no matter what you do," he says.
When asked how he would describe the colour of her fur, Boey answers in true fashionista form: "Indoors, she's reddish-brown. But outdoors, she's ghost-silver - which is silver with an airy shimmer to it."
TOBY, RUSS, TERRY PEH & TAN WENXIN
When Terry Peh and Tan Wenxin started raising two Miniature Schnauzers, they realised there was little regulation in the commercial pet food market. "You can't be sure that what you're feeding your pets is quality food, despite the claims the packaging may make," says Mr Peh. "When you scrutinise the ingredients' list, you find a lot of these claims to be inflated, and that some of these ingredients are actually bad for your dogs."
Last year, Mr Peh quit his high-flying job as a regional digital marketing head of a tech firm to start Good Dog People, an online store that sells everything from quality dog food and health products, to dog toys, beds and blankets.
Of the couple's two Schnauzers, Toby was purchased from a pet store while Russ was adopted. Ironically, it was the former that proved so challenging for the couple, they chose to go the adoption route the second time round.
Mr Peh recalls: "We'd just gotten married 10 years ago when we decided to get a dog. We'd purchase Toby from a pet store but when we brought him back, we found patches of ring worms all over him. We called the pet store and the owner offered a one-to-one exchange. But that's when we realised the pet store owner essentially didn't care and wasn't going to help Toby get better. So we kept Toby to nurse him back to health.
"The next year was crazy for all three of us. We had to shave him down, he was bare for about eight months while he was being treated, and eventually even I started getting ringworms on my body… But we loved him and never gave up on him."
When Toby was finally well, the couple decided to get their second dog. This time they chose to adopt after they became aware of how often dogs are abandoned by their owners. The couple read a craigslist ad by a family who wanted to give up their Schnauzer, so they stepped up to the plate.
Mr Peh relates: "Russ too had a lot of what you might call 'baggage'. He had severe anxiety issues, he barked excessively, he was not toilet-trained and he chewed on furniture. Our home was in a constant mess and our neighbours were complaining about the noise. Once again, we were not prepared for the task and it took a lot of time, effort and investment to help Russ slowly adjust to his new home."
What Mr Peh realises from his decade-long experience is that many dog owners out there needed help. He sought a partnership between Good Dog People and moving vet service VetMobile to give free health advice to dog owners who post their queries on the Good Dog People website. Questions range from raw food diets to pet owners with allergies.
Mr Peh says: "I talk to my customers all the time. Each time I learn something new about what they're going through. And I try to think of ways our company can make their experience better… It's a collective effort to make Singapore a great place for dogs and their owners."
Visit Good Dog People at gooddogpeople.com
HARU, SORA, KAYTEE & GILDA SU
Fashion designer Gilda Su has three adopted mongrels: Haru, Sora and Kaytee. According to her, most Singaporeans choose purebreds and shun mongrels and dark-coloured dogs. "But I love all dogs, and I refuse to discriminate," says the woman behind the funky label Revasseur, sold at the multi-label Orchard Gateway boutique Superspace.
Haru and Sora (which means "Spring" and "Sky" in Japanese) are siblings adopted from an animal shelter eight years ago. "We actually wanted one dog, but we didn't have the heart to separate them, so we adopted both."
Meanwhile, Kaytee is a three-legged stray Su's sister Bibiana found in 2013 near a Kaytee Construction site - hence her name. The sisters believe Kaytee the dog had been abused by factory workers working nearby. According to animal shelter reports, stray dogs here are sometimes caught, killed and eaten by construction workers.
"That's why we choose to adopt street dogs. Because they deserve to be loved like any other dog. And because we strongly oppose puppy mills."
Raising the three hasn't been easy. Street dogs often come with a host of medical and psychological conditions. The sisters quickly learnt that much of the pet food sold in supermarkets wasn't helping their dogs' medical problems, mostly involving their skin.
After some online research, the sisters decided to make their own dog food using pure meats and human-grade ingredients, all free of grain, corn, wheat, soy, added salt, nuts, and artificial preservatives and colourings. Their dogs' conditions improved and friends started asking the sisters to prepare the same meals for their dogs.
Spurred by demand, the sisters and Bibiana's boyfriend Nicholas Lim founded Wholesome Paws, a pet kitchen and bakery selling artisanal food such as the Meatzza (a pizza built on a base of mince pork meat as the crust) and the Rawsome Pawsome Green Slush (a cold-pressed mixture of bone broth, green kale, goji berries, turmeric and other superfoods).
"We believe that what our dogs eat should be as good as what we eat," says Su.
That belief has taken them far. Wholesome Paws started off as an online shop with pop-up stands in flea markets and fairs. Last October, the business expanded to a bricks-and-mortar business offering not just food but also grooming services.
Wholesome Paws is located at 12 Jalan Selaseh. Visit wholesomepaws.bigcartel.com/
DOG TAGS FOR CHARITY
Want to help dog welfare organisation Action For Singapore Dogs (ASD) this New Year? Local design collective Keepers is teaming up with fashion doyen Daniel Boey to launch a series of dog tags specially designed by Singapore celebs to raise money for ASD. The celebs include singer Nathan Hartono, Provisions chef Justin Foo, radio deejay Yasminne Cheng, as well as Boey and Carrie K. founder Carolyn Kan.
Kan, who conceived Keepers, says: "A lot of dog shelters rely on donations and volunteers, and they need all the help they can get. Besides that, Daniel and I also want to raise awareness for responsible dog parenting, especially during this Year of the Dog."
The handcrafted dog tags are made of sterling silver and can be personalised to include the dog's name and owner's name and contact number. They will be sold throughout the Year of the Dog at Keepers store at National Design Centre as well as its online store at keepers.studio.