By Wong Sook Wei (Photos by Wong Sook Wei & Ryan Ch’ng)
It was Week 10, and 28 students were gathered in the CTPH to take a break from their deadlines and shower some love on USP’s canine visitors as part of an initiative, Canine Chums.
Organised by Love, USP in partnership with SOSD (Save Our Street Dogs), Canine Chums was meant to raise awareness about the plight of street dogs while letting participants interact with some of them.
“Canine Chums helped open my eyes to the gripping reality facing dog shelters and street dogs in Singapore. Volunteers are unpaid, and shelters are funded mainly through donations from the public.”
This semester marked the second time Canine Chums was held in USP, and saw SOSD bring along three dogs – two of which were street dogs – to play with USP students.
According to Engracia Loh (Year 1 Medicine + USP), the project director of Canine Chums, her organising committee tried to publicise Canine Chums as an information session rather than a mere petting session. Hence, they created infographics that covered adoption and animal shelters and put them up around Cinnamon College in hopes that those who didn’t attend the event could learn about the issue too.
While Canine Chums’ 28 participants attended for various reasons, they were all bound by a common love for man’s best friend. Oliver Cheok (Y1 Computer Science + USP) said that he wanted to be around dogs once more, after his dog Shorty passed away earlier this year.
Interacting with the Dogs
Many people have the perception that street dogs, or Singapore Specials, as they are affectionately called by the volunteers at SOSD, are fierce, untameable, and violent because of their mixed breeds.
But as SOSD volunteers Candice Tan, Jia Yi and Christine showed us, Singapore Specials are capable of being trained and becoming trusting – even loving – towards humans.
Take Mellow, for instance. Found with two of her siblings in an army camp, she was too afraid to let anyone within a three-metre radius of her, and would bite anyone who came too close.
But with the patience and care of her owner, Jia Yi, she is now one of the sweetest, most good-natured dogs under SOSD’s care, who enjoys being petted and fed treats by hand.
There was also the story of Rosa. Rosa was adopted at five months and likes dogs more than humans, according to her owner Christine.
But Rosa was curious and energetic while mingling with the participants, wagging her tail and letting out short yelps whenever she was excited.
The participants also interacted with Golden, a canine guest who isn’t a Singapore Special – he’s a purebred Golden Retriever. His former owner was forced to give him up because someone in his HDB block complained that Golden was too big to be kept in the flat.
Even so, Golden stole the show before the start of the event – he almost ran into trouble because of a surprise guest at the entrance of CTPH: one of the Utown cats.
Luckily, no animals were harmed during the encounter!
While the dogs were arguably the highlight of Canine Chums, the SOSD volunteers were also on hand to change our perceptions of Singapore Specials.
“Many people think that because they are mixed breeds, it is difficult to train them,” Candice, Golden’s owner, told the audience. “But it is because they have learned survival skills on the streets that they are smart – many of them can learn tricks that purebreds can [too].”
“People often buy pedigrees,” she continued. “But SOSD is trying to bring [the] awareness that street dogs are not fierce, and that they are just as good, if not better, than pedigrees.”
What the Participants Had to Say
Oliver Cheok found himself enlightened by the experience. “Prior to learning about rehabilitated mongrels … from the volunteers, I had no idea that street dogs could be domesticated and so friendly. If I ever do look to adopt or foster a dog again in the future, I will be sure to look out for these dogs in dire need of love.”
He was also in awe of the resilience of animal welfare groups such as SOSD. “Canine Chums helped open my eyes to the gripping reality facing dog shelters and street dogs in Singapore. Volunteers are unpaid, and shelters are funded mainly through donations from the public.”
“In many cases, however, these donations are not enough and volunteers must dip into their own pockets to keep the shelters running.”
Another participant, who chose to remain anonymous, was inspired by the prospect of volunteering at dog shelters. “I’ve always thought about and considered volunteering myself, but I guess it’s something I never actually went out and did because I kept making excuses or kept getting lazy … but maybe one day I’ll actually get to it.”
If you’re wondering how you can help SOSD, do consider volunteering your time with them. You can volunteer to walk the dogs, or help out in their social media, photography or accounting teams. More details can be found here. Or, if your family is willing, you can always foster or adopt a dog!
This author is currently in Year 2, majoring in History. She loves all things soupy, and her week-long lunch streak of Yong Tau Foo in Week 7 is a testament to that love.