tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)TOA PAYOH VETS

Date:   05 August, 2009
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, hamsters & rabbits

Toa Payoh Vets Clinical Research
Making veterinary surgery alive
to a veterinary student studying in Australia
using real case studies and pictures


Dr Sing Kong Yuen, BVMS (Glasgow), MRCVS
First written: Saturday 24 May 2008  6.05 am
Updated:  05 August, 2009

SIX years had passed so quickly when I review one of my first attempts in producing the "Be Kind Today - Adopt a Singaporean stray" digital image to encourage Singaporeans to adopt the homeless street cat instead of buying one.

This picture haunts me with the mist of sadness every time I see the eyes of this tom-cat who had his left ear clipped after neutering and was recovering from the anaesthesia.  

It recalls the efforts of animal activism of a stick-thin, pale-looking bespectacled Toa Payoh girl of around 30 years old as the street cat in the picture was one she picked up from the hawker centres of Toa Payoh and I had neutered it for her.

She would care for any sick stray cat and kitten in Singapore and probably starve herself. Her husband would support her in her animal activism. Both of them spent their own money and lots of time to save the sick homeless cats. 

Singaporean stray cat

Dr Sing's "Adopt A Singaporean Stray" picture in 2003

I did my best but my best was not good enough for her. Soon, she demanded priority for her sick street cats, free services and numerous telephone advices. Cutting queues and getting very angry when she could not get priority. She wanted me to charge the lowest price as she got more homeless cats to be treated. I knew she had no money but neither did I.  I had a practice to build up.

Dr Sing's "Spay A Singaporean Stray" picture in 2009

Some of the stray could not be cured because there was no follow-up and more laboratory tests to be performed but there was just no money to do them. She would get depressed and angry. I had to decline helping her as there was no light at the end of the tunnel. In retrospect and with the last 6 years of hard experiences, I should have had helped her raise funds for her admirable work. But at that time, I was barely surviving in my practice and had another job to do to survive. 

It is hard for animal activists trying to get homeless animals treated free of charge all the time. Vets do need to sustain their business growth and need to provide competitive good  services to pet owners. They are not going to get more pet owners by being more charitable because they can't provide the high level of service expected from a paying customer if they spend much of their time on treating the animal welfare cases going out of the surgery. Thus they do not have much time to devote to the paying clients. The latter just go to the competition who provides excellent customer care service. 

If vets are not able to make sufficient money to pay their staff, increasing overheads due to new government regulations and investments in equipment to upgrade their practice, they become bankrupted sooner or later. Competitors attract their experienced staff with offers of higher salaries and that is the best way in killing off the competition as these staff usually have no integrity about contacting clientele of the previous employer to the new veterinary practice.

Why train a newbie when you can employ competitors' experienced staff?  In fact, many veterinary organisations from the public and private sectors in Singapore have had no qualms about recruiting experienced staff from their competitors or ex-employer to kick-start their new practice.

Why suffer the hassles of training the green horns in the veterinary animal management when you can get experienced veterinary technicians and nurses from competitors who knows what to do on day 1 of employment and gain a competitive advantage?  

Animal activists need to understand the practical challenges and economics of sustaining the growth of private veterinary practices - there is a limit to what free services a veterinarian can offer in the face of the storms of regulatory changes sucking up more capital, under-pricing and challenges from new competition and para-veterinary professionals, amongst other things. "Vets are supposed to love animals and care for the sick ones - so they should provide free services", the animal activist thinks. Yes, to a practical extent, vets do provide free services for some animals and owners in need, but there must be a balance as private veterinary practices in Singapore are not charitable establishments nor do they get public funding should they fail to sustain their business.

There's so much passion and emotion involved in making the world a better place for animals. Animal activists want to promote the welfare of  creatures who can't speak out or defend themselves. But strong emotions can't help the poor homeless animals at all if the animal activists cause conflicts to the  service providers by being demanding and aggressive.    

Who cares for the vets when they can't sustain the growth of their private practice or become homeless due to bankruptcy? The public perceives all veterinarians as being successful and make a lot of money.  Therefore, some expect vets to give back to the society by providing free spays and treatment to all sick and homeless animals.  

Animal activists want things done for the homeless and sick animals, but they are perpetually short of funds to pay for the care of the increasing number of animals needing help. Many don't know how to be proactive to raise funds. They try not to use their personal savings as after all, the animals are "strays".  

It will be in the interest of the homeless animals that passionate animal activists can find a way to communicate, to work closely with the service providers of different personalities as patiently as possible. 

In being able to work with service providers and volunteers in an amicable manner, the animal activist or "animal welfare volunteer" execute their ideals and make a difference. 

In addition to humility and patience, passionate animal activism requires perseverance and a deeper understanding of the points of views of the other parties that may undermine with their idealism. In this way, they may successfully achieve what they set out to do - give a voice to and help the animals in need of help.

There will be stresses in animal welfare work. I have no doubt about it. Stresses cause the greying of hairs and loss of personal savings and health as more animals are abandoned to the animal activists by members of the public. Yet donations and volunteers are in short supply.

Do what you can if you can't be proactive to mobilise volunteers via the internet or networking. Save a stray cat one at a time if that is what you can afford to do so. You don't have to bear the globe of animal cruelty on your shoulders if you don't have the personality, health and finances to do it.   If you can only afford to save one stray cat, then do save that one. It is just not possible to do more. 


Peaceful and picturesque NANAS. Dr Sing's visit. Toa Payoh Vets.
Dr Sing gets to know more about the work of NANAS (Noah's Ark And Natural Animal Sanctuary) in Johor through the high energy animal welfare volunteer, Ms Lynda Goh

If you want to save more animals, organise yourself to do the job without expecting handouts from the service providers. Create a "business plan", do research as there may be "animal protection grants". Network to raise funds. At all times, communicate gently and regularly with the service providers, including  vets. Motivate them. Give them praises but be sincere. Just don't pester for free services, priority services and handouts from every veterinarian in Singapore. 

Reply to their e-mails or phone calls when volunteers "drop" out of volunteering at sales kiosks after some months or years of volunteerism.  These are your foot soldiers. Do not just ignore these volunteers who "drop" out after some months with you at sales kiosks, especially when they take the trouble to let you know. Since you are the one who has got the volunteer's services, be gracious enough to make a phone call and thank them. Send them a card of thanks.

Sometimes, they drop out due to personal reasons and your phone call or card of appreciation for their services will endear you to them and at another time, they may come forth to volunteer again when you ask them. Unfortunately, you may be so busy and hectic in your animal activism work and you think you will have other volunteers. It is much easier to retain an experienced foot soldier who may need to stop for a while than to get a new one. 

Many charitable organisations have successfully raised funds and created awareness of their causes using the internet's free blogs and networking sites. Your website needs to be updated frequently. It will be daily hard work to update an audience and a group of supporters who are interested in your cause. There is no other less expensive way to update and raise funds for the cause you fervently believe in.

Belief, Passion, Drive & Perseverance
are what makes you successful in your animal activism cause. If you have only passion, it will be difficult to succeed. Change the world, but do it one case or one day at a time if you don't have sufficient drive or the perseverance to do it.

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