tpvets_logo.jpg (2726 bytes)TOA PAYOH VETS  
Blk 1002, Toa Payoh Lor 8, 01-1477, Singapore 319074Tel: +65 6254-3326, 9668-6468.
Focus: Small animals - dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, pet rats and mice, birds and turtles      
September 03, 2018

An Animal Activist saved the Yishun Swamp dogs from death by lethal injections. Chapters 1 - 2
Chapter 1. Did the Animal Activist Fail in Her Mission? 
Chapter 2. A Volunteer with Passion Is worth 40 Merely Interested. This webpage has Chapters 1 & 2.

Chapter 3 - 5
Chapter 3
. The Looters Attacked the Pack Leader.
Chapter 4. If Only We Can Turn Back the Clock for the Pack Leader.
Chapter 5. NANAS. Swamp Dogs Saved From Lethal Injections.

Chapter 6. Emily visits Bobby in Jun 2008

"Why did you throw stones at the monitor lizard ?" I asked Esther Seah, as Lynda Goh bumped her Sports Utility Vehicle forward along the pot-holed and undulating jungle track, off Yishun Avenue 6 in the Northern part of Singapore.

"Would the monitor lizard survive now that contractors and the military come into the swamp land?" I asked a snow-white haired man in his fifties. He was a son-in-law of the patriarch of the Tenant 1 group.

For the last 2 years, he had been unemployed as his job at the chip-making factory disappeared. Singapore's high-cost manufacturing industry had hollowed out in recent years as China becomes the world's cheapest factory producing various products. It was incredibly difficult for men over fifties to get a decent job in Singapore.     

"The estimated 20 monitor lizards would survive. It is not that easy for the construction workers and army boys to catch and eat them," the snow-white haired man assured me. I thought it would be easy as trappers could some meat inside a big cage which is a gigantic mouse-trap.  

"Will there be monitor lizards in NANAS?" I text-message Lynda some days later as I wondered how the free roaming rehomed puppies in communal living survive in NANAS.  

NANAS website, showed a forested enclave. Will there be rivers nearby? The Malayan Water Monitor Lizard which Esther had encountered is commonly found near water and in forests. 

"No, only beautiful birds." Lynda disappointed me with her reply. I live in one of those concrete jungles of Singapore and rarely encounter a sparrow, let alone wildlife. Now, if Lynda had said there are monitor lizards in NANAS, I would head for NANAS in a wink of an eye.      

Lynda had much paper work to do to relocate the dogs. She had her own office work. But 10 days passed quickly. I phoned her. The dogs and puppies were still in the Yishun Swamp Land. Did the animal activist fail in her mission?  There would be a very high price to pay. Death by lethal injections for the dogs.  

Singapore Yishun swamp land - monitor lizard - Dog - Toa Payoh Vets


The monitor lizard puffed out his neck to make himself look bigger and intimating. His tail never drops off when he is in danger, unlike house lizards. He uses his tail to whip away the swamp dogs.  Photo: Esther's mobile phone.

We ignored at least two bright red military warning signs with illustrations of soldiers carrying guns shooting trespassers, tall lallang grasses, fallen tree branches, thick vines, ferns, shrubs and roots of mangrove trees lining the sedate greyish-green Khatib Bongsu River on our left. On our right was the secondary forests.









Mangrove trees lined the green-algae Khatib Bongsu River

A hidden Eden in the city-state of Singapore --- no high rises, no crowds, fresh air of with the fragrance of wild flowers, blue skies with white cotton-like clouds seen in landscape paintings.






Khatib Bongsu River and swamp land, Singapore, Toa Payoh Vets








A fish and crab trap set up by the 68-year-old man who lived by the Khatib Bongsu River.

Lynda Goh, an animal activist had packed 5 volunteers into her SUV on a mission to get 21 swamp dogs caught, vaccinated and micro-chipped and relocated to  NANAS (Noah's Ark and Animal Sanctuary) in Johor in 10 days' time.





A skier on the Khatib Bongsu River is seen from the fishing pond.



Should she fail in her mission, all dogs would be put to sleep by lethal injections by a veterinarian.  If she succeeded, they would live out their lives in NANAS, a no-kill animal shelter in the Southern part of Malaysia.  










Ms Lynda Goh, an animal activist for NANAS has just parked her SUV. Cell phone queries on animal welfare needed to be answered

The military had taken over the premises. The two tenants (a family and a 68-year-old man) must vacate the premises in 10 days' time as their lease to operate a fishing pond would expire. The fishing pond is a place where customers would rent the wooden chairs, throw in the fishing line with bait and hope to catch big fishes in safety. Without the risks of being captured by pirates if they fish at sea. Sometimes they smoked as they de-stress themselves.     









Tenant 1 in front row with Lynda (left) and Esther (right).  Back row: Esther's 2 children with the vet. Fish pond is in the background.   









Tenant 2 is a 68-year-old man with Lynda (left), Esther's 2 children and Esther. The Khatib Bongsu River is in the background. 

Lynda was not familiar with the exact location and relied on Esther's directions to get us to the swamp land. Google Earth's 2006 satellite pictures showed me several big rectangular ponds carved out of the mangrove swamp land and wetland larger than 100,000 football fields. These pictures looked similar to those I saw in a  recent National Geographic report about mangrove trees in South America being destroyed by business constructing shrimp farms. 

Lynda's volunteers were a photographer, an animal activist Esther Seah with her two children and a veterinarian (myself). We met for the first time in the SUV.

On the way, Esther told us that the swamp land had gigantic monitor lizards. On one occasion she and her children were stoning one. It is out of a character of an animal activist to harm animals, especially wildlife. That was why I asked why she was stoning the gigantic monitor lizard in the swamp land.

"We threw stones at the monitor lizard away because he ate puppies," Esther elaborated. "When a puppy fell into the fish pond, the monitor lizard dived in and swallowed him. I know of two big monitor lizards living in burrows dug below the banks of the river."

Swamp land puppies were born free. Once they could walk, they could wander onto  the planks at the fringe of the fish pond. Some would fall into the pond and drown. Predators like pythons, estuarine crocodiles, eagles and monitor lizards prey on them. 

"It is survival of the fittest," I heard Lynda softly stating the laws of the jungle as she made sure that her SUV would not overturn as it hit a large pot hole.
Esther continued: "
We were helping the swamp dogs to chase the monitor lizard away from the puppies by throwing pebbles at him. The monitor lizard hissed and puffed his throat to a large size. He tried to claw the dogs with his sharp claws. The dogs continued to assault from the flank. His slender muscular tail lashed out at some dogs. Suddenly he sprinted towards me and the children."

What a smart creature, I thought. Offence is the best form of defence.

"Why did he not just jump into the river?" I asked. Monitor lizards can swim and are said to be able to stay submerged in the water for 30 minutes.   

"A fence was behind him. The swamp dogs were flanking him. My children and I were in front of him. He suddenly charged at us."

I would not believe her story. How could a monitor lizard frighten an adult woman of respectable size and one who would  be at least 3 times bigger than him? I could not expect him to be a Godzilla or a Komodo Dragon.    

"The four-legged snake (monitor lizard in the Hokkien dialect) was as big as me," Esther said.

"If you include his tail, he is about my size." Esther read my incredulous eyes and arched eyebrows. "I had a picture in my mobile phone to show you." 

"What happened when the lizard charged towards you and your two children?" I asked.

"We scattered in all directions as fast as our legs could carry us. The monitor lizard  leaped into the river behind us." What a smart creature! Withdraw when outnumbered. Live to fight another day.

The volunteer photographer, a young adult in his 2nd year of junior college was quiet. Could he be worried. Ferocious swamp dogs and big reptiles are seldom encountered by him as he lived in a developed area of high rise apartments. This sounded like a risky mission. Would all of us survive? 

Fortunately, the swamp dogs were mostly easy to handle as the tenants were around. Fit, trim, good conditioned  orange coat and well muscled limbs conditioned by lots of exercise and swimming in the river  Most of them had snow-white strong canine teeth indicating that they were around 2 years old. 









Esther focused on leashing the swamp dog while Tenant 1's matriarch offered some pork pieces while the volunteer photographer clicked away.  

"It is safer to put dogs on a table," I advised as Lynda and Esther caught the first dog and held one on the ground for me. The dogs were apprehensive as I saw their eye whites and alert eyes. We were at the premises of Tenant 1. The young-looking lady who was the matriarch provided Esther and her daughter with bread and pork to get close to the dogs.

I could see that Esther's pre-teen daughter was a proactive animal activist. She gave bread to some dogs so that they could be leashed by her mum. The mother had transmitted her love of and kindness to dogs in need of help to this primary school girl.

However, Esther's pre-teen son rested on the bench of the fish pond to appreciate the countryside. Let his mother lasso the dogs. Lynda found a squeaky wobbly greenish white circular stone table to place the dogs so that I could do a good job.










Esther's daughter is getting some bread for the dogs.

"It is safer to muzzle them," I advised Lynda as she grabbed the big dogs for me like a World Wrestling Federation wrestler. She had the weight advantage in canine wrestling, I thought. But the dogs had sharp fangs.  

But we were handling a pack of swamp dogs used to freedom and swimming in the river and little contact with strangers.

All dogs had wrinkled faces, eyeballs showing more eye white than usual as if they were nervous. Stiff hairs stuck out of their back area and tails down when they were put on the table.  One of these apprehensive dogs could sink the strong canine teeth into Lynda's face or hands while she restrained them.    

"You never know when a dog is going to bite you while I inject." I noted that the young photographer simply came close to the dogs to take pictures for NANAS without fear. These were not the ordinary household pets! 

Once a dog in a pack bites people, he transmits a 'smell and sound of fear'. The rest of the pack would sense the dangers and become uncontrollable. We would not accomplish the mission.

"Tell me how you do it?" Lynda asked after I had knotted the dogs' muzzle tightly with one end of the leash. She forgot to bring the commercial dog muzzle.

"Make a loop with one end of the leash as if you are tying up a present," I said. "Slip this loop over the muzzle and tighten the knot. In this way, the dog becomes submissive and cannot bite."

There were no mass hysteria.
Lynda got raffia strings from the owner to tie round the neck of the dogs that had been tagged. A nursing dam and a young wary male dog were difficult to catch.  

"I will bring the dam to your clinic another time," Lynda said. "We still had the 8 dogs of Tenant 2 to catch."









Spaying female stray dogs will reduce the number of unwanted puppies.

"I have cancelled all my morning appointments," I said. "Persevere to catch the 2 dogs".  In my heart, I knew that the dogs and puppies that missed the vaccination today would pay the ultimate price - death by lethal injections.   

Singapore is reported to have at least 10,000 - 20,000 unwanted pedigreed and cross-bred dogs a year euthanized. Therefore, the cross-bred swamp dogs have very little chance of being adopted.   

Voluntary organisations are always short of money, time and resources. These are the realities of life. It was now or never for these swamp dogs. 










The 68-year-old man loved all his 9 dogs. Only 7 dogs were vaccinated and micro-chipped.

I was glad the Lynda roped in the nursing dam for me to vaccinate and microchip.

"We have to abandon the suspicious male," Lynda told me. "The dog everted his lips and growled while he was cornered inside the house. We have to go to Tenant 2 to vaccinate his 8 dogs."

The wary male could not be enticed with food treats. He ran into the house as the volunteers came after him. He ran out. He would stand around 1 meter away from the food temptresses  He was incorruptible. I should not anthropomorphise by attributing corruption which is a human value of ethics to an animal such as a dog.










Lynda is trying to get the wary male dog (foreground) to go near to Esther and be leashed. But he was street smart. 

Lynda and Esther led us to Tenant 2 nearby. The 68-year-old man simply caught and carried 7 out of his 8 dogs.

"The 8th dog is too shy when strangers are around," the old man with a thick crop of  silvery hair said. His well defined biceps, flat abdominal muscles and lean weight made me feel that I needed to exercise to remove my excess weight.  He was the poster 'boy' for the Health Promotion Board (HPB) of Singapore trying to educate Singaporeans to eat less fat, exercise and not get high blood pressure and diabetes. If only Singapore has a fitness club catering to oldies, he would earn a good living.    
Esther continued writing down the description of the dogs on the piece of paper salvaged from the microchip package while Lynda helped put the dog on a make-shift table.   

"Do you want to go to NANAS to visit your dogs?" I asked the 68-year-old man tenant who had lived alone close to nature for several decades. He never spoke much. He looked so sad. "There are buses in Jurong and a taxi service in Johor to get to NANAS."

He was silent. I repeated my question in the Hokkien dialect.

"Maybe some time later," he waved his left hand as if wiping a tear off his left eye and would not want to talk further about his losses of canine companionship.

"Do you have a place to live?" I asked him. He lifted the heavy water container with one hand while I could not lift it up 2 cm from the ground!  He said in a whisper that he would live with his daughter in an apartment.      

Tenant 1 was a closely knitted family with a much older  man. The patriarch had reclaimed the land we stood on to start shrimp farming around 50 years ago. He told me he would live with his children.    

By 12.30 p.m, 21 swamp dogs had been vaccinated. I hope all would live their natural lives in NANAS.

"The dogs will adapt well to the communal living in NANAS," Lynda assured me   "Unlike dogs that live in apartments alone."

Saving 21 dogs and 1 cat from euthanasia. Toa Payoh Vets









Chapter 2. A Volunteer With Passion Is Worth More Than 40 Merely Interested
Friday July 6, 2007. Yishun Swamp Land.

"The military had kindly given more time," Lynda said when I asked why the pack of swamp dogs had not been relocated to NANAS (Noah's Ark Natural Animal Sanctuary) by June 24, 2007. This was the deadline to vacate the premises including the fishing pond. "However, a batch of dogs is in NANAS," Lynda confirmed.

NANAS may be the last no-kill animal shelter for some dogs needing rehoming. Lynda Goh. Animal volunteer. Toa Payoh Vets









Today was surprisingly the same blue-sky bright sunshine and white-cottony clouded morning almost identical to the weather on June 24, when I came to vaccinate and microchip the swamp dogs.

At 11 a.m, Lynda drove the volunteers (Esther, myself, 2 second-year Melbourne University vet students and Mr Nick Lee, the dog photographer) from the Khatib subway to the Yishun Swamp Land to gather 16 dogs and 4 puppies to be transported to Pasir Ris boarding kennel, a 20-minute drive away.

Rick would transport the dogs to the Pasir Ris boarding kennels today. Another day, the NANAS driver would bring the dogs to NANAS.

Today's Khatib Bongsu River was dry. It was low tide and I could see the protruding roots of the mangrove trees in the sticky chocolate mud to our left.

A small group of around 6 men and women suddenly appeared 10 metres to our right as we turned the corner of the pot-holed track. "Look out," I pointed to the group.
"Are they bandits?" I asked Lynda.

One man appeared to be chopping an object on the granite slab and the others were eyeing us.

We were in danger? None of us had martial arts training to defend ourselves and definitely no weapons with us? Lynda should make a fast U-turn and speed back in such situations. But she slowed down instead as her SUV dipped into a pot hole.

A man waved his parang (machete) at us. He was a stout person. He looked intimidating. The jungle track curved her SUV closer to the group unavoidably.

"They are eating the durians, probably from the fallen durian trees," I sighed. The two young lady volunteer vet students' heart beats slowed back to normal.

We reached the fishing pond. The vacated house of Tenant 1 (the extended family with the patriarch) and the surrounding structures were run down. Some foreign workers had entered to remove metallic stuff for sale to scrape yards. Metal prices had shot up in the commodity market. There were reports of manholes and copper wires being stolen in Singapore.

Catching the dogs would be easy, I thought. Not like the previous expedition when we needed to entice them with food so that I could vaccinate them. There were the troublesome nursing dam Lynda finally caught and a wary suspicious male dog baring his teeth. Lynda decided to leave him to his fate in Singapore.

Today we seem to have more guns, I mean the manpower. Rick's big Mercedes van to transport the dogs. Esther, Lynda and the family members of the patriarch were in full force. The ladies would catch the dogs without any need for food bribery and put them in Rick's plastic dog carrier cages.

2 puppies inside one crate were fighting. One puppy yelled loudly as he was bitten painfully. This play-biting is normal developmental behaviour in the dog as the biter gets feedback of painful screams.

"These 2 puppies cannot be crated together," the matriarch's daughter advised.
A kind 2nd-year vet student separated the 2 puppies and put each in a different cage.

As many as 3 adult dogs were put inside the large big plastic dog carrier crate. However, there were many canine escapes.

As Lynda opened one door to put in the 3rd dog, the 2 inside dashed out at top speed. So, all ladies had to catch them again.

It seemed to be a back-breaking job for the ladies as Lynda and Esther lifted up the swamp dogs by the armpit, put them backside first into the upright plastic dog carrier crates. Soon, the crates were full. What to do now?

"Tie one dog inside the van," Lynda took out a brand new blue dog collar and leash from her fluorescent green plastic bag. This time she remembered to bring leashes unlike the previous expedition when she had to get one from the Tenant.

Esther held up the adult dog by the armpits as high above the ground as she could. With all her strength. Lynda looped the dog collar onto and round his neck as if she was lassoing wild horses at a rodeo. Expertly.

From my camera view finder, I knew she was doing it the wrong way. I shouted not too loudly: "The collar is too loose. The dog's neck is too small. He will run away when you put him down on the ground!"

I spoke from bitter experience as I had dogs escaping from the Surgery because my assistants put on loose collars when exercising the patients. Sometimes, they were confident as the collar had been fitting and was used by the dog owner for some time.









The dog then shakes his head and escapes out of my Surgery. It is extremely difficult to catch him and it makes the owner unhappy. A choke chain for restraining dogs would be the preferred collar rather than the nylon one Lynda was using.

Now Lynda had handled more dogs than anyone of us, I presume. She collared this dog. Esther put the dog down to let him walk to the van on a leash. The dog shook his head, the collar rolled out.

He bounced up, not giving one look of respect to the two-legged homo sapiens. He hunched his shoulders, head lowered and sprinted back to the house. A flurry of female legs were no match in speed to this four-legged canine. Now, the ladies were playing "police and thief" while the dog initiated the game of "hide and seek".

He sank low and dog-crawled under a wooden platform near the entrance of the house. Into a 6-inch gap and safety. I don't know whether to laugh out loud as I might offend the volunteers and they might go on strike. Then I would have to do the job. I wished I was a animal documentary movie expert as this episode was more comical than words could describe. Maybe this movie would raise funds for NANAS' animal upkeep.

Discretion is the better part of valour.

"Come out..." a second year vet student bent down and beckoned to him. With hands on her hips and then off, Lynda did not say anything.

All the dogs sensed something was wrong today. They rolled up their eyes and the short hairs on their spine were erect. Tails were down. But they were with the family they knew and loved. So they did not panic.









The matriarch persuaded the dog to come out. There was so much commotion, confusion and noise but the dog was captured.

It would be a dull boring dog-catching morning, I had thought.

But I had a rare chance to get out of my concrete jungle and visit Singapore's hidden Eden for the last time before the military acquisition. To smell the roses. To refresh my brain and get out from the daily routine.

This piece of paradise would be barred to members of the public once the military staked its claim. Maybe I could spot a monitor lizard today?
I did not expect a dog-catching day to be so eventful and funny. But we were all volunteers and could not work with military precision and planning.

As the dogs from Tenant 1 were crated, Lynda went with the volunteers further up the track to another area to catch the 2 dogs from Tenant 2, the 68-year-old man.

I stayed behind to talk to Tenant 1's patriarch. How come he was still living here using generator to get electricity and bathing in rain water? Getting bitten by mosquitoes and risking dengue viral fever which is now endemic in Singapore.

When most Singaporeans have been housed in apartments with water and electricity easily available at the touch of a switch, this patriarch and his younger wife lived in a rural area.

According to the patriarch's son-in-law who was in his fifties, it was around 50 years ago, that the patriarch reclaimed the swamp land. He was the original land reclaimer, way before the Singapore Government reclaimed sea land off Beach Road.

Bit by bit he dumped soil. He filled up the swamp to start shrimp farming. As the years go by, the weather becomes hotter, perhaps due to global warming. The quality of water from the Khatib Bongsu River became poorer due to industries being set up nearby. Shrimps started dying and the whole batch would perish.

He had converted to the fish farming and then he started a fishing pond. The government offered him short land leases. Tenant 2, the 68-year-old man had worked with him all these years and had stayed alone further up the track.

I was surprised that there were still old farmers around in Singapore. Soon Lynda trooped back with the volunteers and the photographer without dogs.

"The 68-year-old man needed to spend one more night with his 2 dogs," Lynda was sympathetic as the old man would have to live in the concrete jungle of Singapore's apartments soon. "The dogs would be transported tomorrow."










Today, 14 dogs and 4 pups were rounded up. As I did not bring my vaccine this time, I had to find time in the evening to drive to Pasir Ris to vaccinate a male dog and 4 puppies that Lynda could not find families to adopt.

"That's the suspicious and nervous male dog you did not vaccinate," Lynda told me. Lynda did not abandon him to stray or be put to sleep once the other dogs had been rehomed. 

14 dogs and 4 puppies and 2 more dogs tomorrow would live their natural lives, hopefully to old age, in NANAS. Initially only 21 adult swamp dogs were selected. I don't know what would be the fate of those remaining in the Yishun swamp land.

"Why don't you just transport the dogs directly from Yishun swamp land to NANAS?" I asked Lynda earlier as I thought it was a matter of vaccination, micro-chipping and putting them straight into a big truck to to directly to NANAS which is in another country. "Like an army truck transporting soldiers?"

"I need to do lots of paperwork and make other arrangements. Some dogs would run away if the NANAS transport man come directly to the fishing pond." Lynda explained. 24 hours a day were never enough for Lynda as she had her own work to do and other commitments too.

"It is better to put them in the boarding kennels first. In this way, NANAS' transport man can take them at his convenience."










It appeared that all available adult swamp dogs and puppies were accounted for. Except for one. The leader of the pack called Bobby was a casualty. He had been warded in a veterinary surgery, apparently from a chopped tail around one week ago.

Animal volunteers play a big part in making life safer and better for animals that need help. They are usually youths. They are a significant help in animal welfare. Their interests usually do not sustain over time. There is a need to have a pack leader to guide them. This person must have passion to help animals.

Singaporedoes not have a no-kill animal shelter. So these cross-bred swamp dogs would pay the ultimate price - death by lethal injections. Animal shelters in various countries usually need to euthanise the strays after 1-3 days as there is no space for them and new arrivals keep flooding in. 

It was fortunate that the swamp dogs were introduced by Esther to a person willing to devote her limited free time to evacuate them to a no-kill animal sanctuary where they can live out their natural lives, living free.








An animal activist with passion is worth more than 40 people merely interested because he or she delivers what is to be done. 

Chapter 1. Did the Animal Activist Fail in Her Mission? 
Chapter 2. A Volunteer with Passion Is worth 40 Merely Interested.

Chapter 3 - 5
Chapter 3
. The Looters Attacked the Pack Leader.
Chapter 4. If Only We Can Turn Back the Clock for the Pack Leader.
Chapter 5. NANAS. Swamp Dogs Saved From Lethal Injections.

Chapter 6. Emily visits Bobby in Jun 2008

Toa Payoh Vets