The main objective of this site is to help make your 17 waking hours the best possible in your capacity. Volunteerism is probably something we want to do within our waking hours, but often do not find the time nor have the opportunity to give back. In this article, I want to show you the challenges and sacrifices a dog feeder and rescuer has to go through, just like any other paying job.
There are many types of dog rescues including rescuing dogs from abuse. I hope that through this article, it creates more awareness on feeders and inspires even more volunteers to join the cause.
*Grace is the pseudonym of the dog feeder and rescue.
Why do volunteers feed and rescue dogs?
A lot of Singaporeans are not willing to be feeders as it’s really tough. Only about 10% of all volunteers for dogs are feeders; the rest volunteer by offering foster homes, walk dogs, or within kennel operations and on-site dog rescue.
We are brought up to think that we need to stay away from stray dogs because either they are illness ridden, are aggressive, or that feeding them is aiding them to multiply. However, stray dogs exist firstly because we have over taken their natural habitat, or they have been abandoned by their human owners.
In situations where strays live within construction sites, they are left to fend for themselves when the construction project finishes, or in direr situations, are abused or eaten by some construction workers.
This is obviously not widely known, but rescuers have seen carcasses of puppies on skewers and skeletons in the drains. In fact, what is known is that they don’t even bother to kill the puppies first- they simply cut open the belly while the dog is still alive.
It is sickening to know this, but it keeps volunteers going to make sure they can do their best to rescue as many dogs are possible.
Grace the feeder and rescuer
At 6:30am, Grace is already on her way to an industrial site.
As she reaches, the stray dogs that have been fed by her recognise her car and comes out to greet her. She realizes that a few dogs are missing and whistles for them. Although weak, they trot out for the food.
Making sure that she is complying with littering laws, she cleans up the area and leaves for work, on time for the 9am start.
She knocks off at 5:30pm and heads to another industrial area and repeats the feeding process.
If you and I need to eat every day, these stray dogs do too. When feeders are not consistent with the feeding process, strays may start to wander further out where human traffic is heavier and ask for food. This is why the role of a feeder is so important in the survival of these strays.
People normally “give up” on these dogs as most do not want anything to do with them, and think strays can definitely survive on their own. As a feeder, you are helping dogs who have been abandoned by our community—especially when we are taking away their natural habitat.
Strays live on undeveloped land as part of their natural habitat, but when a new development is commissioned, the dogs are “evicted” from where they live.
During the length of the construction, some sites may house the dogs as they can serve as watch dogs too. However, the moment the project is done, everyone packs up and go, leaving the dogs to fend for themselves.
As an individual feeder, Grace spends about half of her monthly salary to buy food and pay for vet feeds. Other feeders rely on a support group to get more resources but for Grace, she also supports a monthly kennel for rescued dogs without a home or a stable area to live in.
With about 55-70 dogs under her care, it costs Grace about $6-7k in monthly kennel rental, vet fees. Costs for daily feeding is not counted in this sum.
Grace doesn't mind the monetary and sacrifices on her social life as her biggest satisfaction comes from seeing the strays fed, seeing them happy and safe, and also re-homing puppies and abandoned dogs to loving homes.
When feeding, she has experienced police officers and other government officials intimidating her to stop feeding strays—she understands this is likely why there aren't more people willing to feed, but she wants to make it clear there is no law against feeding strays at all.
The only law that feeders potentially break is littering if they do not clear their rubbish after feeding.
If the female dogs in Grace's location is not sterilised, there may be puppies to rescue. Puppies are easier to re-home as their characters are not fully formed yet. Puppies can be rescued at about 4-6 weeks after they have weaned off the milk from their mother.
Grace recounts earlier days when she first started rescuing puppies, in an instance where she failed to protect them. She found 10 puppies in a construction site and fed them for a week while looking for adopters. After the weekend, all of them disappeared—most likely eaten.
She has since make sure that receive puppies need extra care and quick rescue.
Even without formal training, Grace knows that the number one rule of thumb is:
Do not touch the stray dog.
In fact, most strays don’t trust humans enough to let you touch them, but they can recognise you if you gain their trust.
When approaching strays, Grace always squat down to reduce any perceived threat. It's important to avoid bending your body forward as it can look intimidating. Whenever possible, Grace squats and approaches from the side which helps strays stay for the food. Interestingly, contrary to popular belief of strays being aggressive, Grace has not met any in her years of volunteering.
If you happen to meet strays who aren't afraid of humans, most likely they are “pre-owned”. It means they were abandoned by their humans owners. Have you seen any stray Labradors? Hardly—that’s because abandoned pets’ survival rate is likely less than 1%.
Working individually or in groups
Dog rescuers and feeders are actually much more divided as compared to cat rescuers so efforts are not as consolidated. A divided team definitely fails easier than a united one.
Grace cannot pinpoint a real reason why this is the case but this greatly reduces the ability to gather more resources in order to create a greater impact.
As a feeder, you could start doing so on your own but if you aren't familiar with what to do, there are groups of volunteers who communicate to create an efficient system of feeding.
For example, Grace works with a group of about 14 volunteers who communicate through a group chat. Most volunteers feed strays in shifts throughout the week. In the event any one needs to travel, another will cover their shift as consistency is key. Most volunteers tend to remain committed after some time when they have formed a bond with the strays.
Resources are limited
Grace started feeding because she saw a stray one day while out on the road. She had a packet of rice with her and decided to feed it as it looked hungry. Since then, every dog she feeds brings another 2 dogs and before she knew it, she needed help from organisations in this field.
Of all the associations and vets that Grace has emailed for help, be it for resources or advice, only 1 vet responded. The vet who responded charges her a lower fee to sterilise the female dogs so that the numbers of strays can be managed.
This partnership has lasted for at least 5 years, and no other vets have stepped forward to volunteer their skills.
Though no other vet have come forward to offer below market rates for sterilisation, most offer 10% discount for strays.
Shelters in Singapore are also very stretched. There hasn't been a real push for the government to step in and solve the issue as there are other priorities. Most shelters are so full that they have a robust security system in front of their gates because many owners simply dump their pet in front of the shelters.
Is there a way to create a sustainable solution?
At the moment, statistics show that there are at least 8000 strays on the streets of Singapore and the only way to manage this number is to sterilise. Every female dog that can be impregnated can give birth every 6 months. In a pack of litter, even if 4 puppies survive, imagine how many more puppies there can be if all 4 were female. You can imagine how the numbers can grow exponentially.
Rescuers try to capture female dogs to sterilise them as part of their rescue efforts but some strays are so quick and smart, they can’t be caught no matter what methods you use.
In the short term, it would definitely help if all strays are not only fed, but sterilised, re-homed and adopted whenever possible.
Another way to help give these little lives a second chance is to adopt. Due to the effort and time spent, some rescuers may ask adopters to contribute a conservative amount of $150 to help with the kennel, food and vet costs. Many times, adopters contribute more out of goodwill to assist with the rescue efforts.
All of us have something to work for, be it towards a house for stability or a career for better prospects, but truly giving back your time and effort can enrich your life in ways you cannot imagine.
In Grace's story, she believes that a higher power placed the stray dog in her path for a reason. Perhaps that dog may die tomorrow, but in the moment when the dog is placed in front of her, she is accountable for what she chooses to do within her ability to help. She understands that she can never save all but at least she tries to help within her capacity.
That’s been her approach and I have to commend her for her dedication to the cause.
Having said that, a word of caution is to volunteer for the right reasons. Many have lost track of their purpose and may be blinded into anything that brings them recognition. Sometimes the simplest act like feeding can be so fundamental, yet not done.