Singapore’s Mongrels: The Underdogs among Dogs

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Dogs are wonderful creatures. Man's best friends have been, deservedly, showered with endless praise. From the story of Hachiko to the poem about how dog is god spelled backwards, we all know of their peerless loyalty and kinship. All too often, both dog owners and people who interact with dogs, find themselves questioning what did they do to deserve such love from their canine buddies.

When we see someone walk a dog, the urge to go over and pet it, or at the very least, break into a chorus of 'aww', seems almost instinctive.

Now, picture something of a slightly different nature. Imagine a skinny and scruffy stray dog wandering near your residence. How would you react?

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According to this survey of residents in Punggol, an area with a large stray dog population, one out of two will call the authorities in without much hesitation.

The call sets into a vicious cycle of events; a cycle of events that the people at Exclusively Mongrels ('EM') have become all too familiar with. A cycle that they fight tooth and nail to break their canine friends out from every day. This cycle that begins with the call, more often than not, ends with a cull. If the dog that was impounded was a mongrel, the chances of it even being available to bail out, let alone be bailed out, is significantly reduced as opposed to if the dog were a pedigree.

In 2015 alone, the Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority ('AVA') culled more than 900 dogs. Almost all 900 were Mongrels. The statistics for 2016 have yet to be released. The grossly disproportionate number of Mongrels can be attributed, but not limited to, factors like the 'unattractiveness' of Mongrels, the tendency of newly-rescued Mongrels to be averse to humans (possibly due to a history of neglect/abuse) and displacement of the natural habitats of Mongrels through construction.

This discrimination of sorts between 'pariahs' and pedigrees is what earned Mongrels the unceremonious title of being the 'Underdogs among Dogs.' Kevin Neo, one EM's founding members, shared with me that EM was set up in July 2012 with the purpose of tackling this discrimination. He argued that there were a good number of larger and well-established dog welfare groups out there, but as far as the welfare of Mongrels were concerned, a lacuna of sorts existed.

EM is a volunteer organization that is relatively small and young but to simply say that they punch above their own weight would be an understatement.

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EM adopts a two pronged approach in helping Mongrels - 1. Bailing & Rehoming, 2. Sterilization via Trap, Neuter and Release (TNR). As evidenced above, the bulk of EM's efforts go into bailing out dogs impounded by AVA and rehoming them.

This video gives the viewer an idea of what happens between the time a dog is bailed out and the time they reach their foster homes.

All dogs rescued by EM go through a full medical check up. As many mongrels, to put it mildly, come from less than ideal living conditions, they often have to be treated for matted fur, tick infestation and malnutrition. Some Mongrels rescued from factories even suffer from chemical burns. If they are of age, they are also sterilized. EM is fortunate enough to have Veterinarian who offers rescued Mongrels treatment at a discounted rate.

Dogs that EM take in suffer from a great many ailments. Typically, it would cost at least $500 to treat each dog to before they are rehomed.

Dogs that EM take in suffer from a great many ailments. Typically, it would cost at least $500 to treat each dog to before they are rehomed.

After their medical check-ups, unlike most rescued dogs from other welfare groups in Singapore that head to a commercial animal shelter, EM's canine buddies head for their home rehabilitation program.

The 'home rehabilitation' is one of the core pillars of EM's work. It firmly believes that a newly-rescued would thrive when placed in the hands of experienced fosterers in a home environment. The environment supplements the Mongrels in their journey to their forever home by providing regular human interaction and personalized care which would help tackle the abuse and neglect that many of them had been subjected to. 

Most Mongrels go for a photoshoot by EM's volunteer photographer after they are rescured. Here you see Charlie and Chaplin, two newly-rescued puppies, put on their best smiles for their potential adopters.

Most Mongrels go for a photoshoot by EM's volunteer photographer after they are rescued. Here you see Charlie and Chaplin, two newly-rescued puppies, put on their best smiles for their potential adopters.

Contrary to popular belief, EM doesn’t wipe its hands dry after helping a Mongrel find its forever home. It conducts regular house visits at least a year from the time of the rehoming to check on the health of the dog. It also keeps in close contact with the adopters to provide them help whenever they need it. If any signs that the health and safety of the dog is compromised, EM will also take measures to bring the dogs back and hold the errant adopters accountable.

To get by, EM relies on donations. At the end of every month, EM will release an account of the expenses it has incurred for the month along with a call for donations on its Facebook Page. On average, it spends about $8,000 - 10,000 each month.

Dr Gan Theng Wei, a proud father of 4 Mongrels - all of whom were adopted from EM - recently started his own fundraising campaign for EM.

"I stumbled upon a mongrel while running through the jungles or Borneo last September. I fed the dog and it even ran alongside me for a mile or two. Further along the route, I encountered more stray dogs too.

All of the mongrels I encountered appeared to be well-fed and were very approachable. They all displayed minimal aggression, despite being in the middle of a jungle. To me, this was a tell-tale sign that the Orang Asli, who lived in villages in these jungles, took care of the dogs by feeding them. The fact that these Orang Aslis were living in harmony with these strays was very commendable in my eyes.

I couldn't help but compare the Orang Asli’s hospitality to how a Singaporean layperson would react when they see a stray dog.

I decided that I had to do more to advocate for the welfare of Mongrels in Singapore. So, I decided to enlist the help of a couple of my running kakis and launched the 'Run For Exclusively Mongrels' campaign

Run for EM is a fundraiser that aims to raise $30,000 for EM. In turn, the 3 men behind the campaign will be running in the Borneo Ultra Trail Marathon which takes place next weekend. To date, they have raised close to $17,000.

Before and After pictures of Simba - one of the five mongrels that Dr Gan adopted from EM.

Before and After pictures of Simba - one of the five mongrels that Dr Gan adopted from EM.

Dr Gan, just like other volunteers with EM, started off his advocacy for Mongrels merely by adopting. Soon after, he began to volunteer more at Adoption Drives and Bail-Outs.16406680_1409228802473048_6233037173477447724_n

Adoption Drives, like the one that EM is hosting this Saturday at Leban Park, are one of two main ways that the dogs get to meet their potential adopters. The other medium being Facebook. If you are interested to adopt a mongrel or find out more about the work EM do, their adoption drives are the place to be.

One particular phrase that stuck with me in the course of my interactions with the people behind EM was the assertion that "When you adopt a Mongrel, you save not one, but two lives. You save the life of the Mongrel you adopted and in doing so, you free up EM's resources and space so that they will be able to take in another Mongrel."

Do I look familiar? Of course I do! I am the same Dog in the picture at the top of this article. :)

Do I look familiar? Of course I do! I am the same Dog in the picture at the top of this article. 🙂

Personally, having been brought up in a household where you are taught to believe that dogs are "unclean", I was pretty anxious when I first came into contact with Mongrels in Dr Gan's place. I reckon that he probably can testify that I almost ran out of his house when they first started barking at me. Now, I only wish I can have one of my own. I struggle to fathom why some perceive Mongrels to be inferior to Pedigree dogs.

Understandably, not everyone will be able to adopt a Mongrel. But most of us should be able to donate to support the good work EM are doing. You can donate here if you wish to do so. While you're at it, give them a like on their Facebook Page, too, Above all, if you ever happen to chance upon a stray mongrel again, you would know who to, and who not to, call.