A Shelter for Strays

Folks at 4PAWS do their best to shelter and care for abandoned dogs.

4PAWS team from left: Stacie Ooi, Foong Mei Heng, Choong Koon Yean, Tina Lim, Tan Wei Jen and Barbara Janssen.

4PAWS Main Courtyard.

Amid lush greenery on a two-acre piece of land in Teluk Bahang, the excited barks of hundreds of dogs greeted me on my arrival. Choong Koon Yean, the vice president of the Penang Animal Welfare Society (4PAWS), was getting her registration counter ready. It was a Sunday, and Sundays are busy days at the shelter. It is open to the public then.

The story of 4PAWS, a no-kill not-forprofit animal shelter that houses stray and abandoned dogs, began in 2005 when Barbara Janssen, a German retiree, rescued two puppies from the roadside. She did not stop there, and over the years, the number she gave refuge to grew to over 600.

Choong says that 4PAWS has had to stop taking in dogs after performing a head count; within two years, the total number had tripled: “We have an estimated 600 dogs and that is beyond our capacity to cope. We keep the numbers in check because an overcrowded shelter would compromise the quality of life of the dogs in our care.” Priority is given to badly injured dogs if spaces are created following departures through adoption.

“Society must realise that pet ownership is a commitment. We even have cases of purebred dogs like shih-tzus being abandoned at wet markets. Just because dogs do not speak does not mean they are not part of our family and we can choose to abandon them when it’s no longer convenient for us,” says Choong.

Injured dogs are separated in an enclosure to be treated.

But does providing a shelter for stray dogs perpetuate the problem by making it easier for people to dump their dogs? Could that be the reason why the number of dogs in the shelter has increased tremendously?

Choong does not think so. “The cause of the problem is irresponsible pet owners who made a conscious decision to dump their dogs by the roadside or at wet markets, and pet owners who fail to neuter and spay their pets. The way I see it, the only way to solve the problem is to tackle the root cause. We have to educate the public on pet ownership commitment and on the neutering and spaying of their pets, and introduce stricter laws to protect the animals.”

Adopt us!

Recently, the Animal Welfare Bill 2015 was introduced, which brings a new set of laws and regulations into play against animal cruelty – physical and non-physical – and imposes a fine of up to RM100,000 and/or imprisonment for a maximum of three years if violated1.


But how useful is the Bill?

“It might help against animal abuse and cruelty. In 4PAWS, most of our dogs are abused stray dogs. There are dogs that were hacked on the neck and face, dogs that had lost their eyes, dogs with bad scars from being scalded by hot oil or water… The new bill may help to deter the public from committing such cruelty,” says Choong.

“Last year, an irresponsible pet owner left a box of nine puppies outside our shelter under the hot sun without informing us. Our workers were busy cleaning, cooking, feeding and washing for the shelter and did not notice the box of puppies. All nine died, ‘cooked’ inside the box. Selfish pet owners do not realise that failure to spay and neuter their pets causes the abandonment of unwanted puppies, which might result in animal cruelty and contributes to the stray dog problem. This is where I think the Animal Welfare Bill 2015 can help to keep the stray problem under control too; the punishment definitely encourages pet owners to spay and neuter their pets. However, the Bill will be useless if it is not strictly enforced.”

Running on Kindness

A busy Sunday for 4PAWS.

All was not a bed of roses for 4PAWS in the early days. Existing solely on Janssen’s retirement fund and savings, the shelter was on the verge of shutting down in 2013.

To save the shelter, 4PAWS turned to social media for help. Choong and her team of volunteers took over the 4PAWS Facebook page from Janssen, allowing Janssen to focus on running the shelter while they focused on raising funds. “The operating expenditure for this shelter is RM35,000 a month; we always welcome public donations in kind and cash. Our Facebook page helps in getting donations, volunteers and adoptions.” Regular fundraising events are also held to pay for dog food and medical bills.
To encourage public involvement and to raise awareness of 4PAWS’s plight, the shelter is open to the public every Sunday. During my visit, volunteers and visitors were seen at the compound socialising with the dogs, walking them and bathing them. 4PAWS volunteer Tan Wei Jen says, “I do it because these dogs are in need of so much love. They can get extremely excited when visitors are here to play with them. Some of the dogs even fight for your attention.”

Waiting to be walked.

Faced with an overcrowded shelter, 4PAWS is actively encouraging the public to adopt its dogs. “In 2014 we had 73 dogs rehomed within eight months. In 2015 the number was 142 dogs,” says Choong. “We will continue to encourage the public to adopt our dogs, because whenever a dog is adopted, a space is opened up at the shelter, allowing us to save the life of one more dog.”

Takafumi Kamei, a Japanese expatriate working in an MNC, adopted a dog named Limou from 4PAWS in January last year. “I moved into a landed house in Balik Pulau and was interested to keep a companion dog. Instead of buying a dog from a pet shop, I decided to adopt instead. I got to know of 4PAWS through the Internet, paid the shelter a visit and brought Limou home with me. I only donated for her vaccination and her spaying – there are no charges as adoption is free; donation is at the discretion of adopters. Limou and I are inseparable now. She gets to exercise more in my yard and she loves durians. I think she knows she’s lucky, and I am happy I saved her life.”

Visitors getting ready to walk the dogs.

When asked about how the rest of us can be part of the solution, Choong says, “Apart from adopting dogs from animal shelters instead of buying from pet shops, Penangites can help by spaying and neutering their pets. Whenever a dog is adopted from our shelter, although we do not have the authority to enforce mandatory spaying and neutering, we highly encourage new owners to spay and neuter their dogs. If we don’t, then we are perpetuating the problem.”

At the end of the day, the onus is on the owner.

4PAWS is located at 429, Jalan Hassan Abbas, 11050 Teluk Bahang and can be contacted at +6016 342 0703 or via email at 4paws.penang@gmail.com.

1 www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/06/17/ Parliament-Animal-Welfare-Bill-2015/
Emilia Ismail is a freelance writer. She blogs at www.sundayyellowcardigan. blogspot.com.

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