Thursday, 31 January 2008

Letter: Misleading Information on Plastics and Polystyrene

My latest Letter to the Editor, which was published today:

LETTER TO THE EDITOR:
MISLEADING INFORMATION ON PLASTICS AND POLYSTYRENE

The letter ‘Polystyrene use: tested and proven to be safe’ (NST Friday, 25.1.2008) is astounding in its attempt to misinform consumers on the safety of polystyrene products and the inferiority of biodegradable substitutes.

The author claims that the use of biodegradable packaging will have adverse impact on the environment. It should be noted that biodegradable plastics and packaging have been studied by consumer watchdog organisations and non-profit environmental groups including the US and UK Environmental Protection Agencies, and have been found to have higher environmental and safety benefits than the products they are chosen to replace. These studies have been conducted in relation to toxicology, air quality, ocean water quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

Polystyrene products today contain no chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) not due to any magnanimous initiative on the part of the plastics industry, but because of a worldwide ban on the ozone-depleting substance. However, polystyrene and plastics are still made from petroleum, a non-renewable, fast-disappearing and heavily polluting resource. Also, benzene, a material used in the production of polystyrene, is a known human carcinogen.

The author argues that biodegradable plastics made from biomass sources entail the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, arable land and fresh water, while the process of decomposition releases methane gas, which is ‘22 times more harmful than carbon dioxide’.

The biodegradable packaging targeted by the author in his flawed argument is actually made from empty oil palm fruit bunches, which is a by-product of the oil palm industry, therefore there will be no increase in the volume of land cleared for the cultivation of oil palm for the specific purpose of producing biodegradable food packaging.

In addition, the increased cost of biodegradable packaging would mean that consumers would be discouraged from requesting unnecessary and excessive packaging material as they are currently doing. Institutions that have replaced plastic and polystyrene food packaging with biodegradable packaging have reported that consumers have since requested less or no packaging and this has facilitated the inculcation of mindful and environmentally responsible behaviour.

The methane gas generated by decomposing biodegradable packaging is expected to be negligible in comparison to the amount of organic waste already in our landfills, and in any case, there are solid waste management plants in Malaysia that harvest methane as a source of renewable energy. This demand for methane is expected to rise as more energy suppliers around the world are looking for alternatives to coal-fired power plants. This is to be contrasted with polystyrene and plastics, which release noxious gases such as styrene, xylene and hydrogen bromide when broken down or incinerated, and has no energy potential.

In response to the argument that poor attitude and not polystyrene is to be blamed for the problem of litter, I must point out that the problem of littering and will be greatly reduced when consumers make the choice of not accepting plastic or polystyrene products, most of which, whether improperly disposed of or fastidiously rinsed and deposited into recycling bins, will eventually be landfilled.

Polystyrene, due to its brittle nature and lightness, is easily carried by wind and water to rivers and seas, whereas biodegradable packaging, due to its weight and its ability to absorb moisture and decompose, is far less likely to end up as an environmental pollutant or in the food chain of marine animals and wildlife.

Although the author lobbies for better recycling facilities for plastics and polystyrene, surely he must be aware that most plastics and polystyrene cannot be recycled. Simply embossing a mobius loop on a carton does not make it recyclable. Only plastics categorised under codes 1 and 2 are actually separated and collected for recycling. Polystyrene is hardly ever recovered for recycling due to its light weight, low scrap value, prohibitive cleaning and transportation costs and the fact that it is almost always contaminated by food and other matter.

It is for good reason that institutions, cities and countries around the world have banned polystyrene. Please do not underestimate consumers and readers, who are not easily swayed by the public relations stunts of manufacturers, but are able to understand the vested interests of those in the industry.

Wong Ee Lynn,
Petaling Jaya

Thursday, 24 January 2008

SPCA on Thaipusam Day

After years of envying those who work in Selangor for getting more public holidays than those of us in the Federal Territory, I whooped with glee when the Prime Minister announced that Thaipusam will now be a gazetted holiday in the Fed Territory as well. We all know it’s a propitiatory offering to the Hindu community in order to get them to support the ruling coalition in the upcoming general elections, and we don’t care! The government could declare every day a paid holiday as far as I am concerned, and I would shake them by the hand and thank them for their magnanimity but not vote the same goons back into power.

And so I spent Thaipusam morning doing some quick cleaning of the Officers’ Mess and weeding the front lawn. By 1100 hours, I was at the SPCA animal shelter to help out, as most of the Hindu staff was on leave.

Things were pretty quiet today as most of the other volunteers will only be here on Saturday. I walked all the dogs in Kennels E and F and gave them baths and tick rinses. Swept the shelter compound and disposed of the litter. Put away the newspapers and donated items. Cleaned out the cat baskets and litter trays in the Cattery. Soaped, disinfected, scrubbed and washed the kennels, central area, cattery and office & reception areas.

A few visitors dropped by to surrender their pets, mostly cats and kittens, who the caregivers insisted they had to give up because ‘there are too many’. I took the time to explain to them the harsh realities and euthanasia rate at animal shelters and expounded the benefits of neutering. I asked the visitors if they loved their cats, and if they wish to save their cats’ lives. I helped them fix neutering appointments with our DBKL Spaying Clinic. I was relieved when 2 out of 3 visitors expressed sadness that their pets, if surrendered, would have to be put down, and upon my advice, willingly agreed to have the adult cats neutered within the month. I really hope they follow through with the kittens.

2 battles won, 50 million more to go.

The drive home was surprisingly smooth for a public holiday. I reached home, washed up, took Boy Scout out to dinner, did the laundry, completed some things I had to do for the MNS Annual Dinner, cleaned the house and retired to bed with a copy of ‘The Consumers’ Guide To Effective Environmental Choices’.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Letter: Discourage Polystyrene and Plastic Bag Usage

LETTER TO THE EDITOR
ENFORCE MEASURES TO DISCOURAGE POLYSTYRENE AND PLASTIC BAG USAGE

As an environmentalist, I am heartened by the many positive responses from readers to USM’s ban on Styrofoam tableware (7 Jan 2008) and China’s ban on plastic bags (9 Jan 2008).

The Government must be responsive to the fact that the state of our environment is a matter of growing concern to the rakyat. Many countries have already taken the dynamic step of banning, taxing or phasing out plastic bags and polystyrene products, and many Malaysians have called for our Government to do the same.

In all my jungle and coastal cleanup efforts, I have discovered that jungle litter consists mostly of Styrofoam food boxes, plastic packaging and PET bottles, while polystyrene foam pieces from buoys and fishing trawlers’ iceboxes makes up much of beach litter.

As long as the prices of plastic and polystyrene products are kept artificially low, these items will continue to befoul our natural environment and annihilate wildlife. The true cost, that is, the environmental cost, of plastic and polystyrene is actually much higher when calculated cradle-to-grave to include the costs to human health, to animal lives lost, of disposal and of cleaning up beaches and rivers and after flash floods.

However, instead of taking the bold and necessary move of phasing out the use of plastic bags and polystyrene through a combination of incentives and penalties for the manufacturing sector, corporations and consumers; the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, together with the Malaysian Plastics Forum and a few participating retailers, opted to take the ineffectual and apologetic move of putting up bins to collect clean and reusable plastic bags (Metro, 13 November 2007).

I have inspected the bins at 12 participating retail outlets and all are invariably full of dirty and wet rubbish. Plastic bags are still being given out by cashiers with wild abandon and shoppers are almost entirely unaware of any campaign to reduce the usage of plastic bags.

There are many progressive steps the Government could take to phase out the use of plastic and polystyrene products and mitigate the damage done to Malaysia’s ecosystems and tourism potential. In my humble opinion, I would recommend that:

1. The Department of Fisheries and Ministry of Rural Development subsidise the purchase of durable, permanent cooler boxes and buoys for the fishing community to replace their polystyrene ones. The polystyrene ones can then be collected for proper disposal. This can improve the quality of life of the fishing community, as they would be spared the expense of having to frequently replace their foam coolers and buoys.
2. To impose a heavy tax on thin plastic bags (i.e. less than 0.025 milimetres), polystyrene products and PET drink bottles to reflect their true environmental cost.
3. To put in place a system to replace plastic packaging including cellophane sweet wrappers and cigarette packet wrappers with biodegradable plastic, the cost of which shall be borne by the manufacturers.
4. To ease the transition of turning Malaysia into a litter-free society by creating incentives for consumers to bring their own shopping bags and food containers; including by providing cash rebates, shopping bonus points and express checkout lanes.

The Government must have the political will to reverse the effects of environmental degradation and climate change. An efficient combination of public education, legislation and stringent enforcement will work better than expensive campaign launches in protecting what is left of our natural environment and wildlife.

WONG EE LYNN
PETALING JAYA, SELANGOR

Monday, 21 January 2008

SPCA and Saturday Night Party

Saturday, 19th January to Sunday, 20th January 2008: SPCA and Saturday Night Party.

Left for the SPCA on Saturday around 1100 hours after attending to the cats and the housework. It was a good day at the shelter today. Dr. Pushpa had made a huge tub of tickwash solution for bathing the dogs with, and so, assisted by Rose, I got to work shampooing, rinsing and tick-washing all the dogs from the Maternity Kennels and from Kennels G and H. Our driver Rajes came back with 2 tick-infested ‘new arrivals’ in the van, and so it was a good thing I was there to rid the poor doggies of their parasites.

There were 15 adoptions today, which is an unusually high number for a non-Jumble Sale day. Joy! Jubilation!

It started drizzling around 1700 hours and so I put away the tickwash and started cleaning the shelter instead. I scrubbed, soaped, disinfected and flushed the Maternity Kennels, the central area, the puppy areas, the cattery and the administrative areas. I swept and cleaned up the parking bay and areas surrounding the shelter, bagged up the rubbish and hauled the trash out. Cleaned myself up before driving home.

Reached the Officer’s Mess, fed the cats, tidied up, did the laundry, had a thorough shower and then I was off again to Jessica’s Dad’s home for their annual barbecue. It had rained earlier but the weather cleared up long enough for us to keep the grill sizzling. I met Jess’ friends and Dad and initiated conversation with them. However, I could only stay until 2330 hours as I had promised my parents that I would be home the same night. Made like a rally driver and barrelled the Battletank home to Rawang.

Spent Sunday tending to Amber’s needs, cleaning the parental home and spring cleaning their living room cabinets and laundry and storage area. Sorted out a number of things for recycling or to be given away to charity. Did the laundry and ironing, washed Mom’s car, drafted a report and a letter to the editor and called it a day by 0230 hours on Monday morning.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

MNS Members' Day



January 12 was our Malaysian Nature Society Annual Members' Day. We decided to hold it at our headquarters in the city this year, instead of some pastoral getaway. This is to enable everyone, including members of the public, to come and visit our Urban Nature Centre and learn more about the green lungs in our city. Nature is for everyone, not merely for paid-up members.

And so each Special Interest Group (SIG) recruited its volunteers to assist on the Big Day and organised edifying presentations and activity booths to attract visitors. I was put in charge of the event, as our Chairman, Gary, was abroad for the weekend. I didn’t have to do much except coordinate the programme, as I have the great privilege of working with experienced and dedicated volunteers. Mee Hong, Siew Hua and Mohala all offered to help out at the Green Living booth, for which I am very grateful, because I woke up with a wretched headache and cold.

When I had set up my booth and was midway through helping the Secretariat with the schedule of talks, a reporter from Bernama approached me and asked if I would consent to being interviewed as the Chairman had nominated me to stand in for him. I spoke on the objectives of the MNS, the different SIGs, the activities conducted throughout the year and the reason why our HQ was chosen for the event. I explained that Federal Hill is a valuable urban green lung and buffer zone that is habitat to innumerable flora and fauna, and asked the reporters to join in Rhett’s “Fig Walk” to acquaint themselves with the varieties of ficus plants found at Federal Hill. Having relegated the responsibility of babysitting the reporters to Rhett, I went back to my booth and shivered and sweated for a good hour before I was offered an aspirin.

The Nature Guides SIG, under Ashleigh, conducted 3 Bushcraft Firestarting Clinics, but I was unable to join in primarily because I was unwell, but also because there was a fair bit to do at my booth. The ladies were wonderful and taught dozens of children how to make boxes and other useful things from discarded items. Mee Hong even offered to make book holders and all manner of recycled goodies for my booth by March in time for Raptor Watch.

After the preschoolers and their parents had left, the volunteers had less to do and could take turns to attend the talks and presentations. I attended the talk on ‘Monitor Lizards of Malaysia’ and actually had enough time to do rope-climbing and abseiling as well. It was organised by the Cave Group to demonstrate the ways in which cavers could ascend or descend caves and subterranean tunnels and caverns. It felt great to be so high up among the trees. My helmet fell off on my first ascent but I know that I would stay safe as long as I kept my grip on the rope. It wasn’t easy because I was sweating so much and dizzy with fever. My nose streamed like a running tap, but still it was exhilarating to climb so high up and wave to the cars and trucks on the highway. I did the climb twice and am now much tempted to sign up for the Basic Caving Course after the Raptor Watch Week and after I have completed my First Aid course in March.

We packed up and tidied up by 1700 hours after having decided that it has been a successful event and that it would be a worthy idea to hold a Members’ Day in the city each year. I am currently also working on the idea of having a similar event in conjunction with World Earth Day in April. Practicing the Single Rope Technique above ground.

Photos courtesy of Mohala. Note: Pardon my flushed appearance. I was running a high temperature.







To ascend: Hold ascender with both hands without interfering with movement of rope or pulley. Keep feet within belt loop. Sit or squat and bring knees up to chest. Straighten arms to haul your weight up.










To descend:
Companion belays the rope and controls the speed while you abseil or rappel down.

Letter: Schools' Extra Fees Unjust

LETTER TO THE EDITOR
SCHOOLS’ EXTRA FEES UNJUSTLY ENRICHES CERTAIN PARTIES

As volunteers who assist needy families, we can identify with the hardship experienced by low-income earners caused by the schools’ imposition of additional fees.

The Ministry of Education has made an official pronouncement that parents who could afford the additional fees should not ask to be exempted, as the said fees would be used to improve the schools’ infrastructure, teaching facilities and services.

We beg to differ and believe that the imposition of additional fees are not motivated by charitable objectives. We speak without vested interests when we state our belief that certain parties, (be it school principals, cooperatives or suppliers) are being unjustly enriched by these additional fees.

Among the additional fees charged by schools in Setapak and Wangsa Maju include the following:

RM18 for school track pants and RM12 for sports t-shirts for sports events and Physical Education. Such outrageous prices for child-sized sports outfits raised our suspicion that crony businesses and the school cooperatives are reaping huge profits. In contrast, track pants in the approved school colours purchased from hypermarkets cost RM6 or less.

RM20 charged at the beginning of the school year for the school’s award day and end-of-year party. This sum is exorbitant, as it is on top of the RM30- RM50 charged as PTA contribution. The children we work with are already marginalised and at an academic disadvantage. Awards Day has little context for them, as they are statistically less likely to be the recipients of prizes for good performance. The RM20 fee, which they could scarce afford, would add to their feeling of being left out of things.

RM3.50 charged for the Student’s Etiquette Handbook, RM2.80 for the School Rules Handbook, RM2.50 for the Report Card and RM3.50 for the Student’s Personal Folder are among the other unnecessary expenses that are profligate of paper. Pocket-sized booklets should not cost more than RM1. Alternatively, the school rules could be painted onto the school walls as a mural, read out during assembly to serve as a reminder or incorporated into the back of exercise books or the Report Card. Students could be taught to make their own folders in art class or to print out the rules on reused paper (i.e. already printed on one side) to paste onto the backs of exercise books as a form of early training in environmental responsibility.

RM8 for school tie and RM6 for a pair school socks. Again, this raises suspicions of corruption. We believe that as long as a student is outfitted in the uniform sanctioned by the Ministry of Education, there should be no need for special ‘school socks’ and other accessories. Students who are not holding any special office (prefects, school librarians, class monitors) should not be required to wear a necktie. Unfortunately, the students we work with are too afraid of the repercussions of not conforming to want to follow our advice to go without the said items.

RM10 for the use of the school library and RM10 for the library access card. A simple, inexpensive library card system and the enforcement of the ‘no schoolbags inside the library’ rule would be sufficient to prevent the loss of books. The children who are unable to afford this fee are also the ones least likely to have access to reading materials and a conducive study space at home.

RM8 for Moral Studies / Islamic Studies. No reasons are given for this sum being charged, and since these are compulsory subjects, students who are unable to pay the additional fees do not have the option of dropping these subjects.


We have written letters to the respective school principals for a waiver of the fees on behalf of these children, but there has been no response from the schools. Not all parents were able to meet up with the school heads themselves, because the parents are either functionally illiterate, unable to communicate fluently in Bahasa Malaysia or English, ill, victims of domestic violence or more commonly, working at jobs that do not allow them to take leave.

In those circumstances, some of the older children were encouraged to inform their class teachers of their family circumstances. The children invariably reported to us that the class teacher said that they must pay up and no exemptions would be allowed.

We are strongly of the view that much of the additional fees charged by these schools are not for the purpose of improving school facilities or student welfare, but to enrich the cooperatives and other crony parties. We are now also of the view that none of the PTA funds collected are used to aid poor and disadvantaged students. In our humble opinion, the Minister of Education is na├»ve indeed if he truly believes that the additional fees are used entirely for the students’ benefit.

BERNADETTE CHIN & WONG EE LYNN
KUALA LUMPUR

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Sunday, 6 January 2008

Driving Miss Daisy


Saturday, 5th Jan 2008 – Sunday, 6th January 2008: Driving Miss Daisy

Daisy has achieved sexual maturity and has been announcing it to all the tomcats within a 5-mile radius for the past week. I had to fix an appointment with the SPCA immediately to have her spayed because the Little One is not coping well with the hormonal changes and is driving everyone crazy with her plaintive cries.

And so we were up and on our way to the SPCA by 0845 hours on Saturday morning. Dr. Pushpa had given us the earliest slot, as she would be busy with vaccinations and other neutering appointments for the rest of the day. We had a pleasant drive to the SPCA. Along the Ampang Elevated Highway, I could see the Painted Storks from the National Zoo leaving the Zoo to perch on the lampposts flanking the Highway, where they will remain until sundown, after which they would return to the Zoo. Those are some pretty darn smart birds, if you ask me.

Daisy was duly neutered, and within 20 minutes of our arrival, she was back in the carrier, sound asleep. I put her in my corner of the SPCA office to recover while I got on with my volunteer duties. Shu Ning had brought her foster puppy, Toffee, to the shelter to be put down, as Toffee had been suffering for too long and has no hope of improvement or recovery. Her family had spared no expense taking their fosteree to different vets and purchasing recommended foods, supplements and medicines for Toffee, but the puppy’s immune system was just too weak and she had over the last 2 months been reduced into a trembling, sickly bag of bones.

Toffee was put to sleep, as the vets and staff saw that she had indeed been suffering terribly and was beyond help. I was about to begin walking dogs when I saw Shu Ning exit the surgery with her lifeless dog in her arms. I accompanied her to the Dogs’ Graveyard and held Toffee while she got our staff, Sugen, to help dig a grave. Words were inadequate for such a situation, and nothing I could say could help Shu in her grief, so I scrabbled around for some bricks to mark Toffee’s grave with and plucked some bamboo flowers and the white longifolia flowers that Hindus use for prayers to scatter on the grave. I made a ‘T’ for ‘Toffee’ with the white flowers. It’s terrible having to say goodbye to a puppy. I hope Toffee understands that her family had done their very best to save her and that they love her and will never forget her.

Shu found the strength to go on walking dogs with me, and when we returned to the shelter, I found, to my delight, that my buddy Mun Yee had come to the shelter to visit Daisy and to give me a hand. Together, Mun Yee and I walked and bathed 24 dogs, and treated them for ticks, ear mites, worms, injuries and even one case of tick fever, which was diagnosed only because the dog started having nosebleeds midway through our walk. Thankfully, appropriate treatment was given for each dog, and Mun Yee had quite a day learning the correct ways to administer pills, medicate sores and kill parasites.

Jacinta came in after the SPCA’s outreach session in Bangsar and congratulated me on the article I did on going green for the animals, which was published in the New Straits Times. There is now a request for me to have a regular column on animal care, welfare and rights and I have accepted it, on condition that no deadlines will be set. It is, after all, pro bono, so I should not be burdened with deadlines and other restrictions.

Mun Yee and I finished bathing the rest of the dogs right before it began raining. I then engaged her help in cleaning the shelter. We soaped, disinfected and washed the Maternity Kennels, the driveway / central area, the Puppery, the Cattery and the office / front area. All in all, we put in around 9 hours of work that day. Mun Yee offered to come and help me out as often as she could, until football season starts again and she had to go back into training. I have given up football just so I could devote my weekends to volunteering. The pressure of team sports was simply too high and destroyed whatever joy I derived from playing. Mun Yee played with Daisy, who was still groggy from the anaesthetic, and gave her a goodbye hug before we went back to our respective cars and homes.
It's been another pukka weekend.


Saturday, 5 January 2008

NST Streets: Let's Clean Up Our Act

LET’S CLEAN UP OUR ACT
By Wong Ee Lynn

Let's face it – Malaysians have dirty habits. The massive amount of litter along highways, in forests and in our seas and rivers is injurious to the Planet. Our rubbish clogs waterways and strangles fishes, birds, turtles and mammals.

Stray animals push their faces into discarded food containers to lick the food residue and get their heads stuck inside. Sometimes, they choke on plastic bags or Styrofoam or are cut by discarded tin cans.

Chemicals used by humans such as weedkillers, bleach, solvents and cleaning solutions also have the potential to harm and kill animals if not used or disposed of with care.

If we claim to love animals, we must clean up our act. Always, the best advice is to consume less and to live more simply. However, even if this were a counsel of perfection, we can still at least carefully dispose of everything we use and pick up after those who are less careful, and exercise care as consumers in purchasing cleaning solutions and other chemicals that supposedly make our work and lives easier.

Here are some tips for the concerned citizen:

1. Avoid buying unnecessary plastic products and accept fewer plastic bags from retailers. Choose cardboard cartons, wax paper and so on. Keep away from Styrofoam and any plastic foam products. Even when you dispose of plastic waste properly, plastics in landfills may find their way into hungry animals’ throats and stomachs and cause unnecessary, and often slow and agonising, deaths from suffocation, starvation and poisoning.

2. Recycle your paper, aluminium, plastic and glass. Containers that do not end up in your trash and landfill have less potential to hurt scavenging animals.

3. Rinse out jars and containers in which animals' heads can get caught. Screw lids back onto empty jars, and put sharp tabs and lids back inside empty cans. Then stuff and wrap the cans with newspaper before disposing of them so they cannot slice tongues and throats. Alternatively, crush or hammer the open ends of the cans as flat as possible, with the sharp tabs inside, so hungry animals have no access to them.

4. Tear open one side of cardboard cartons and other containers so stray animals, civets, tree shrews, birds and other foragers cannot get trapped inside them.

5. Cut apart plastic six-pack rings before disposing of them so they will not strangle birds and aquatic life. Whenever possible, opt for cardboard six-pack can carriers, which many manufacturers have now replaced plastic six-pack rings with. Whenever you find six-pack rings on the beach or near rivers and forests where animals forage, snap or cut the rings apart and take them along with you for disposal later.

6. Use rubbish bins with clasps to stop animals from falling in and getting trapped. Always keep the lid on your rubbish bin and hold it down with a brick if necessary to prevent raids by stray cats and dogs. Always replace the lid on public rubbish bins, especially those at nature parks and picnic sites. The slight inconvenience of having to find a place to wash your hands is a small price to pay to prevent possible injury to a hungry animal.

7. Never dispose of razors, nails, fishhooks and other sharp or dangerous items by dropping them loose with your other garbage. Wrap them in newspaper and stuff them inside other containers or cardboard toilet roll cores. If there are several sharp items to be disposed of, use adhesive tape to tape them together to make them less sharp and less likely to be accidentally swallowed.

8. Pick up string, fishing line and all plastic litter near streams, beaches and forests to avoid animals being strangled or injured by such trash.

9. Weedkillers and herbicides pose a grave danger to insects, birds and small animals such as toads and frogs. If you absolutely must clear your garden, please consider the animals that household poisons will harm, and opt to engage hired help to weed your garden and perhaps replant it with low-maintenance grass instead.

10. Never pour cleaning solutions, bleach and other chemicals into the drain. Not only will this pollute our waterways, it could kill and seriously harm small animals such as toads that live in our drain outlets and birds that forage for rice and other food in our drains. For this reason, switching to environmentally-friendly, plant-based cleaning solutions and detergents is the correct and compassionate thing to do.

11. Our household pets are often harmed by our use of chemicals. Each year, numerous pets die after accidentally consuming bleach, detergent, tick and flea solution, pesticide and other dangerous substances. Whether your pet lives indoors with you or outdoors in the garden, please get down to their level and check your house for chemicals and substances that could harm them. Switch to using eco-friendly cleaning agents for mopping your floor, cleaning all surfaces and doing the laundry. Avoid using bleach and products containing bleach, as the chlorine fumes alone are often enough to make your pets sick. Switch to products containing essential oils like citronella and lavender to repel insects and disease vectors, rather than aerosol sprays and poison pellets that your curious dog, cat or hamster could accidentally ingest.

Alleviating the hunger, thirst and malnutrition of animals goes beyond feeding those you encounter. It also entails being considerate to and responsible for the animals you do not see but are affected by your actions. Animals have a right to look for food, and it is our duty to ensure that they are not killed by our negligence and indifference while they are at it.

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Thursday, 3 January 2008

New Year, New Goals

A new year has begun, bringing with it new hopes and new challenges. I wish nothing but the best for you and your loved ones in the coming year. May you love deeply, forgive sincerely, make amends, tread gently, speak truthfully and live joyfully always. May you cultivate respect and reverence for Mother Earth and all that depend on her. May you find balance and perfection in this troubled world of ours. I wish you good health, good friends, abundance, contentment and acceptance in 2008 and always.

My New Year Resolutions for 2008:

1. I will put a percentage of my salary back into starting a community stray animal neutering, vaccination and feeding programme.

2. I will continue to volunteer at the SPCA animal shelter for at least 5 hours a week and invest additional time in outreach and awareness work.

3. Apart from my usual letters to the editor on environmental issues, I will submit articles on responsible pet ownership and animal welfare issues on behalf of the SPCA for publication in the weekly newspaper column.

4. I will earn my First Aid Basic Course certificate in March 2008.

5. I will earn my Bushcraft Intermediate Jungle Safety and Survival Course certificate.

6. I will complete the energy audit of the Bar Council single-handedly and submit a full report by the end of February.

7. I will organise a volunteering trip either to monitor and tag seagrass beds and seahorses, or to clean and help out at a sea turtle conservation centre, for members of the Kuala Lumpur Bar Environmental Law Committee.

8. I will coordinate and carry out at least another 5-6 Green Living education and awareness projects this year for the Selangor Branch of the Malaysian Nature Society and at the same time, build up the volunteer pool and create opportunities for leadership to enable another volunteer to succeed me as Group Coordinator next year.

9. I will open a separate savings account and save all bonuses and salary increment received.

10. I will set my own billing and collection targets at work and strive to achieve them.

11. I will continue to donate blood 3 to 4 times this year.

12. I will learn basic car maintenance and repair work.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

New Year's Day 2008

Woke up on New Year’s Day addle-brained and furry-tongued. That must have been SOME pardy we had last night. Felt better after a breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, and so I left for the SPCA by 1130 hours.

Volunteers from the Sai Baba Society of Bangsar were repainting some of the walls at the SPCA today, as they do each New Year’s Day, regardless of whether the walls needed repainting or not. I wonder why is it that some people undertake a task in the name of volunteering without first checking if such a service is needed. There were at least 30 of them. 10 could have done the painting of only areas where repainting is needed, and the rest could have helped clean the shelter, care for sick and orphaned animals, and walk and bath dogs, but Nooooo, they ALL simply HAD to repaint our walls a bright turquoise. So now we have some turquoise dogs running around.

I walked the dogs from the Pound, bathed them and rinsed them with tickcide. A white mongrel, a recent arrival, had a huge wound all around her neck. Her previous owners, being cruel, negligent, good-for-nothing so-and-sos, had put a choke chain around her neck when she was little. She had grown, and the choke chain obviously hadn’t, and it had thus cut into her flesh, leaving a raw wound like a red bandanna around the poor dog’s neck. I got our Rescue Van driver Samy to cut the old choke chain off using a steel cutter. I held the trembling dog and raised the chain for visibility and - Snap! – Off came the chain links and the happy dog was overcome with joy, whimpering and licking our faces. I gave her a bath and anointed her wounds with Ilium Dermapred, so now it looks like she is wearing a green bandanna instead.

It was a slow day for the SPCA, business-wise. Only two kittens and one turquoise dog were adopted all day. After walking and bathing the dogs and returning them to their kennels, I cleaned the Cattery and changed all the papers in the cats’ baskets before disinfecting and washing the floor. Then I cleaned the Maternity Kennels, the Puppy Area, the front area and the office, while Mazni cleaned the Cooking and Feeding Area and Sugen did the kennels. Mazni offered to rinse the soapy floor for me so that I would have time to shower. We finished work around 1900 hours.

I went back to the Officer’s Mess, did the laundry, washed my soggy, almost-falling-apart trainers, cleaned the house, fed the cats, took out the trash and sorted out some books and magazines for reuse and resale. You know it’s a good start to the New Year when you manage to cut the choke chain off a wounded dog without taking your own finger off in the process.

Good work, Commando!