Friday, 27 February 2009

Silver Linings

I find that when you make an effort to look for silver linings in each unpleasant episode, you are bound to find them. The misfortune and injustice that had befallen me last week is not without its unique advantages. I have stopped trying to determine if I have been at fault in any way. I have come to terms with the fact that some things happen without any party being to blame for its occurrence, and that it would only be a matter of time before it happened, anyway.

I no longer think that the perpetrator of my misfortune owes me an explanation. When you expect nothing, you don’t get disappointed when people do not respond as common courtesy demands that they should. I have stopped expecting that when you treat someone with respect, loyalty and concern, you will be entitled to at least some semblance of fairness and consideration from them in return.

I count my blessings, and there are many. I find myself surrounded by incredibly caring, generous and supportive friends and family members. I find that I suddenly have time for walks in the park, days out with the SPCA inspectorate team, long lunches with good friends and weekends that seem to last forever. I remind myself that I am not yet in any grave financial need. I am grateful that new opportunities have presented themselves, and that the people I met and am to meet soon are not inquisitive about my misfortunes, only my qualifications and potential.

It is with good reason that one of my favourite sports is skateboarding: Skateboarding teaches you that you have to take a few hard falls before you can start improving your technique.

I have picked myself up. I’m not looking back.

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Wednesday, 18th February 2009: Day Out With The SPCA Inspectorate

SPCA Shelter Animals Up For Adoption This Week

My day as an SPCA Volunteer Animal Inspector began at the Bungalow at 1000h when I helped Cunera and Murugan load cages containing 2 stray cats and 2 formerly stray dogs, Girlie and Bubbie, into the Vanette so that we could bring them to the City Hall-SPCA Low-Cost Neutering Clinic in Setapak for spaying.

We arrived at the Low-Cost Neutering Clinic and began unloading our animals. There was a minor altercation between Murugan and one of the City Hall staff over the way City Hall was treating animals in their custody. There is so much that is wrong with the way the Animal Control Unit was conducting their affairs that it was good that everything became public a few weeks ago. Now those in power will have no choice but to implement more efficient monitoring and surveillance measures, and take action against those found to have committed any wrong, whether against animals or against public funds and trust.

We left the animals with our good vets so that they could get the surgery done, and went in search of a pet store in Setapak that had several reports lodged against it with the SPCA and Department of Veterinary Services for trading in sick or dying puppies. We finally located the elusive shop but it was locked from the outside. I went round to the bike shop next door to make inquiries and was informed that the pet store had not opened its doors for some time. I suggested to the others that we go round the back of the shop. We found the back of the shop guarded by a fierce mongrel and surrounded by CCTVs and barbed wire, an indication of guilt and wrongdoing, perhaps? We put on our jackets and caps and went rapping on the back door. A scared-looking employee appeared and then disappeared back inside. We waited for what seemed like an eternity before a lady came out to grudgingly open the door and let us in. The place was devoid of animals and was sterile, a fact which I could not reconcile with the number of CCTVs and all the precautions against intrusion and inspection. It was quite likely that the animals were kept somewhere else and only transported to the shop upon an order for a particular breed being placed. There was no action we could take against the managers of the shop, but we did make arrangements to take the aggressive watchdog away for rehabilitation and rehoming, as it had already bitten passersby.

Again, a case such as that of the pet store has only served to reinforce my view that there should be laws to severely restrict the retail sale of pets. Stores without vets and other health and safety measures should only be permitted to sell pet supplies and provide services such as grooming. If there were legislation in place to regulate animal breeders and to steer would-be pet owners to the premises of the breeders to see the pet-breeding operations for themselves, there would be fewer opportunities for animal abuse and neglect by animal breeders.

Our next case for investigation involved a small hotel within the city. A complainant reported that the hoteliers were keeping penguins in less than favourable conditions within their premises. The hotel staff and managers were cooperative and polite, and quite mystified by the complaint lodged against them. We inspected the penguin enclosure and found that although it was rather small, it was not in violation of any laws or guidelines. The hotel had all the necessary papers and licenses to keep wildlife in their premises. The animals were very well cared for, and were visited by one of the best veterinarians in the country 3 times a week. Perhaps the complainant didn’t like the fact that there were no icebergs for the penguins to sit on? We left the hotel after shaking hands all around. Until there is a ban against the export, displaying and keeping of wildlife by private individuals and commercial enterprises, there really isn’t any action for us to take against the hotel. Not liking having to witness wildlife being kept in captivity is still very much a matter of personal opinion and not an offence against animals that the SPCA can take action against. It is the duty of citizens’ action groups, non-profit organisations, the SPCA Humane Education arm and members of the public to lobby against the keeping of wildlife in captivity in resorts, amusement parks and shopping centres. Until a ban or certain guidelines have been given statutory footing, there really isn’t much the SPCA Inspectorate could do.

Our final case for the afternoon took us to a large pet store in a popular shopping mall. Someone had complained that the hamsters were kept in overcrowded enclosures and some had sustained injury from fighting. We inspected the enclosures and found them to be adequate. The hamsters had sufficient food, water and clean hay for bedding, and being nocturnal, were mostly slumbering peacefully. Again, there was no evidence of injury, illness, poor treatment or lack of care in this case and therefore nothing for the SPCA Inspectorate to act against. Until the breeding and sale of small animals becomes a regulated trade or activity, there are no laws to stop breeders from raising hamsters and pet stores from selling them.

While pushing the government for restrictions on the retail sale of pets is on the SPCA’s agenda, it is unlikely that such a law will ever be codified, as many people depend on the pet trade for their livelihood and the government will have their votes to consider. Banning pet stores and animal parks is hardly going to make the SPCA a very popular organisation, so right now our priorities will have to be on educating the public and working with people in the animal trade to come up with guidelines.

We returned to the Low-Cost Neutering Clinic to pick up our animals before the clinic closed for the day. We loaded the cages full of whimpering, disorientated cats and dogs into the Vanette. We arrived at the Bungalow, and Glyn and Meem came out to help us with our post-surgery ‘girls’. Glyn and I put clean food, water and bedding in a large cage in the Bungalow cattery for the two tabbies to recuperate in and I cleaned the cages and carriers. Meem prepared Girlie and Bubbies’ “rooms” for them so they could rest until they have recovered from the effects of general anaesthetic.

Zack, Tesco and Angel were beginning to smell rather ripe, and so I got shampoo, a leash and a towel from Meem so I could give them baths. I washed Zack and Angel but Tesco was baring his teeth at me so menacingly that I told him he could go on smelling of old gym socks for all I care.

Zack (foreground) and Tesco (back) taking five at the back of the Bungalow. Photo taken by SPCA volunteer photographer MingChien Ng.

Cu and I showered and got ready to leave the SPCA by 1745h, as Jacinta had invited the lot of us to her house for dinner. Cu and I were the first to arrive, and Meem, Glyn and Nicole arrived later with a huge raspberry cheesecake in tow. J.’s house is beautiful and perfectly kept and we were pleased to have been invited to dinner. We were supposed to watch a DVD together but we were more interested in playing with her furkiddos and going through her wedding photos. J. made a scrummy potato salad, vegan lasagne and vegan canap├ęs and lots of veggies, but there was also store-bought roast chicken for the non-vegetarians in our group. For dessert, J. made glorious chocolate mousse which left us silent with ecstasy. All you could hear was the clinking of spoons against dessert glasses and soft sighs of pleasure.

J. and Moses’ adorable one-eyed rescuee, Wazoo, exploring their gaming station at home. Photo taken using J.’s cellular phone camera and reproduced with permission.

We left her house around 2300h although we would have loved to stay longer if not for it being a Wednesday night. I have expressed my willingness to come by and help J look after her animals when she needs to be away, so it might not be long before I get to see Gizmo, Angel, Wazoo, Bushy and gang again. I realise I am lucky indeed to be part of a circle of such good people and good friends.

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Saturday, 21st February 2009: Malaysian Nature Society Branch Annual Dinner

I realised sometime last year that the amount of effort we put into the MNS Branch Annual Dinner is always disproportionate to the duration of the dinner party itself. For instance, I had been cutting out perch fishes and sea turtles out of once-used paper and card since the Lunar New Year vacation to decorate the dinner venue with, only to have everything removed and disposed of after the 4-hour long dinner.

In addition, I recalled being very hungry after the dinner last year, as I was the Games Master and did not have the time or opportunity to eat. Not wanting a repeat of the same this year, I had a sandwich and a glass of milk at 1730h before leaving the BOQ to decorate the dinner venue and get the games and prizes ready. However, things were no different as I was again so hungry by 2300h that I could eat the steel rims off the Battletank when it was time to go home.

A thunderstorm was in full force when we started the dinner party at 1900h. Name tags that I had painstakingly embellished with dolphins (in line with the dinner theme of “Under the Sea”) were given out to each guest before they entered the hall that I had covered with paper fish and turtles.

Lillian was our very capable and engaging Master of Ceremonies, as she has been for years. The Chairman and President were invited to give speeches and then Honorary Memberships were given out to certain deserving individuals. The first round of food was gone before I had the chance to even smell it, and by the time the second round of food arrived, I had to go up on stage to conduct the games because Lillian had already completed the first round of Lucky Draw and the guests were impatient for the party to really get started.

I started with an icebreaker game, People Bingo, which required the guests to meet new people in order to cross out categories on their bingo scorecards. It was a noisy and boisterous game which lasted hardly 3 minutes. Lillian announced the 3 winners because I was all out of breath by then, and we invited the Chairman to give out treasure chests full of chocolate gold coins to the winners.

Lill then had the President draw another 8 names from a bowl for the Lucky Draw, and I was thrilled to find that I had won one of Carol’s highly sought after handmade tapir cell phone accessories. Carol is a talented artist who could make even polymer clay figurines have different facial expressions.

After the 8 lucky guests had received their prizes, it was time for another game. I had planned the “Under the Sea Observation Game” to come with a twist. I recruited Hui-Min as my stooge for the game and decked her out in marine-themed necklaces, stickers and accessories. Then I sent her out to each table with a tray of plastic sea creatures and an assortment of seashells. The guests naturally assumed that this was to be played according to the rules of Kim’s Game and they wasted no time trying to memorise all the items on the tray. Once Hui-Min had returned backstage to remove all the supplementary accessories, I quizzed the guests on Hui-Min’s necklace, pendant, button badge, wristwatch, earrings and so on, in addition to the items on the tray. Groans of dismay rose from the crowd when they realised that they had been so absorbed in looking at the tray that they had failed to notice they bearer of the tray! The women were better than the men at this game and prizes were given out amid much laughter and applause.

The last round of Lucky Draw was conducted, by which time all the food had been taken away and I was hungry enough to swallow the entire Pacific Ocean -- ocean liners, trawlers, aircraft carriers and all.

I went back to the BOQ to find my housemates contentedly watching TV and joined them on the couch with a large cheese sandwich and glass of milk. Next year, someone else can be the Games Master.

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