Friday, 30 July 2010

Furry and Feathered Friends at the Bentong Farm Sanctuary

Animal welfare activists in Malaysia first heard about the Lotus Life Liberation Park (now renamed Bentong Farm Sanctuary) during the Pulau Ketam abandoned dog crisis of 2009. Many of the rescued dogs who could not find new homes were resettled in the Liberation Park, which was set up by Hai Tao Foundation, a Buddhist organisation. Located in the backwoods of Bentong, Pahang, the Park was intended as a no-kill sanctuary for animals saved from slaughter. Although the Park initially appeared to be well-run, in the later part of 2009, there were complaints of dogs going missing or barely surviving in poor living conditions.

Approximately 4-5 weeks ago, however, upon the retirement of the previous caretaker of the Park, my friends Shahrul and Jorg (who had been volunteers with the SPCA -- Shahrul was later employed by the SPCA as an Education Officer) were offered the position of caretakers of the Liberation Park. The move not only benefitted Shahrul and Jorg’s many companion animals who would now have more space to roam in, but also the Park’s dogs and cats, as my friends have many years of experience of caring for cats and dogs and treating various canine and feline ailments.

Shahrul and Jorg with their dogs.

When That Special Someone arrived in Malaysia, he was keen to visit the no-kill Sanctuary, not merely because Shahrul is a mutual friend, but also because he and I have plans to operate our own animal rescue centre and no-kill shelter one day (Our proposed shelter has no name as yet, but I have taken to jocularly calling it “Our Animal Illam”).

It would also be a good opportunity for me to explore the possibility of resettling Rocky, the little dog rescued by Vegan Eugene in April 2010 in the Sanctuary, in the event Rocky is not adopted. Judging by Vegan Eugene’s inability to make a decision, however, Rocky would probably die of old age before Vegan Eugene could make up his mind over which solution is best for Rocky. If all animal rescuers were as indecisive as Vegan Eugene, the dogs and cats would all end up back on the streets.

Shahrul had requested commercial pet food for the dogs and cats and medical supplies such as wound spray, ear cleaning solution and tick shampoo, which That Special Someone and I were happy to provide. Adik – Shahrul and Jorg’s dog – jumped up onto the backseat of the Battletank as soon as I opened the door. Perhaps she could smell the food and knew that it was meant for her!

Vaccinated and neutered cats rest in a large cage to prevent them from running away and going missing in an unfamiliar new place.

Guess who’s on top of your cage, kitties! Getting clucky over kittens, are we?

When Shahrul and Jorg first arrived, many of the dogs were emaciated, sickly, full of ticks and absolutely terrified of people. Within weeks, the dogs are now healthier, cleaner and visibly happier and friendlier.

That Special Someone was enchanted by the 104-acre farm. “Only a month ago I was looking at the pictures you posted of this farm on Facebook,” he said to Shahrul as we feasted on the organic mangosteens and rambutans. “And now here I am”. It’s funny how Providence works, sometimes.

Cows grazing in the open fields is a sight to set anyone’s chakras in balance.

Ducks and geese strut and swagger around their pond, secure in the knowledge that they would never be eaten.

I’m not really sure why I was so excited to see chickens.

The hens are happy to have space to roam in and the opportunity to engage in natural behaviour such as scratching and dust-bathing.

It’s time to visit the goats in their clean and well-ventilated goat pen!

“I kid ewe not”, avers this youngster, “I really am happee-ee-eeh here!”

I’m not really sure why I was so excited to feed the billy goat either.

I was keen to help the farmhands with the care and feeding of the cows. That Special Someone taught me how to approach and handle cows. We both smelt really interesting by the time we were done. The cows did not use to receive tick baths and dietary supplements before Shahrul and Jorg took over. Now the cows have gained weight and look healthier and happier too.

This little dog, Puteh, was debilitated by illness and at death’s door when Shahrul and Jorg first arrived. You couldn’t even tell that he was a white dog. With proper care, Puteh has since recovered and now enjoys following visitors around.

It was time to go to the stream for a swim. We clambered into Jorg’s pickup truck and headed past the durian and gaharu plantations to the cleaner, cooler part of the stream.

“Come on in”, we urged That Special Someone. “The water is fine!”

One of the dogs, Sri Devi, decided to join me for a soak in the stream.

Shahrul tries to bathe a reluctant and grumpy Dolly.

That Special Someone and I stayed for a scrumptious dinner prepared by the farmhands and chatted with Jorg and Shahrul late into the night. We finally left around 2200 hours after making plans to come again in a few weeks to bring more food and supplies for the animals. I reminded Shahrul and Jorg that there would always be naysayers who are critical or dismissive of their efforts to rescue needy animals and operate a no-kill sanctuary, but sometimes the recovery, good health, trust and love of the animals is all the reward we need. Rescuers like us should never lose sight of our original objectives of alleviating animal suffering and helping human communities help animal communities.

That Special Someone may have returned to his home country (with a promise to be reunited with me soon), but my plans to visit Bentong Farm Sanctuary again with other volunteers in tow are already underway. We are currently making plans to drop by for a weekend in late August.

Would you like to support the good work carried out by this no-kill natural animal sanctuary? Here’s how you can help:

Through Contributions In Kind: We need: rice, commercial dry/canned cat and dog food, pet vitamins and supplements, jaggery / brown sugar (for the cows), palm kernel cakes (for the goats and cows), biodegradable soaps and detergents, tick shampoo, medicated shampoo such as Malaseb and Triseb, skin treatment oils such as Pinetarsol, old newspapers, and garlic, pumpkin and carrots to be cooked in the animals’ food.

To Visit And Volunteer: Please contact me privately for Shahrul and Jorg’s contact information, for inquiries and to fix appointments if you plan to come in a group.

Directions to the Sanctuary: From KL - Karak Highway (toll RM5.00 & RM3.00 each way), take the exit to Bentong on your left. At the junction of the Bentong exit, you will see a sign saying ‘Kolam Air Panas” (Hot Springs) on your left. Take the left turn and follow the signs. (If you take the right turn, you will end up in Bentong Town where you can enjoy homemade ice cream at Kow Po Coffeeshop, but that’s another story altogether). You will drive past forests and plantations and a retreat named “Serenity”. The milestones will indicate that Kuala Lumpur is 93 – 96 km away. Around 9km from the junction at which you took a left turn, you will see a dirt path on your right with signs that say “Perting Valley” and “Lotus Life Liberation Park”. Turn into the dirt path and drive through it for approximately one minute. You should arrive at the gates of the Sanctuary shortly.

Visit us on Facebook here: Bentong Farm Sanctuary

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Living it up in Langkawi LASSie

When I was offered tickets to one of three domestic destinations as part of the prizes for the Blog4FT contest, I chose Langkawi Island for a very specific reason. My buddy Mun Yee and I enjoyed our visit and short stint as volunteers at LASSie (The Langkawi Animal Shelter and Sanctuary) so much in 2006 that I felt I had to return to the resort and animal shelter with That Special Someone.

And so, with the help of my buddy Nicole, I managed to get a room at an inexpensive chalet in Pantai Chenang, Langkawi, a mere hop and skip away from BonTon Resort. That Special Someone was as excited about the animal shelter visit as I was, especially since we received a helpful and courteous email response from the administrators/managers of the shelter, welcoming our services as volunteers. We arrived at BonTon Resort, just across the road from Laman Padi (the Rice Museum outside of which we saw tourists in straw hats trying their hands at harvesting paddy -- a sight which had That Special Someone and me howling with laughter, as we both have grandparents whose homes bordered on paddy fields which formed part of our childhood playgrounds) at midmorning on 20th July.

The BonTon – LASSie Island Animal Clinic faces the main road, while the resort proper is located behind the Clinic and shelter, away from the traffic and heat.

On the porch of the Clinic, a friendly dog watches his feline friend lap from his water bowl.

Dr. Tim is a fulltime veterinarian with LASSie. What That Special Someone and I also liked was that everyone at the Resort pitched in to help with the care of the animals. When we arrived, the Duty Manager Lopez was busy preparing medicine for a litter of stray kittens that was surrendered by someone from a nearby village.

Cats, some of them recuperating from road-accident related injuries, convalesce in a tidy row of cages in the Clinic.

Over 20 years ago, BonTon Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur started rescuing and providing care and shelter for street dogs. Seven of these dogs travelled to Langkawi Island with Narelle, the proprietor of BonTon KL, when she went to Langkawi to open a branch of the restaurant.

When Narelle learned that there were no veterinary clinics on Langkawi Island, she set one up to help the Island’s animals. For years, the Clinic operated on public donations and private funds on a charitable basis, sterilising the Island’s cats and dogs and returning them to their original communities.

BonTon later set up a shelter for the Island’s needy cats, dogs and even monkeys. As at the day of our visit, there were over 200 cats and over 50 dogs at the shelter, and another 50 – 60 dogs at their new dog shelter in Kedawang.

Narelle inspired us to step up our own animal rescue and rehabilitation efforts with her conviction that all living beings are worthy of help, love, care and dignity.

Buffy was surrendered by her caregivers after she became paralysed following a road accident. She now enjoys daily walks around the beautiful resort with staff and guests. Her wheelchair is donated from London and she wears regular diapers with a hole ripped in it for her tail. Doesn’t she look happy? I love you, Buffy, yes I do!

The cats recuperating in the Cat Shelter were happy to have visitors and were not camera-shy at all.

The catteries were clean, well-ventilated and inviting not just to cats but to visitors and volunteers as well. Tree branches, wooden crates and shelves provide spaces for the cats to sleep, hide, play, scratch, climb and groom in .

Nam Restaurant in BonTon is one of the most highly-rated in Langkawi. The restaurant and resorts – BonTon and TempleTree – finance the Clinic, shelters and all animal work at LASSie.

BonTon’s own Herb and Spice Garden adds to the resort’s charm as well as supplies herbs to the kitchen.

That Special Someone and I had a lovely meal of tapas and frappe at Nam Restaurant, as we knew our money would go to a good cause. The service was impeccable and the restaurant staff was very obliging. Although tapas would usually only be served with cocktail or wine in the evening, the staff took into account our dietary requirements as vegetarians and teetotallers and whipped up vegetarian pizzas and samosas for us at noon anyway.

Wouldn’t you love to go back to nature by spending your holiday in a traditional Malay house like this one in BonTon?

A little piece of Heaven in Pantai Chenang, Langkawi is afforded by BonTon Resort. That Special Someone and I both averred that the animals are lucky indeed to live in such a beautiful place. The neutered cats roam everywhere, while the dogs are kept mainly on long leashes within monitoring distance.

Rambunctious puppies awaiting adoption / resettlement at Bon Ton enjoy the company of guests.

Are you feline the love yet? Although neutered, these two lovers have decided that they are the purr-fect match for each other.

To ensure adequate funding for LASSie’s animal care work, Temple Tree Resort was opened as a ‘sister resort’ of BonTon in December 2008.

A night at one of these beautiful villas in Temple Tree Resort may set you back several hundred ringgit, but all of it goes towards operating and maintaining LASSie.

That Special Someone and I left BonTon Resort in the late afternoon after socialising with most of the animals and taking the dogs out for walks, gratified that we were given the opportunity to be part of a project so special and so worthy.

If you ever are in Langkawi for a holiday, please do drop by Bon Ton for a meal, and to say “Hello” to the animals. The animals would love to meet you, and your purchases (at the Restaurant, or at the gallery, where you could purchase copies of “The Story of LASSie”, a mini coffee table book, for a mere RM10 each) would benefit the animals and the Clinic immensely.

No visit to Pantai Chenang, Langkawi, would be complete without a tête-à-tête with the furry residents of LASSie. For more information, please visit:

Langkawi Lassie:

BonTon Resort:

Temple Tree Resort:

By Phone:+6 04 955 3643

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Ticket to Ride

I have been back to volunteer at the SPCA shelter 3 times since Reve’s demise, and nothing was the same. Nothing will ever be the same again. I thought that attending her funeral might bring me a sense of peace and closure, but it just filled me with more rage and frustration.

This is my latest fosteree, Marie, who was surrendered to the SPCA on 3.7.2010, the day we found out about Reve’s murder. Marie was obviously named after Reve. I arranged with the kind gentleman who brought Marie in to have Marie spayed and rehabilitated and released at a friend's home in a safe neighbourhood, where Marie would receive food and care daily.

I have been remiss in catching up with blogs and e-mails this week as I have been working until midnight to clear some of my work before That Special Someone’s arrival. I picked him up at the airport on 15.7.2010. I am immensely grateful he had come. His arrival took away a great deal of the pain of dealing with Reve’s untimely death.

Since his arrival on Thursday, we have spent a day at the SPCA with our mutual friends and the shelter animals. We have brought Marie back to her appointed caregiver.

Tapir the puppy asleep in That Special Someone’s lap.

I have pretty much avoided the usual tourist traps and brought That Special Someone to places I normally frequent instead. We went to Brickfields and ate at my usual chappati place. We went to the Buddhist Maha Vihara and ended up playing with the temple dog. We went grocery shopping near my bachelor pad. I showed him Chow Kit and Lorong Haji Taib, the seedier parts of this city that I love, where I used to carry out outreach work as a Legal Aid Centre & Pink Triangle volunteer.

We had a daytrip to Kuala Selangor, where we raced each other up and down the hills and half fell to our deaths on the rocks. We climbed up and down cannons and ancient forts. We poked fun at museum exhibits. We played with the monkeys and tried to bring a monkey home with us. We trekked through the Kuala Selangor Nature Park and climbed up a Bird Hide from which we spotted eagles, egrets, herons, a monitor lizard and more macaques. We rode the tram through the town and up the hill. We had ice cream at the cafe. We drove down to Kampung Kuantan and rode the sampans to see the fireflies. It has been a magical 4 days so far.

Tomorrow we leave for our long-awaited trip to Langkawi, where we hope to do everything from go-karting to parasailing. We’d like to go to Bonton Resort to help out at the animal sanctuary. I hope the weather holds up so we can bathe the dogs as well as spend the rest of our time on the island swimming, surfing, exploring and looking for buried pirate’s treasure (my idea, not his).

We have tickets to ride. And we intend to make the most of it. And so I bid you adieu for all of next week.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Farewell, dear Reve.

Marie Reve Moine, nee Van Renterghem
(28th August 1954 - 2nd July 2010)

(Photo credits: Marianne. From the Facebook Group, "In Memory of Reve Moine").

This tribute should have come out sooner, but it was too painful for me to articulate how I felt about my loss.

My buddy, Reve, was killed on Friday, 2nd July 2010.

I was on my way to the SPCA on Saturday morning after attending a charity confectionary sale at Assunta Hospital when Nicole called me on the phone, asking me to pull over and remain calm.

Was it something to do with the dogs? Did something happen at the shelter?

"Reve was murdered yesterday." Nicole's voice sounded distant and filled with confusion and sorrow.

NO! I had yelled. It couldn't be. Reve couldn't be dead. There must have been some mistake. Perhaps it was a case of mistaken identity. Maybe she was injured but alive somewhere. Perhaps it was a malicious prank.

I drove to the shelter to find everyone in grief. I was amazed, however, that the sun could go on shining, the dogs could go on barking and the cats could go on eating and purring. Don't they understand that Reve was gone? Reve is gone! Reve is no longer with us. I will never be able to hear her friendly voice again, or feel her arm around my shoulders. Nobody had any answers or theories as to what had happened. It took me time to come to terms with her death, but when I did, I was full of rage. I was not able to express how I felt, except that I wanted to track down her killer(s) and avenge Reve's death.

I wish I could say that there wasn't a person who would want to harm Reve. Reve was such a wonderful, giving, charming, selfless person that she changed lives permanently, and always for the better. But Reve was also a passionate, eccentric, outspoken and excitable person -- things always happened to her. She was always ready to give out her contact information to those she thought had genuine queries about missing, injured or newly-adopted animals. This, to some people of questionable mental health, was taken to be a sign of romantic interest, and Reve was stalked on at least one occasion.

Also, Reve had such a strong sense of justice and moral conviction that there were people who did not like her for disrupting the status quo. Reve had the moral courage to question what she knew to be wrong -- the surrender and abandonment of animals that should have been neutered and released instead, abuse and cruelty against any vulnerable living thing, the destruction of the environment -- all these incensed and distressed Reve, and she did not keep quiet about it. At least on one occasion, Reve was involved in angry altercations when she intervened in domestic violence or animal cruelty cases. I only wish that more people would be as brave and just as Reve, even if not as foolhardy.

Reve was a dedicated volunteer and tireless animal welfare campaigner. We first met at the SPCA shelter in 1996 or 1997. I was a student then, and would take the town bus to the SPCA after classes to spend an hour or two helping out with the animal care work. I walked through the SPCA gates one day to find a lady of European descent in the Hospital (which was then in the front section of the shelter, where the Charity Shop is now) handfeeding the puppies mushy food. I asked if I could help her, and she made another bowl of mushy food so we could feed the puppies together. The rest, as they say, is history.

Reve and I shared more than just a love of animals and a commitment to volunteering. We were buddies. We spent many happy hours chatting and working together in the shelter in the evenings after everyone else had left. She was a good listener and I could confide in her on many issues. Reve liked everything about me that my parents didn't: My hairstyle, my clothes, my Battletank, my tattoos, my vegetarianism and my crazy ideas which were almost always illegal.

I look back on our 14 years of friendship, and I realise that I am blessed that I have many fond memories of the time Reve and I spent together. I remember the time she rescued me from the boxer who went berserk and clamped his jaws on my right shoulder. Reve pried the dog's jaws open in spite of the obvious danger, and the dog bit her instead, causing her palm and fingers to bleed. Somehow we managed to hide the incident from the vets to prevent the dog from being put down.

I remember the conversations we had over cups of coffee, and the way Reve would exclaim "Ooooh!" over anything she particularly liked. She "ooohed" over all the pins, car stickers and other merchandise from animal welfare organisations that I brought home for her from all my conferences and visits to other animal shelters. Most of my small gifts to her still grace the windows and dashboard of her Suzuki Jimny.

I remember how she once requested a small Malaysian flag to wave on our National Day, and I had been greatly amused by the fact that a Belgian wanted to fly the Malaysian flag, when so many Malaysian citizens didn't. I obliged her with two little flags, one for her car and one for her kitchen. Why kitchen? I don't know, but that's Reve for you.

I remember the birthdays and Christmases we celebrated at the shelter, and the treats and presents we would bring the animals on special occasions. I remember how Reve and I would dash about, soaked to the skin, covering the cages of the animals with plastic or reinforced canvas sheeting each time it rained heavily.

I remember how Reve would wait for me and talk to me from outside the bathroom door at the shelter each time I needed to shower and change after dark, ever since I told her I felt spooked after the shelter haunting incident.

I remember how Reve and I formed an Underground Railroad of sorts for unwanted animals, and would smuggle out and bring home particularly sick and vulnerable animals without the approval or authority of the vets. I remember how we would rejoice and hug each other each time one of our foster animals were adopted. "It was meant to be, my dear, it was meant to be," Reve would tell me. "The little one, she came to you for a reason." (That was how Covert Twin ended up with Chocky -- due to Reve's intervention)

(Reve holding up Gypsy @ Estel, who I had fostered until she was strong and healthy enough to be adopted by my friends, VJ and Sara.)

I remember how Reve would kiss each animal goodnight after we returned them to their enclosures and got ready to lock up for the night. "Goodnight, my darlings", Reve would say. "I pray tomorrow gonna be your lucky day". We started calling it the "Lucky Day Prayer". Sometimes it worked. Sometimes all the animals needed was a little help: a bath, a grooming session, a relocation from the Pounds or Sick Bay to the Front Area, where they would be more likely to catch the attention of visitors.

I remember how I had laughed when she had described an Oriental Whip Snake as a 'banana snake' and I remember our final big adventure, when Reve and I climbed up the roof of the Cattery to attempt to rescue a black kitten who was stuck on a beam above Kennel G. In the end, it was Muniandy who successfully retrieved the kitten from the beam, but it was Reve who managed to get the kitten adopted the very next day. Only Reve could have pulled it off. She really was a marketing whiz.

Reve was as kind and generous to people as she was to animals. I remember Reve's concern for visitors who had to be consoled after having to give up badly injured strays they found on the road, knowing that the suffering animal would have to be put down. I remember how Reve would go out of her way to help a friend. I remember the late night phone calls I received from Reve to seek legal advice and assistance for friends in trouble.

One of the best things about Reve was that she was always very demonstrative of her love and affection to those around her, human or animal. We knew she loved us, and we weren't self-conscious about letting her know we love her too. I am glad that I had the opportunity to tell Reve, when she was still alive, how much I love her and that I am grateful and proud to have her as one of my best friends.

I remember how Reve would praise and thank bashful young volunteers who helped out at the shelter as part of their school community service programmes. I remember how Reve would throw birthday parties for our general workers (most of whom have never even celebrated their birthdays at home) and how Kak Mazni cried when Reve surprised her with a cake and a bouquet of flowers on her birthday.

Reve may be outspoken and opinionated, but she and I had never had a quarrel. We had an unspoken system of 'taking over' from each other. If she were engaged in a verbal conflict with visitors who wished to surrender their pets, I merely told her that I would 'take over from there' because I would not be constrained by language and cultural barriers. If I faced difficulties soliciting donations during fundraisers, Reve would step in and take over from me, without pointing out how sorely inadequate I am at sales and marketing work. We complemented each other, and it never occurred to me that one day I wouldn't have Reve to fall back on.

I remember the medication Reve had to take for depression and anxiety, but how she never let it stop her from volunteering at the shelter daily and helping those who are less fortunate than she is. I remember the last few months I spent with Reve, both when she was going through a low period and when she seemed her cheerful upbeat self again.

(Reve as my parents remember her: Smiling, dancing and singing along to disco hits during the SPCA Charity Gala.)

It is tragic that such a remarkable and beautiful person as Reve was taken from us so violently and so soon. There isn't a day that I do not think of Reve, and wonder if there will ever be a closure to the mystery of her death. My days are dark without her. I am tired of being told to be strong; tired of being told that time heals all wounds. My strength could not bring Reve back. Time could not undo the grave injustice done to a woman who has done so much good and saved so many animal lives.

Reve, I hope the investigation into your untimely demise is given the importance it deserves. I hope there will be justice for you and peace of mind for your family and friends.

Reve, you will always be remembered and honoured by your friends and all the lives you have touched. You gave new meaning to the words 'dedication' and 'friendship'. The legacy you left is that of love. I know you are not alone now, for you must have been greeted at the Rainbow Bridge by hundreds, if not thousands, of animals who learned of love for the first time from you. Go towards the light now, Reve, for the angels are waiting to receive one of their own.

~ Rest In Peace, dearest Reve. ~

(For those who know Reve personally, the funeral service will take place at St John's Church, KL, on Monday, 12th July 2010, at 10.00am)

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Letter to the Editor: It's Time We Pass The Wildlife Conservation Act


As a concerned citizen, I urge our elected representatives to vote for the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, which is currently being debated in Parliament, to be passed without delay.

The replacement of the outdated Wildlife Protection Act 1972 with the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 would be a timely and necessary move. Giving the new Act statutory footing would mean stiffer penalties for poaching and other wildlife crimes. In addition, the new Act would endow enforcement agencies with the power to monitor wildlife displays and wildlife in captivity. Cruelty to wildlife would also finally be recognized as a criminal offence. The new Act further extends protection to more species, including arachnids, amphibians and gastropods, which are also vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Malaysia currently has the insalubrious reputation as a hub for the illegal wildlife trade. The outdated 1972 Act is riddled with loopholes and deficiencies and does not do enough to halt or deter the rampant poaching and smuggling of wildlife in Malaysia, as its penalties are derisory. Enforcement agencies find themselves handicapped due to a lack of manpower and resources and the absence political will of those in power.

Legislators must take immediate steps to safeguard our fast-vanishing natural heritage. The enactment, implementation and enforcement of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010 would increase the ability and authority of enforcement agencies to apprehend and prosecute wildlife offenders and offer a better measure of protection for Malaysia’s wildlife than the existing laws.

Malaysia’s commitments towards protecting endangered species and achieving biodiversity targets are guided by the National Policy on Biological Diversity launched in 1998. Enacting the Wildlife Conservation Act would be a critical step towards reducing species loss and managing and improving biodiversity in Malaysia.