Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The "No Impact Week" Experiment and other news

I've been feeling despondent since Tigerlily's death. It's not going to stop me from fostering and rescuing animals in future, of course, but I just need a week or two to grieve and to overcome caregiver fatigue. I am grateful for everyone's kind words and condolences for my little Tigerlily.

Pouring all my energy into my work and volunteer commitments helps me cope with the knowledge that I didn't and couldn't save Tigerlily, reminds me that I am part of something bigger than myself and calls to my attention my pledge to put service before self.

Kota Damansara Community Forest Park trail clearing session on Saturday, 21st August. I am glad I remembered to bring my biodegradable rubbish bags, despite the grief and confusion which immediately followed Tigerlilly's death.

A recent freak storm had uprooted some trees and damaged part of our trails. We agreed to help with the trail clearing in the interests of environmental education. If the local community does not have access to the forest park, they would not feel any sense of stewardship or love for it.

My colleague and buddy Marvin was a wonderful asset to us on Saturday morning. His jungle and knife skills made up for the fact that many of the other volunteers there were n00bs with machetes. And a n00b with a machete is a dangerous n00b. "In my tribe, you have to earn the right to carry a knife", Marvin told me. I have to concur with him.

The Kennel D Dogs at the SPCA looked and smelled clean and pleasant after their bath. I had also cleaned and disinfected the kennels after bathing and tickwashing the dogs. These dogs have just been given their chew treats, as I believe in positive reinforcement and want the dogs to associate volunteers and baths with something nice.

"This is my treat. Mine. All mine."

"Close, but no cigar!"

~ The No Impact Project Experiment ~

I had signed up for the
No Impact Project Experiment a few months ago, which is described as an 8-day carbon cleanse to help participants make lifestyle changes that will reduce their carbon footprint and help us understand how a lifestyle that is gentler to the environment can improve our quality of life.

I registered as a participant partly to see what other measures I could take beyond those I am already practicing, and partly because I hope to initiate a "No Impact Week" project on a large scale in the Klang Valley next year. After all, our actions must reflect our environmental values. I cannot hold forth on the deficiencies of REDD or cap-and-trade until my own environmental track record is beyond reproach.

Here are the guidelines and my basic plans for No-Impact Week:

(Note: I will have to drive on Tuesday as the Bentong Farm Sanctuary Helping Hands Visit had been planned weeks in advance and my friends are looking forward to it. However, we will be going 4 persons to a car so it is going to be quite a fuel-efficient trip. Nevertheless, Day 3 of my No-Impact Experiment will be pushed to Wednesday and the rest of my No-Impact Week will resume from there.)

Day 1: Consumption
I will have to audit every purchase I make and save all the rubbish I generate for the entire day in a plastic bag, to be taken out and reviewed the following day.

Day 2: Trash
Trash generated the day before will be separated, audited and reviewed. Participants are urged to rethink their consumption patterns to reduce waste.

Day 3: Transportation
Participants audit the number of fuel miles they travel each day and think of ways to reduce private vehicle usage / fossil fuel usage. Participants are encouraged to experiment with public transportation, ride-sharing programmes and alternative modes of travel.

Day 4: Food
Participants take their food list for whole week and calculate its Foodprint. Where did it come from? How did it get here? What is used in its production? Participants are encouraged to buy local, organic and fair trade whenever possible, and to opt for the least processed and least packaged foods.

Day 5: Energy
Participants carry out home and office energy audits and take action to reduce energy use. Which appliance is used the most? What can we do without? How can we reduce the number of electrical appliances we own and use?

Day 6: Water
Participants analyse their water footprint. How much water do we use at home and at work? What measures can we take to reduce our water use and wastage?

Day 7: Giving Back
Day 7 is spent on community service and environmental projects, and finding ways to contribute regularly to environmental movements and community initiatives.

Day 8: Eco-Sabbath
Participants analyse how they usually spend their day off, and think up what they can do on their rest day that doesn't require electricity, fuel, water wastage and/or unnecessary consumption.

Think you can own the Experiment? Then sign up for to participate in the next No Impact Week here!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Farewell, my beloved Tigerlily

Rest In Peace, my beloved Tigerlily
~ Best Kitten In The World ~
(?? August 2010 - 21st August 2010)

Tigerlily died around 0400 hrs on Saturday, 21st August 2010. Perhaps our world had no place for anything as good but as fragile as my beautiful Tigerlily.

She had been doing so well in the last six days. She was the best kitten anyone could hope for. She had even started learning how to lap milk from my palm. On Friday morning, she had mewed for milk, and I had fed her twice in the morning. In the afternoon, when I fed her, she seemed a little quiet, but dutifully drank an ounce of milk and curled up into a ball and went back to sleep.

By 1630 hrs or so I was getting concerned because she seemed uncharacteristically quiet. I tried to warm her up in my hands and she purred with pleasure. Still, I didn't want to take any chances and drove her to the vet immediately. Kind Dr. Steven inspected Tigerlily and declared her free of infection or illness. All her vital functions were fine. Her airway and lungs were clear, she was not dehydrated or constipated and she showed signs of good health such as sucking on our fingers and wanting to nurse. He advised me to keep her warm and not only did not charge me for the check-up, he sent me home with a pack of PetLac milk, a tube of Bene-Bac for kittens and a new feeding bottle, all free of charge. I went home happy that there was nothing wrong with Tigerlily and convinced that the world is full of good people.

By 2100 hrs it was apparent that something was very wrong. Tigerlily was very weak and could hardly drink milk. She tried to mew but no sound came out of her tiny mouth. I called up Dr Steven and he offered to return to his clinic for her. I drove Tigerlily to the clinic, aware that she was already fading away.

The next 3 - 4 hours were among the worst in my life. The good doctor gave Tigerlily IV fluids subcutaneously through a syringe as she was too tiny to be put on drips, and nebulised her every 5 minutes. The reason for her sudden deterioration was still unclear. There was nothing wrong with her, except that she was very, very weak. I held her tiny body in a towel, pleading with her to respond to the fluids and oxygen and recover.

By midnight, the vet and I bowed our heads in prayer and prayed earnestly for little Tigerlily's recovery. We needed a miracle now, and I sent out urgent requests for everyone's prayers. That Special Someone called up and began praying with us. Tigerlily's breathing became laboured, but at least she was still alive. I held her and kissed her, trying not to let my tears soak her fur and cause her to catch a chill. Despite the weak state she was in, Tigerlily purred and looked at me with eyes full of love. She raised one tiny paw and tried to touch my face, but she was too weak and her paw could not reach me. I lowered my face so she could have contact with my skin. She tried to keep her eyes open but even that took all of her strength.

By 0130 hrs, Dr. Steven informed me that we have done the best we could and that he had given her the maximum safe amount of glucose and oxygen. There was nothing more we could do for her. I wanted to bring Tigerlily home so that I could keep her warm and close to me. I woke up every few minutes to check on Tigerlily in her little carrier. Tigerlily breathed her last around 0400 hours. I closed her eyes with my hands and wept for the tiny kitten who took such an important position in my heart and life.

I woke up around 0700 hrs as I had promised Pasupathy and the other Nature Guides that I would assist them with the Kota Damansara Community Forest Park trail clearing. A recent freak storm had uprooted many trees and damaged the trails, and we had agreed to clean the trail up on Saturday morning. I felt terrible and looked terrible, but a promise is a promise, and I have to keep it. I had slept in my clothes and my hair was unkempt when I drove to the Kelana Jaya LRT station to pick up my friend and fellow volunteer Marvin.

I did a terrible job of trail clearing that day. My machete was blunt and I could hardly hack at the overgrown Bertam palms and weeds. I chopped at fallen trees listlessly and tugged at weeds. I had brought biodegradable garbage bags with me and managed to fill two of them with litter. Thankfully, Marvin made up for my lack of productivity and worked like a Spartan soldier. I had no appetite for breakfast as all my thoughts were on Tigerlily and her tiny lifeless body, still in the carrier. Marvin offered to help me with her burial and last rites and I was grateful for his help.

We returned to my bachelor pad to find Tigerlily's lifeless body covered in ants. I was very distressed and remorseful. Marvin helped me wash her body under the garden tap and remove the ants. He suggested burying her in a large earthern pot and growing new plants in the pot that I could take with me when I move house. I agreed with his idea. Marvin dug up soil from my compost pit to fill the pot with. I lay Tigerlily's tiny body on top of an Asplenium nidus leaf in her final resting place. I recited the Pattidana and we covered Tigerlily's body up with soil. Marvin informed me of their Bidayuh tradition of returning all things to the soil and letting them become part of new life. He made a burial mound in the pot and informed me that it was because the soil in the middle would sink within a few days, and a barrow-like mound would help keep the soil level. He clipped 3 stalks of one of my garden plants and asked me to push them into the soil in a small triangle as I recite my final prayers for Tigerlily. We then arranged flowers around the pot and I placed in the pot a small limestone rock upon which I had written Tigerlily's name with a Sharpie. We sprinkled water to help the new plants grow and bade Tigerlily goodbye.

I was grateful and reassured to have Marvin with me in my time of grief, as he is a good friend and colleague and he had enjoyed Tigerlily's company in her short time with us.

Tigerlily, I hope when you are reborn, you will know how to find me, so we can be together again. I will never forget you, my beloved child.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Tigerlily: Good Thing, Small Package!

It's funny how it's always the tiniest things that have the strongest grip on your heart.

Tigerlily came into my life on Saturday, 14th August, when I was at the SPCA shelter.

It was late in the afternoon, and the staff and vets have gone home. I had finished bathing and tickwashing the dogs in Kennels D and E and was in the midst of cleaning and disinfecting the cat enclosures in the front area when a lady and her son came to our gates to surrender an orphaned stray kitten that they found at the roadside the same morning.

The kitten was a tiny calico which appeared to be around 1 - 2 weeks old. The lady had the best of intentions when she prepared a saucer of milk for the kitten, but of course the kitten was too little to lap and unable to digest processed cow's milk meant for human children. The lady was at her wit's end and finally surrendered the kitten to the SPCA in the evening, either to be put to sleep or to be put up for adoption.

I took one look at the kitten and was smitten. I made an immediate decision to foster her. I took down the lady's particulars and issued her an official receipt for the donation she made to the shelter, and hurried through the rest of the cleaning in order to bring my latest ward home. I decided to name her Tigerlily on impulse (both because she looks like a tiger cub and because we're into rock stars and their offspring at the moment).

It has been a week of satisfactory progress, where Tigerlily is concerned. Tigerlily is growing stronger on Kitten Milk Replacer, Hartz Cat Vitamins and Benebac and has been eliminating waste on cue. She doesn't cry as much as she did on the first day anymore, as she is no longer hungry and cold. I have been bringing Tigerlily with me wherever I go in order that I may attend to her needs and feed her every 2-3 hours.

Bringing Tigerlily to work wasn't the challenge I had thought it would be. Many of my colleagues have fostered young animals at the office before and management seems to be quite blase about it by now. I hid Tigerlily's carrier in the guardhouse with our distractingly handsome Nepali security guards, who were very obliging and informed me that they "also very much love cats".

I would make or warm up a portion of milk every 2-3 hours and go out to the guardhouse to bottle-feed Tigerlily and clean her up with toilet paper and warm water. At 1700 hrs each day, after official work hours, I would bring Tigerlily in her carrier into my cubicle, where I could keep a constant eye on her and respond to her requests for more milk or a cuddle.

Conventional wisdom would have one believe that having a kitten in one's office would naturally reduce productivity at work. On the contrary, knowing that Tigerlily depended on me for comfort, warmth and sustenance motivated me to work faster and better as I now had new goals. "Hang in there, Tigerlily", I'd say. "I've give you your next feed as soon as I complete drafting this particular report".

Tigerlily having her fill of milk in my office.

Tigerlily loves me right back!

In the days before I had Tigerlily in the office with me, I would fritter away time talking trash with my colleagues and watching appalling and pointless videos on YouTube such as "Banglar King Kong" in the evenings. Now my workmates crowd around me and watch me feed Tigerlily instead, and offer me things like toys that Tigerlily has no use for, or make unhelpful observations such as "She is so tiny" or "She looks fragile". Gee, thank you, Captain Obvious! Tigerlily is two weeks old -- what do you expect?

I hope that Tigerlily will continue to grow stronger and healthier and that I will be able to find her a good home in 3-4 months. I hope to rehome her with friends in order that I will still be able to visit her and play with her, or have her board with me during the holidays. That Special Someone has been an amazing pillar of strength to me and I have him to thank for all his guidance on bottlefeeding and caring for orphaned young animals.

Tigerlily aside, my days are packed with work, social and volunteer commitments. Now that I am the Vice Chairman of the Malaysian Nature Society (Selangor Branch), I have to devote a certain amount of time each month to administrative matters, drafting letters, reviewing policies and papers and plowing through academic papers and journals.

Also, my proposal to conduct a periodic volunteer induction programme at the SPCA for new volunteers went down really well with the secretariat and committee.

Here are the objectives I listed for the programme:
1. To encourage more members of the public, especially young professionals and college/ university grads/undergrads, to volunteer with the SPCA.
2. To build up a pool of volunteers with expertise and abilities in different fields, and to capitalise on their strengths and interests.
3. To create a network of support for the SPCA.
4. To help animal-lovers develop animal care skills in order that they may pursue their own rescue and fostering initiatives in future, thus benefiting a larger number of needy animals and reducing the burden on SPCA's resources.

During a recent discussion with one of the SPCA officers, I tried to put forward my arguments in favour of getting volunteers to do hands-on feeding, bathing and cleaning work. However, the said officer believed that volunteers shouldn't have to get their hands dirty doing hands-on work. In my proposal, I held forth on my reasons why I wanted hands-on work to be part of the induction programme:

1. It is precisely because new volunteers are not allowed or encouraged to do real work such as bathing dogs and cleaning kennels and catteries that they feel their services are not needed and they do not return.

2. (In relation to safety concerns:) All volunteers have the potential to handle even difficult or aggressive dogs and cats, and treat minor injuries and ailments, provided we equip them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to do it.

3. Volunteers need to know that everything they do helps animals directly. A clean shelter helps improve the health and safety of animals, and increases the animals' chances of adoption, i.e. visitors stay longer if a shelter is clean and pleasant-smelling.

4. Volunteers need to know that everything they do changes lives permanently. As an illustration of this, I refer to the time Reve and I gave a long-haired black mongrel a haircut and a bath. The dog had been in the shelter for months. Within 10 minutes of bathing and grooming the dog, someone took a shine to him and adopted him. So volunteers create chances.

5. There is no shame in doing hands-on work. It keeps us grounded and aware of what is going on in the lives of the animals and helps us develop analytical and practical skills that we can't acquire through reading/observation alone.

6. Doing hands-on work helps volunteers develop the skills and confidence needed to be fosterers and rescuers in future. Volunteers who are never encouraged to clean cages will feel squeamish about the idea of cleaning out the cages and litter trays of animals that they intend to foster and may begin to believe that they will not be able to 'cope with the work'. Hands-on volunteering will provide them with sufficient practice and confidence.

The committee and officers recognised the merit in my argument and plans are now under way to draw up a volunteer induction SOP. Things seem to be going really well so far at work, MNS and SPCA.

Sometimes, though, my delusions of invincibility are tampered by reality. I had a little health scare recently. I underwent my annual medical examination yesterday and learned that my blood pressure, at 130 over 90, is a little on the high side. I was aggrieved and indignant. I don't know what I have done to deserve high blood pressure. After all, I don't smoke, drink, eat meat or live with my parents. Why should I have high blood pressure? My colleagues averred that they had the answers:
"Because you're always drinking coffee or Red Bull."
"Because you eat fries and chips almost every day."
"Because you're not getting enough rest."
"Because you work too late".
"Because you have too many things on your schedule."
"Because you're always running from one activity to another".

Their candor would be appreciated if only it weren't so painfully accurate. I acknowledge that I have to start taking better care of my health. And it begins with running around the neighbourhood park for half an hour every evening when I get home from work, without taking a break for ice cream or thosai.

The reason for my sudden determination to exercise is not due to any alarmist concern over my health, which seems okay to me for the time being, thank you very much. It is that I have just registered to participate in the Malaysian Nature Society Post-AGM full hike up Gunung Ledang in September, despite the fact that I am out of shape and in no state to complete a 14-hour hike up a 1,276 metre-high mountain. Guess it's time for me to oil those joints and get those muscles in gear. The road beckons. So long, until we meet in cyberspace again!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Memories of Langkawi

~ Memories of Langkawi ~

The Andaman Sea
Reflected in your shades
Sparkles like your smile.

The senile engine
Roars into its rented life
We're on the road again.

Brine and breeze
In your hair and my sundress.
Sand between our toes.

The days ahead hold
The promise of adventure.
Rules cannot bind us.

Down at the kart tracks
I trace your trajectory
Trying to catch up.

Gravel deflects off
The visor that screens my pain
From your knowledge.

The rush of octane
Tapers to a standstill.
I yield to your touch.

You hold my blistered arm
And offer conciliatory
Ice lollies and balm.

Your six-foot frame
Silhouetted against the sky
Buoyed by the winds.

A gentle descent.
In the shallow foaming surf
You return to me.

The limestone pinnacles
Jewelled crowns and lit candles
Celebrate our union.

Sylvan symphony.
Nothing but the forest and
The secrets it keeps.

Fertility Lake.
In its dark primordial waters
We paddle, insouciant.

Full fathom five
Neptune's force ebbs and eddies
Around us, callous.

Island eventide.
In the shadows we embrace
Solace in silence.

Your sonorous voice
Reading to me of cows and gaurs
Lulls me into slumber.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Wag & Walk Weekend and other news

Sunday, 1st August 2010: SPCA Wag & Walk

Nature trails and outdoorsy dogs -- Can there be a better combination than this?

It was with the aim of bringing the two together that SPCA Selangor held our second "Wag and Walk", a fun nature hike designed to bring dogs and dog-lovers together, at the Kota Damansara Community Forest Park last Sunday.

Co-organised by Casa Pet Store, the event had the objective of raising funds for the SPCA's new eco-friendly animal shelter.

I was recruited as a volunteer by Jacinta and team, and so I had to rise early on a weekend morning to assist at the Registration and sales booths. Although it was announced that registration was limited to 80 dogs and their handlers, we could not turn away many people who had come all the way to the Park with their dogs to enjoy nature and to socialise with other dogs and people, and so they were allowed to participate in the event although they were not entitled to goodie bags.

Early birds (or rather, dogs) at the head of the trail, waiting for the walk to be flagged off.

Taro the Bull Terrier showing us his commando crawl. Good job, Taro!

"I wonder if there are monkeys and squirrels for me to chase in there."

"Please don't leave us behind!"

Happy dogs and people upon returning from their 2km walk.

The dogs were given drinking water upon concluding the walk, while their humans were given newspaper sheets to clean up after their dogs with!

The event did not just end with the conclusion of the 2km walk. The organisers had lined up 6 exciting and entertaining games for the participants. The games included a "Waggy Tail" contest, a ball-retrieving contest, a "Simon Says" game and a doggy tennis competition which entailed the dog running back and forth between two handlers.

Handlers walking their dogs in a circle during the "Simon Says" game.

Two youngsters and their remarkably obedient St. Bernard were the finalists in the "Simon Says" game.

The event was officially over around 1230 hrs. Most of the food had been sold, and the unsold food was given either to the volunteers or brought back to the SPCA shelter for the staff. The merchandise, banners and trestle tables were packed and loaded onto the SPCA pickup truck. I wanted to make sure that we left the forest park in a better state than it was when we arrived, and so I mobilised other volunteers into helping me pick up litter from the park and sidewalks and sorting out the recyclables. I was pleased with the end result, for the park and event grounds looked spotless. The volunteers and I hauled the garbage out to the curb facing the Sect. 10 school to make it easier for the waste collectors to notice the garbage and pick it up. The recyclables went with me in the Battletank to the community centre.

I departed for the SPCA shelter after the Wag & Walk fundraiser, as I knew that the services of senior volunteers would be even more critical now that Reve is no longer with us. I started work on bathing and washing the dogs in the Central Area after a short discussion with the staff on our volunteer policy and other matters.

I spent the rest of the day bathing dogs and cleaning the Catteries, kennels and shelter reception/admin areas.

“Won’t you please take me home? I make a good companion!”

Feeding time at one of our catteries.

A pre-loved cat tower provides stimulation and climbing space for our shelter cats.

Ever since Reve’s demise, we have been having difficulty attracting and retaining new volunteers. There are limits as to what I can do, as I work fulltime, have many other social and volunteer commitments and am only able to come to the shelter on the weekends and my days off.

Being mired in drudge work has never been one of my life's goals, and I have no desire to be stuck doing hands-on shelter work week after week for the rest of my life. Every organisation needs renewal, in the interests of democracy and also to allow room for fresh ideas and perspectives. I hope to be able to work together with the SPCA Committee to try to recruit and retain new volunteers, draw up a volunteer manual and create an SOP for the induction of new volunteers. Just as the goal of every animal shelter should not be to expand its infrastructure and take in ever-increasing numbers of stray animals, but to aim to educate and reach out to society to such a point that there is no longer a need for pounds and shelters, the goal of every good volunteer should be to encourage and foster volunteerism, develop better ways of working and create new opportunities for new ways of contributing and volunteering. I don't see this level of dynamism in the SPCA or Malaysian Nature Society yet, but I believe both organisations have great potential for attracting the participation, involvement and activism of members of a civil society. It's not going to be easy, but nobody's going to be able to stop me from trying.